International Summit Held To Address Significant Concerns of HEIs

Sustainability and interdisciplinarity; innovation and entrepreneurship; skills education and ensuring diverse campuses were among the key trends discussed by experts.

International Summit Held To Address Significant Concerns of HEIs

As part of USAID’s Higher Education System Strengthening Activity, an International Summit on Higher Education and Workforce Development in the Twenty-First Century was held in Islamabad. The three-day international summit featured five sessions that addressed Significant Concerns of higher education institutions (HEIs) and explored approaches to aligning HEIs with 21st-century requirements.

The provision of quality education, the resolution of obstacles faced by HEIs in becoming market-driven, achieving sustainability, building university-level ecosystems, and the possibility of HEIs becoming climate change adaptation players were key areas of discussion in significant concerns of HEIs.

Minister for Planning Development and Special Initiatives, Executive Director Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) Dr. Shaista Sohail, and United States Ambassador Mr. Donald Blome were among the keynote speakers during the inaugural ceremony.

Notable Pakistani and international higher education experts moderated and participated in various sessions on significant HEI concerns. Dr. Aslam Chaudhry, Chief of Party HESSA, welcomed the distinguished guests in his opening address during the inaugural session and stated that HESSA is distinguishable from other similar initiatives because; first, this initiative uses an eco-system approach involving businesses, policymakers, and academic partners; second, HESSA works with a diverse range of HEIs in terms of quality, size, gender, and area throughout Pakistan; and third, capacity-building methods target leadership, faculty, and student support services.

In addition, the project emphasises gender, diversity, and disability inclusion in HEIs. US Ambassador Blome also spoke to the audience, noting that 60 percent of Pakistan’s population under 30 is the country’s strength, while emphasising the importance of assisting “youth in reaching their full potential.”

The first session, “Aligning Higher Education to 21st Century Needs,” was presided over by Dr. Shaista Sohail. Dr. Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Dr. Asim Zia from the University of Vermont, Dr. Naveed Anwar from the Asian Institute of Technology (Bangkok), Dr. Frankie Laanan and Dr. Deborah Keyek-Franssen from the University of Utah were the panellists for this session.

Sustainability and interdisciplinarity; innovation and entrepreneurship; micro-credentials and skills education; online and distance education; and ensuring diverse campuses were among the key trends discussed by experts.

The emphasis of this session was on the importance of strong links between global stakeholders, as well as the elimination of “elite capture of resources” by colonial models of higher education. The future of the world was a concern due to ecological collapse, and it was suggested that HEIs adopt a “Sustainability Science” strategy to avoid collapse.

One of the significant concerns of HEIs was the need to investigate and provide more flexible pathways for upskilling individuals seeking to advance their careers in line with the changing workforce. Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Former Adviser to the Prime Minister and former Director of IBA Karachi, chaired the second session, “Making HEIs Sustainable and Market Driven: Challenges and Opportunities.”

He emphasised on the challenges that HEIs face as one of the significant concerns in budget management as a result of declining public funding, which could be avoided with the help of a self-sustaining financial model like the IBA. Dr. Mary Lackie of Central Arkansas, Dr. Steve Burian of Alabama, and Mr. Roger Griffiths of the University of Birmingham, Dubai spoke at this session.

The second session’s key takeaways were that universities should look for newer ways to mobilise resources by establishing endowment funds, strengthening alumni engagement, and so on. Furthermore, universities should bring on academic thought leaders because they can help attract private sector funding and provide reform guidance.

The third session, held on the second day of the summit, was titled “Strengthening University Eco-system” and included three working groups and plenary talks. The three sub-sessions were presided over by Lieutenant General (R) Khalid Asghar, former Rector of NUTECH, Dr. Shahid Munir, Chairperson of the Punjab Higher Education Commission, and U.S. Senator Keith Grover.

The discussion centred on aligning Pakistan’s higher education institutions with global standards for institutional management. Ms. Natalie Humphrey and Dr. Usman Ilyas from the University of Birmingham (Dubai Campus), Dr. Thomas Piechota from Chapman University, Dr. Fazal Khalid from GIK, Dr. Osman Hasan from NUST, and Dr. Gerardo Blanco from Boston College were among the speakers in the discussions.

The three parallel sessions’ main recommendations were the importance of faculty development and enhancement programmes, the recruitment of highly qualified faculty, best performance awards, and the inclusion of mental health awareness programmes.

Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, President of SZABIST University, presided over the fourth session, which focused on “Improving Quality of Higher Education and the Role of Accreditation.”

Ms. Shahnaz stated that only two Pakistani institutions, Quaid-i-Azam University and NUST, have yet to be certified by foreign HEI rating systems in terms of international accreditation.

As an alternative to HEC’s micromanagement, the chair proposed enhancing quality through collaboration between HEC, Provincial Commissions, and HEIs. Dr. Gerardo Blanco of Boston College, Dr. Samreen Hussain of Aror University, Dr. Khalid Mahmood of NACTE, and Dr. Sajjad Ahmed of the University of Nevada spoke at the session.

The inclusion of faculty and employers in educational reforms of all kinds, as well as the development of soft skills in graduates, were key takeaways from the session. The final session, titled “Higher Education and Climate Change Adaptation,” was chaired by Dr. Fateh Marri, Vice Chancellor of Sindh Agriculture University.

Another major concern expressed by the Minister was the lack of climate change education in Pakistan’s higher education, emphasising that campuses are a magnet for learning and creativity, and thus should take inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to climate change and adaptation.

During this session, Dr. Michael Barber of the University of Utah, Dr. Ghulam Rasool, Head of the IUCN’s Climate Change Program, Dr. Asim Zia, and Dr. Thomas C. Piechota spoke. Key takeaways reflected the need for the development of climate change profiles for the most vulnerable regions, the need for identifying and closing knowledge gaps in climate change adaptability, and the need for broader stakeholder engagement to formulate integrated strategies comparable to the magnitude of the challenge.

Senator Keith Grover of Utah, Mr. Reed Aeschliman, USAID Mission Director, and Dr. Shaista Sohail of HEC attended the closing ceremony at the end of the third day. The summit communiqué was presented by Dr. Aslam Chaudhry, Chief of Party for HESSA, emphasising the necessity for broader stakeholder participation. Minister thanked USAID for assisting Pakistan’s HEIs in adapting to 21st century demands.