The Pak-UK Education Gateway builds on existing collaborations between the UK and Pakistan that the British Council and Higher Education Commission (HEC) has facilitated over the last fifteen years, from knowledge exchange and leadership development programmes, to student and teacher training, scholarships and research collaborations.
At their inaugural and virtual conference, which was also shown live on the HEC’s television channel in Pakistan, on 15 December, the conversation focused on how HE in Pakistan and the UK can learn from each other and develop sustainable practices moving forwards from the Covid-19 crisis.
The conference was opened by Amir Ramzan, Country Director of the British Council in Pakistan and Dr Shaista Sohail, Executive Director of the HEC, who explained the importance of the partnership between the two countries. Dr Sohail said: “This partnership was conceived in 2018 on a basis of shared benefit for the UK and Pakistan. UK HE is a powerhouse, and many HE leaders in Pakistan are UK alumni.”
“There is a willingness to develop long term strategic partnership between the countries and we anticipate the programme will last longer than the initial three years, in order to provide long-term benefits.”
British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr Christian Turner CMG then shared his three P’s on making the Pak-UK Education Gateway initiative a success, identifying Perceptions, Partnerships and Potential as ways for Pakistan’s HE sector to develop.
“The Pak-UK Education Gateway has trust at its heart. The way the world looks at Pakistan is a little out of date, and I am doing my best to dispel those outdated perceptions.”
“We see it as very important that inclusion plays a big part in this partnership and that HE should be available for women and girls. Education is meaningless if it excludes half of the population and Pakistan and the UK will not achieve its potential in the future.
He noted that, “The final P is one of potential, and I think the heart of our conversations should be of economic growth and education.”
He also announced that new funding has been put in place for eight new research links and 250 scholarships which will go to a majority of women in Pakistan.
Alison Johns, Advance HE CEO, also spoke at the conference on a panel discussing the response of HE leadership to the Covid-19 crisis and how HE can be sustainable in the future. She started by sharing what the UK sector has had to focus on during the pandemic.
“If there were six things that constantly came up in the last year in my conversations with Vice-Chancellors in the UK, it would be people, strategy, finance, digital, teaching & learning and civic mission.
“Digital was the big thing. We achieved in five weeks what we expected to do in five years, and we need to build confidence, competence and culture in HE of using technology to support teaching and learning.”
She explained how the sector had worked together through the crisis to find solutions: “I saw the sector really come together through the crisis, we came up with the Creating Socially Distanced Campuses and Education (SDCE) project and lots of our response was to do with wellbeing and dealing with things such as isolation.” She also highlighted the ‘Learning and Teaching Reimagined’ collaboration between Advance HE, UUK, JISC and Emerge Education.
Alison then acknowledged Dr Turner’s three Ps and presented her own: “The future will be around ‘People, Pedagogy and Performance’. People are more important than technology, we must address staff development, digital poverty and belonging. The future of Pedagogy is blended learning, and this will take practice partnership and incentives. If we really want to perform well in the future we need to focus on quality outcomes, culture, leadership and governance.”
Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, also spoke about the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis: “The pandemic has given us an insight to the inequalities, in technology, in space, in access to broadband etc. and we all need to think about how we can make work ‘work’ for people who don’t have access to all of these things during a pandemic and how we can mitigate against disproportionate impacts for those who are disadvantaged.
“It has also been a great leveller. You might think that the UK HE sector would be well prepared for this but the things we are doing are the things being done across the world and there is a great opportunity to learn from each other.”
Citing a number of examples from UK institutions, she hailed what she saw as ”an absolute explosion in creativity” and innovation of teaching staff and HE leaders and said that the crisis was an, “opportunity to expand access to high quality education”.
The panel also included contributions from Dr Shaheen Sardar Ali and Dr Fateh Marri of the HEC, with Dr Ali saying the pandemic was, “A wake-up call to push us, against our will, into the 21st Century” and that we have “no choice but to engage with technologies, to reach out, to confront the shallowness of inclusivity and equity”.
Moderator of the session Dr Nishat Riaz MBE, Director of Education, British Council Pakistan, closed the session by acknowledging the efforts made by the HE sector during the pandemic and that, “it will evolve into something better and stronger which will be better and more inclusive for all”.
Advance HE has been working with the Pakistan HE sector for a number of years and has been involved in the Pak-UK Education Gateway initiative by supporting initiatives looking at teaching quality, leadership development, governance and the strategic development of the National Academy of Higher Education (NAHE) in Pakistan.
The impact of Covid-19 means blended, hybrid and online learning approaches have become the norm for institutions - depending on your location. In response, Advance HE has developed a suite of services which aim to support institutions in ensuring their curricula are fit for this new environment as well as making sure staff are equipped with the knowledge and tools to deliver their teaching at a continued high quality. Find out more here.