The three-day International Summit on Higher Education and Workforce Development in the 21st Century included five sessions that addressed significant concerns of higher education institutions (HEIs) and explored approaches to align HEIs with the requirements of the current century. Key areas of discussion were the provision of quality education, resolution of obstacles faced by HEIs in becoming market-driven, attaining sustainability, building university-level ecosystems, and the possibility for HEIs to become climate change adaptation players.
Academics and dignitaries from Pakistan, the United States, Dubai, and Bangkok–all of whom are leaders in the sector of higher education–were in attendance. Five sessions were held over the course of three days, with working groups, plenaries, and expert panels discussing how HEIs can become key stakeholders in:
- the nation’s drive toward climate adaptation,
- building the capacity of faculty,
- enhancing the market relevance of graduate programs, and
- enhancing the overall quality and sustainability of HEIs.
Minister for Planning Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal, Executive Director Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) Dr. Shaista Sohail, and United States Ambassador Donald Blome were among the keynote speakers during the inaugural ceremony. Notable Pakistani and international higher education experts took part in various sessions and moderated the dialogues.
In his opening address during the inaugural session, Dr. Aslam Chaudhry, Chief of Party for the USAID-funded Higher Education System Strengthening Activity (HESSA), welcomed the distinguished guests and cited that HESSA is distinguishable from other similar initiatives because:
- firstly, this initiative uses an eco-system approach involving businesses, policymakers, and academic partners;
- secondly, HESSA works with a wide range of HEIs in terms of quality, size, gender, and area throughout Pakistan; and,
- thirdly, capacity-building methods target leadership, faculty, and student support services.
- furthermore, the project stresses gender, diversity, and disability inclusion in HEIs.
U.S. Ambassador Blome also addressed the attendees, noting that 60 percent of Pakistan’s population under 30 is the country’s strength while highlighting the need of assisting “youth in reaching their full potential.”
Dr. Shaista Sohail presided over the first session, “Aligning Higher Education to 21st Century Needs.” The panelists for this session were Dr. Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organization for Economic Co-operation 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. Experts discussed five key trends shaping the future of higher education worldwide:
- sustainability and interdisciplinarity;
- innovation and entrepreneurship;
- micro-credentials and skills education;
- online and distance education; and
- ensuring the building of diverse campuses.
The focus of this session was on the need for strong linkages between global stakeholders, by abolishing “elite capture of resources” by colonial models of higher education. The future of the world owing to ecological collapse was a concern and it was recommended that HEIs adopt a “Sustainability Science” strategy to avoid collapse. An additional factor analyzed therein was the need to explore and provide more flexible pathways for upskilling individuals willing to advance their careers in line with the evolving workforce.
Dr. Ishrat Hussain, the Former Adviser to PM and former Director of IBA Karachi, chaired the second session, “Making HEIs Sustainable and Market Driven: Challenges and Opportunities.” He underscored the difficulties faced by HEIs in budget management due to declining public funding which could be evaded with the help of a self-sustaining financial model like the IBA. Speakers of this session were Dr. Mary Lackie from Central Arkansas, Dr. Steve Burian from Alabama, and Mr. Roger Griffiths from the University of Birmingham, Dubai. Key takeaways from the second session were that the universities ought to look for newer methods to mobilize resources by building private sector partnerships, establishing endowment funds, strengthen alumni engagement, etc. Furthermore, academic thought leaders ought to be taken aboard by universities because they can help attract the private sector and provide reform guidance.
The third session held on the summit’s second day was titled “Strengthening University Eco-system” and combined 3 working groups and plenary talks. Lt. Gen. (R) Khalid Asghar, Former Rector of NUTECH, Dr. Shahid Munir, Chairperson, Punjab Higher Education Commission, and U.S. Senator Keith Grover chaired the 3 sub-sessions. The focus of the discussion was on aligning Pakistan’s HEIs with global norms for institutional management. Speakers in the discussions included 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, among others. The major recommendations from the three parallel sessions were the imperativeness of faculty development and enhancement programs, recruitment of highly qualified faculty, best performance awards, and the inclusion of mental health awareness programs.
The fourth session conducted in the afternoon of day two was presided by Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, President of SZABIST University, and focused on “Improving Quality of Higher Education and the Role of Accreditation.” In reference to international accreditation of Pakistani universities, Ms. Shahnaz stated that only two Pakistani institutions, Quaid-i-Azam University and NUST have yet to be certified by foreign HEI rating systems. As an alternative to HEC’s micromanagement, the chair suggested quality enhancement through the formation of partnerships between HEC, Provincial Commissions, and HEIs. Speakers of the session were 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. Key takeaways of the session were the inclusion of faculty and employers in educational reforms of all sorts and soft skills development in graduates.
Sherry Rehman, Minister of Climate Change, chaired the final session titled, “Higher Education and Climate Change Adaptation.” The co-chair was Dr. Fateh Marri, Vice Chancellor of Sindh Agriculture University. Minister Rehman voiced concerns about the lack of climate change education in Pakistan’s higher education, emphasizing that campuses are a magnet for learning and creativity, so they ought to adopt inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to climate change and adaptation. Dr. Michael Barber from the University of Utah, Dr. Ghulam Rasool, Head of the Climate Change Program of IUCN, Dr. Asim Zia, and Dr. Thomas C. Piechota spoke during this session. Key takeaways reflected the necessity of the development of climate change profiles for regions most vulnerable, the necessity of identifying and bridging gaps in knowledge pertaining to climate change adaptability, and the necessity of broader stakeholder engagement in order to formulate integrated strategies comparable with the magnitude of the challenge.
The closing ceremony at the end of the third day was graced by Rana Tanveer Hussain, Federal Minister for Education, Senator Keith Grover from Utah, Mr. Reed Aeschliman, USAID Mission Director, and Dr. Shaista Sohail of HEC. Dr. Aslam Chaudhry, HESSA Chief of Party presented the summit communiqué emphasizing the necessity for broader stakeholder participation. Minister Rana Tanveer thanked USAID for assisting Pakistan’s HEIs in adapting to 21st-century demands.