Dr. Khadija Bari is an Associate Professor who also leads the Financial Aid Office at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi. Bari has been associated with USAID’s Higher Education System Strengthening Activity (HESSA) since 2022. Shortly after joining, she attended the student support services knowledge summit in July 2022. There she met with international trainers from the University of Utah, the University of Alabama, and the Institute of International Education (IIE) who have guided her on various initiatives to strengthen the financial aid systems at IBA.
Bari again participated in the student support services knowledge summit in June and shared her achievements in the past year with HESSA and participants from other partner universities. Her responses are narrated below.
How did HESSA support you in the past year to upgrade IBA’s financial aid system?
During the July 2022 summit, we identified some of the areas in IBA’s Financial Aid Office that needed strengthening. One priority area that we worked on with the guidance of international experts was the digitalization of the entire financial aid process. Now we are no longer taking hard copies from the students. Everything is digitalized. We have rolled out this system successfully, and now the next step for us is to align our digital portal with IBA’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. This way all the student information will be integrated and directly transferred to the ERP, and it will facilitate the entire financial aid process.
The other thing that we worked on with the HESSA team, where IBA needed to strengthen its activities was the alumni engagement. What we have done this time is that we have been actively working on the alumni base. We divided the alumni base into three categories: small ticket, medium ticket, and large ticket; and worked on our marketing and outreach campaigns for each ticket category. I believe, through this we will have a longer and a stronger impact in terms of expanding and getting more financial assistance from IBA alumni. We all understand that financial aid is crucial for countless students in Pakistan to fulfil their educational aspirations.
Have you engaged with other private sector organizations for financial assistance?
Based on our discussions and the information we got from our trainers during the July 2022 summit, we designed a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) event for our students. The event is yet to be implemented, but our plan is to invite organizations from various sectors to showcase their CSR activities. The objective is to identify potential donors and then eventually align this activity with fundraising. So, this way, we will not only be able to do the fundraising by identifying the potential donors, but at the same time, we will be improving the employability of our students by bringing the students and the organizations on one platform, and having a meaningful interaction between them.
So, the objective is more holistic. We are on one end conducting such activities to bring the organizations to the IBA platform, interact with our students, and at the same time we are identifying the potential donors to increase our financial support. When the organizations are going to showcase their CSR activities, we would be able to identify our potential sponsors. So, one activity will have multiple impacts on different themes.
Any other key achievement you would like to share?
In the previous year, we realized that we needed to set up a center where the students could come and speak about their individual concerns. So last year we set up an office of student affairs and within that office we have set up a wellness center. This is the first time we have a dedicated staff for the wellness center, where we have a full-time psychologist. We are also collaborating with other institutions like Aga Khan Hospital, where we can refer our students to professionals and consultant psychiatrists. So that is how we are now making this student body environment, far more inclusive.
What are your key takeaways from the student services summit 2023?
One thing I realized was that we were able to work in smaller HEI groups and there was a lot of learning from each other. We were able to identify the thematic areas where we can conduct training workshops for each other and strengthen the financial aid process. I think this was phenomenal.
The other thing that this summit has sort of made us realize is our awareness on how to facilitate students with disabilities. This is an area that is not really talked about in the higher education sector of Pakistan. There is a very small body of students that are coming to IBA who can be classified as students with special needs. And currently to this date, we have been accommodating them as an institution, but we have been doing that on an ad hoc basis. Now, after the summit, we will be working this year in developing processes and procedures and policies to facilitate these students. Equity, diversity and inclusion will be one of our priority areas moving forward.
What message would you give to the organizers?
I would like to say that I found this summit to be far more productive because we were able to identify the goals and then come up with measurable targets that we are going to achieve for the next year. And the other thing about this summit is that because we were working in smaller groups, there was far more interaction. And in the end, I would just like to thank HESSA, USAID, and particularly our trainers, who have been gracious enough to share their expertise and knowledge with us and have given us so much time. I look forward to such workshops in future as well.