British Council Head of External Relations-Education Muhammad Ali talks to The Educationist
Photography: Abdullah Waris
The British Council is collaborating with HEC, federal as well as provincial governments on various educational programmes including students
enrollment, students retention, faculty developments, research and other projects. This was stated by Muhammad Ali, the Head of Education in British Council Pakistan, during an exclusive interview with The Educationist at PC Hotel. Following are the details of our discussion with him:
The Educationist: Tell us about your early life and education?
Muhammad Ali: I belong to KPK. I have done Masters in Sociology from University of Peshawar in 2007-08. My favorite subject was Dynamics of Human Behavior. I started my career from community development.
The Educationist: What is British Council and your role in this organisation?
Muhammad Ali: The British Council was established in Pakistan in 1948. It is a cultural relations organisation between the UK and 110 other countries, Pakistan is one of them. I joined British Council in 2010 to take care of higher education. Strategically South Asian region is important for the British government and in South Asia, Pakistan is among the largest operations. We are taking care of UK qualification over here and we are offering more than 90 UK qualification in Pakistan. There is A-levels IGSC caring international examination of University of central London, IELTS, ACCA. In cultural relations we are supporting the society in arts, English and culture to learn best practices of each other’s.
“British Council is building strategic partnership between United Kingdom and Pakistani universities, which are more than 100. A strong competition is going on between provinces. That’s the beauty of the 18th Amendment”
The Educationist: What are the British Council’s major projects regarding higher education in Pakistan?
Muhammad Ali: Mostly we are working on internationalising higher education. It’s about building strategic partnership between UK and Pakistani universities and they are more than 100 in number. We have started this journey in 2005-2006. The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan was established in 2001, right after its establishments we have started talking to HEC about internationalization of education. We have started our project like INSPRE, International Strategic Partnership on Research and Education. We made 10 partnerships between UK & Pakistani universities and HEC was the lead partner. We have identified core area for working that includes key strategic areas like health, energy, education, agriculture. Luckily we are supported by best potential partners i.e. the UK higher education and the Pakistan Higher Education Commission.
Another successful program by British Council is transnational education partnership program run by HEC and British Council. Under this program we have started short and long courses of international standard. British universities helped Pakistani universities in development of new courses of 1 month to 6 months programme then full 2 years degree programme. Our main lead partners from Pakistan were Punjab University (PU), Hazara University and National University of Science and Technology (NUST). Research is the game changer in Higher education between both countries UK and Pakistan. HEC requested the British Council to develop a Knowledge Exchange Strategy and we had done completed this task in 2010-2012. We involved representatives from chambers of commerce and industries and experts of key organizations to share their views with us on higher education trends and how research should be marketed and applied?
Then HEC established ORIC department (Office of Research, Innovation and Commercialization) and knowledge exchange strategy is the spirit of all these offices in which academics’ and non-academia like government, civil society and NGOs interact. Higher education institutions should focus on community engagement, industry engagements and government engagement in terms of policy making and strategy building, generating revenue and giving economic benefits to the community and surroundings.
Then we have started Knowledge Economy Partnership Programme because targeting the economic sector knowledge can be exchanged in economy in terms of policies and market revenue. We have started this project in 2015 and it will end in 2018. There are 15 universities, which are engaging with UK universities & industries to develop some new areas like social entrepreneurship, heritage management, archeology, tourism etc.
The Educationist: How do you see development of PHECs after the 18th Amendment?
Muhammad Ali: It’s a tricky question. Both HEC and PHECs are respectable. We are working with them and providing expertise to them as per their demand.
The Educationist: How many scholarships are offered by the British Council for Pakistani students?
Muhammad Ali: British Council is not a donor or scholarship awarding organization. As a cultural organization, we seek partnerships and provide opportunities. For example we were offering Chevening Scholarships for 20 years and that was a massive programme. Currently we are offering the Charles Wallace Trust fellowships, supporting Common Wealth scholarships programmes. We are an administrative body for all these scholarships. For Punjab we are developing faculty development programme that is Punjab Chief Minister’s initiative and we are supporting them. We started working on this programme in 2014 with 6 scholars from the colleges.
The Educationist: How do you see the current education policy of Pakistan?
Muhammad Ali: There are many areas to improve in the education policy. There are many improvement areas even in the UK as well as in Pakistan. Good thing is to take step in the right direction at right time.
The Educationist: You are a native of KPK, how do you see working of the KPK government in education sector?
Muhammad Ali: Well, there is a strong competition going on between provinces. That’s the beauty of the 18th Amendment. It’s not about only KPK, it’s about all provinces. Every province is developing its annual development programme (ADP). They have priorities in different areas, like Parho Punjab Barho Punjab (Read Punjab and develop Punjab) is a successful programme here in Punjab. Also laptop schemes, Danish school system are being focused by the Chief Minister Punjab. There is a huge funding allocated under the Punjab Education Endowment Fund (PEEF) an also the Knowledge Park. In all projects the British Council is the strategic partner.
The KPK government is working to improve the system, there are people who are responsible to make sure students’ enrolments and their retention. They are coming up with research based solution to the education problems of the province. There is strong team of vice chancellors policy-makers there and the British Council is collaborating with them.
The Sindh government is looking for scholarship programmes to promote higher education and improve its system.
In Baluchistan, the British Council is helping in student’s retention programme, strengthening the college education system and developing capacity of disaster management authority. Competitions are always good for the development sectors.