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Thinking outside the box is new mantra of survival

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Prof Dr Zia-Ul-Qayyum

If you want to get noticed or stand out from the crowd, no matter how big it is, no matter how you look at yourself in the mirror to describe your appearance - a tall, short, skinny, chubby, stout, just big or very big - the only thing you can bank on with a guaranteed desired outcome is making a move in a direction that can take you away from the mob the quickest. What counts at the end is what you do and how you do it. You need to think, think and think hard, rather outside the box for a genuinely positive change - in your own life and those of the others. The dictum, if you allow me to call it one but not necessarily be judged on the same scale as we used for the likes of honesty is the best policy or many similar others, sounds worth applying at least for the sake of it. If you are lost in the wilderness, your survival depends upon moving in a direction that takes you home safely and more quickly. Ours is a world of challenges and cut-throat competitions. We had been left in the lurch and spent 50 years wandering for the right direction. When it was finally discovered, the journey became easier, much comfortable and faster.

The guide is none other than the Higher Education Commission (HEC) which has completed 15 years marked with unprecedented achievements. The overwhelming progress and development witnessed in the higher education sector during these years is a sharp contrast to the pre-HEC era spanning over five decades. The establishment as well as successful management of a growing network of universities in just a decade and a half has stunned the world nations. We were told that the route map or key to progress and development is tertiary education, which had remained a privileged right in Pakistan for five decades or so.

Thanks to HEC, it is accessible to all Pakistani men and women today. Orphans and other students who have little or no means to pay for the cost of their studies but they possess a talent to forge ahead in their chosen fields are enrolled by our universities under various support schemes. It is my firm conviction that if you possess a genuine desire to serve the society, your people or, humanity in general, along with the ability to enunciate your plans in a few decipherable words, there are Good Samaritans out there ready to support you. Overwhelmed by a similar passion, one of the few decisions I made immediately after taking charge as vice chancellor of the University of Gujrat (UoG) in December 2014 was free education for orphans and deserving students.

The HEC support and encouragement had been all along with me in the initiation and execution of this and many other projects related to academic, research and development, innovation, apart from further expansion and infrastructure development of the university. In April this year, we waived 100 per cent tuition fee of 115 brilliant but deserving students. About 135 other students were granted a 50 per cent waiver. Applications are invited from students seeking scholarships and fee concession at the start of every new academic year.

The evaluation of the cases is made by the UoG-HEC Need Based Committee which consists of senior faculty members and directors of various departments, HEC representatives as well as members of civil society. It goes without saying that the Higher Education Commission has been playing a pivotal role in regulating and streamlining the country’s higher education sector. It was established in 2002 when a revolution in different fields of knowledge had already triggered a wave of social transformation across the globe. Realizing the importance of higher education, many nations had based their economies on knowledge and started benefiting a great deal from this paradigm shift. As they say it’s never too late. Pakistan also jumped on the bandwagon to boost its social, economic and cultural growth. Higher education had to be in the limelight as the slow pace of national development and progress needed an impetus, and badly so.

The HEC picked up the gauntlet and provided the one. All of us know that ours is a world full of challenges and cut-throat competitions. Our survival depends on our youth who must be equipped with the latest knowledge and skills to compete at international level. Gone are the days of ‘seeking knowledge or education for the sake of it’. Today’s education is the knowledge that enhances your intellectual and academic approach with an urge to think outside the box (innovation) and change others’ life. The HEC leadership - fully aware of the challenges and always at pains to advance the cause of higher education - built a network of universities with state-of-the-art facilities and fashioned a culture of seminars and conferences with a focus on research, innovation, promotion and further development of modern concepts of e-business and smart university at almost all the universities across the the country.

It signed several MoUs with national and international universities and institutions of repute for exchange programmes and scholarships to further uplift the standard of higher education and bring it at par with the rest of the world. No agenda of growth and development is complete without a due focus on the all-important role of industry-academia linkages and community development, believes HEC chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed. The soft-spoken chief gave a remarkable account of the HEC achievements during the last 15 years amid roaring applause of the audience - an elite gathering of mediamen and anchor persons of various TV channels, writers as well scholars - at a seminar in Lahore recently.

The intelligentsia reiterated its commitment to support HEC policies for further promotion and uplift of higher education standards in the country. The seminar was organized by the UoG and underscored the need for collective wisdom in search of a new narrative or mantra to turn our dreams of national progress and development into reality. His eyes glittered with hope as the chairman went about describing some important milestones during the 15-year success saga of the commission. He did not claim any personal credit nor is he ever heard using the first person singular form of the pronoun for taking the credit of the phenomenal increase in the total number of universities, both public and private, from just 59 in 2002 to 188 today. This fantastic boom fails to make him proud or sit on his laurels as he shows in the same breath the other, gloomier part of the picture.

The fact that only nine percent of the country’s youth population gets access to higher education puts a damper on his mood. It was a dismal 2.6 percent in 2008. However, you get immediate solace to know that PhD faculty at our higher education institutions has increased from a mere two percent to 26 per cent. The commission aims to change the figure of 188 into 300 as part of its Vision 2025. Thankfully enough, the growing network of universities is no more viewed as just a source to get the degrees. Today’s universities have enormous potential to boost the social, moral and intellectual progress of the nation.

They play a vital role in cultivating peace and promoting toleration for peaceful co-existence. The investment of government of Pakistan in higher education sector has also doubled during the last three financial years. It clearly reflects the government’s commitment and trust on the HEC and its agenda driven by the Vision 2025 to create a society committed to peace, progress and a just democratic social order.

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