USAID successfully concludes 3-day summit on higher education and workforce development

ISLAMABAD-The International Summit on Higher Education and Workforce Development in the 21st Century concluded in Islamabad the other day, after three days of deliberations and discussions. The summit was part of USAID’s Higher Education System Strengthening Activity (HESSA). The summit’s objective was to align Pakistan’s higher education delivery to the needs of the 21st century by improving the quality of higher education, seeking ways to improve the sustainability of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), and making them stakeholders in the country’s drive towards climate adaptation.
The final session of the summit, entitled “Higher Education and Climate Change Adaptation,” was chaired by the esteemed Sherry Rehman, Minister of Climate Change. While chairing the session, Minister Rehman expressed concerns about the lack of integration of climate change education into Pakistan’s higher education curriculum, asserting that “Campuses are a magnet for learning and change, creativity, innovation, and science-based learning.” She further emphasised the imperativeness of HEI’s adoption of inter and transdisciplinary approaches to climate change and adaption
Key speakers for the concluding session were Dr. Asim Zia, Professor of Public Policy and Computer Science, University of Vermont, Dr. Thomas C. Piechota, Professor of Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy, Chapman University, Dr. Michael Barber, Professor and Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah, and Dr. Ghulam Rasool, Head of Climate Change Program of International Union for Conservation of Nature Pakistan. The speakers primarily reiterated Minister Rehman’s assertions on developing an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach to climate change education. Additionally, Dr. Ghulam Rasool highlighted the necessity for discussions about climate change, especially in Pakistan and South Asia. Dr. Asim Zia carried forth the same ideas, suggesting, “We need to think in ways of indigeneity, what we can do to prepare for climate change on our own.” 
According to Dr. Thomas Piechota, the youth bulge in Pakistan presents both an opportunity and a hazard for developing countries experiencing the worst climate change. Sharing knowledge gained from his university’s Grand Challenge Initiative, he remarked, “Students have great ideas and innovations for local level [climate adaptation] interventions; that’s a resource that should be utilized.” In an effort to connect climate change education and research at universities worldwide, Dr. Michael Barber stated, “Universities should own the climate adaptation,” and that “the solutions to climate change will require everybody to be pushing in the same direction.”
Rana Tanveer Hussain, Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training; Keith Grover, Utah Senator; Mr. Reed Aeschliman, USAID Mission Director, Dr. Aslam Chaudhry, HESSA Chief of Party; and Dr. Shaista Sohail, Executive Director HEC spoke during the concluding ceremony. Addressing the closing ceremony, HESSA Chief of Party Dr. Aslam Chaudhry reflected upon the key learnings and recommendations made during the three-day summit. The three key takeaways he outlined from the first session were “Developing higher education policy, and programs that are interdisciplinary in nature incorporates sustainability as a key consideration in problem-solving and mainstreaming entrepreneurial skills to equip the workforce to solve local and global challenges,” “There is a need to explore and provide more flexible pathways for upskilling and reskilling of those who want to advance their careers in line with the evolving demands,” and “Setting up high quality and flexible online education in parallel to our traditional higher education system.”
Some of his key takeaways from session II were “Universities must look for new and innovative ways to mobilize resources, build partnerships which include private sector and communities, set up endowment funds, free up capital from non-productive uses, and strengthen alumni engagement,” and “Universities should engage strong businesses and renowned academic thought leaders on their respective board of governors because they can help in attracting the private sector funding and also can provide guidance for the reform of the curriculum.”
Dr. Aslam Chaudhary outlined the necessity of implementing faculty capacity-building programs, elevating resource constraints, and launching mental health programs as crucial to developing the institutional stature of universities as key takeaways of the third session. The takeaways of the fourth session revolved around the education sector taking various paths to improve the value of degrees provided, technological advancements, and hard and soft skills development of graduating students. Lastly, the important takeaways as well as recommendations of the fifth session that Dr. Aslam Chaudhary focused upon included ensuring cohesion in climate-related research efforts with due input and guidance from relevant stakeholders.
Low and unequal access, out-dated teaching and research methods, poor connections between academics and business, and ineffective administration and governance are just some of the problems Federal Minister Rana identified as plaguing our nation’s institutions of higher learning. He further expressed his gratitude to USAID for helping Pakistan’s HEIs to meet the needs of the 21st century. Dr. Shaista Sohail, Executive Director HEC, lauded HESSA for starting a conversation about problems in higher education that had not been adequately addressed before. She expressed optimism for the future, both of higher education in the country and the alliance between HEC and HESSA, stating that “We will continue our partnership with HESSA and USAID and implement recommendations in line with HEC’s Vision 2025.” Dr. Michael Barber congratulated the organizers and participants for an insightful summit on behalf of the University of Utah, a project partner of HESSA. A unique side event saw the inaugural meeting of the HESSA-ORIC Working Group in line with HEC’s Office of Research, Innovation, and Commercialization (ORIC) policy 2021. Representatives from 16 public universities, all participating in the HESSA initiative, were in attendance. Attendees also included academics and dignitaries from Pakistan, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Thailand, all of whom are leaders in higher education. Five sessions were conducted over the course of three days, with working groups, plenaries, and expert panels on how HEIs can be made key stakeholders in the country’s drive toward climate adaptation, in building the capacity of faculty, in increasing the market relevance of graduate programs, and in improving the overall quality and sustainability of HEIs.

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