PAKISTAN: British Council forges university links

Pakistan's Higher Education Commission and the British Council have signed an agreement to expand university links between the two countries, with a new vision to help Pakistani universities get research out of laboratories to the service of communities and upliftment of the economy.

The major objective of the collaborative initative called the Knowledge Exchange Programme is to provide opportunities to Pakistani universities to enhance the research and training capabilities of their academics by linking up with partner higher education institutions in the UK.

University World News interviewed British Council's country director in Pakistan, David Martin (pictured), who said: "Knowledge Exchange refers to taking the best benefits and skills for supporting the community and entrepreneurship and exploiting the university's physical assets for generating economic returns."

"We have signed a memorandum of understanding with Pakistan's Higher Education Commission [HEC] to support knowledge exchange delivery in four strands: helping the HEC's own countrywide knowledge exchange strategic plan; facilitating Pakistani universities' knowledge exchange strategic planning; capacity-building of Pakistani knowledge exchange professionals; and development of sector-specific clusters," Martin said.

"The British Council and Higher Education Commission have built a strong and enduring partnership over the past few years. In recent months, we have been working together on developing what I see as the third leg of the stool for these partnerships - knowledge exchange with industry, commerce and the wider community," he said.

Executive Director of the Higher Education Commission, Sohail Naqvi, told University World News: "The HEC-BC collaboration or, in broader terms, UK-Pakistan university collaboration is mutually beneficial to both sides as the HEC was already working on the knowledge exchange concept and in the coming years we are going to allocate special funds for that."

David supported his views, saying: "We work together for mutual benefit. The research partnerships between UK and Pakistani universities give UK universities the opportunity to work with bright young researchers in new areas of study, and in turn Pakistani researchers are given access to an international community of researchers, receive capacity-building to international standards and are published in top quality refereed journals."

Naqvi said the commission was focussing on building linkages between universities and communities, universities and the economy, and universities and leadership.

"After spending the last few years focusing on developing research capacity, the HEC now wants to push the development of the knowledge economy and knowledge exchange to the top of the agenda and we believe that UK universities could be good partners to help our university leaders to learn from their experience," Naqvi explained.

Giving more background on the initiative, Martin said: "Knowledge exchange is an increasingly important third stream of activity in the UK. The UK has evolved many structures, systems and processes to support knowledge exchange development and delivery and UK universities now have an impressive array of activities that are having significant social and economic impact.

"In 2008-09 the knowledge exchange alone brought in £2.8 billion [US$4.4 billion] to the UK gross domestic product."

Nishat Riaz, programme manager at the British Council's Islamabad office, told University World News: "Supporting the development of knowledge exchange in Pakistan is a key component of the British Council's global and regional programmes.

"The council is helping both the HEC and individual Pakistani universities to access and leverage some of the best support and guidance from UK partners to help fast-track Pakistan's knowledge exchange progress"

She added: "Pakistan is an important partner for the UK - it's in all of our best interests to support connections between both the higher education sectors and the wider business and social communities of these two countries."

Riaz said that British Council had been working in the higher education sector of Pakistan for 20 years and its activities were mainly funded by the UK Department for International Development.