New US-Pakistani university partnerships launched

A partnership programme in which the US government is sponsoring academic links between American and Pakistani universities was launched on Tuesday. The local universities are in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, an area badly hit by Pakistani Taliban terrorist attacks.

The US government announced last year that it would invest US$8.6 million over three years in developing university partnerships, all of which will include academic exchanges.

The programme kicked off with collaboration between Rawalpindi’s Fatima Jinnah Women University and the University of Texas, and between Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University and America’s Ball State University.

The Taliban’s killing of senior provincial minister Bashir Bilour of the ruling Awami National Party last month forced the government to hold the university partnership launching ceremony in the provincial chief minister’s house instead of on a university campus.

“Our part of the country has seen so much bloodshed since Taliban’s unending and barbaric onslaught, from which even universities are not safe,” Nasir Jamal Khatak, vice-chancellor of Kohat University of Science and Technology (KUST), told University World News.

“Cooperation with the American universities is expected to generate employment in the province, which could prove helpful in containing rising support for extremism.”

KUST, as part of a provincial university consortium, will build a partnership with the University of Kentucky. KUST's former vice-chancellor, Lutfullah Kakakhel, was kidnapped in November 2009 by the Taliban and remained in captivity for eight months.

Other universities in the provincial consortium to collaborate with Kentucky University include Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, the University of Peshawar, the University of Science and Technology Bannu and the Institute of Management Sciences in Peshawar.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University and Southern Methodist University are also to join hands under this partnership programme.

The partnerships will include faculty exchanges and research collaboration in disciplines including women’s studies, anthropology, psychology, media, and American and business studies.

“We plan to build a long-term relationship with Pakistani universities in this province that will benefit both the nations. If our relationship is to thrive we must build networks of people in all sectors of society, including universities,” Robert Reed, the US consul general, said during the launching ceremony.

“More such partnership agreements under this programme are in the offing as part of our broader efforts to connect Pakistani and American universities to develop research collaboration on energy, water and agriculture. Every partnership will include faculty exchange,” said Reed.

The province’s Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, while referring to frequent bombings, kidnapping and disruption by the Pakistani Taliban, said: “We believe that education is the panacea for all the ills the province is facing these days.

“These partnerships are vitally important to improve not only our curriculum, but our universities' research capabilities as well."

Provincial Higher Education Secretary Farah Hamid told University World News: “International collaboration in university education will increase our capacity to overcome local issues of energy shortage, unemployment and social unrest.

“We value American support to our universities at this critical time.”

Four more partnerships between Pakistani and American universities are expected to be announced this year, and funds will be channelled through the US embassy.