5th VCs Forum concludes with resolve to transform higher education in the Islamic world

Islamabad (PNI) The 5th Vice-Chancellors’ Forum of Universities in the Islamic World concluded in Islamabad on Monday. Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, Mr. Ahsan Iqbal chaired the closing ceremony.

Over 200 Vice Chancellors, including 40 from 20 different OIC countries, participated in the VC Forum that was jointly organized by Higher Education Commission (HEC), COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI), Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO), Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training and British Council, Pakistan.

Speaking at the occasion, Mr. Ahsan Iqbal emphasized the need to realign the places of learning with the global explosion of knowledge and information technology. The Minister said that Islamic world had given up on their fundamental heritage which was observation, inquiry, reflection and critical thinking. “This lies at the root of underdevelopment in the Islamic world”, he said.

The Minister outlined a seven-point reform, audit and performance plan that universities in Pakistan would have to follow in future. This includes academic excellence in imparting knowledge, research and innovation, strong academia industry linkages, community service and contribution to society, technology enablement, corporate governance, and above all impact of graduates in society. He also said that this framework will result in formation of a premiere league of universities which will prepare them to advance into top 100 universities of the world.

High Commissioner of UK to Pakistan, Andrew Dalgeish said that UK remains committed to the educational and cultural relationship with Pakistan. He said that a significant partnership between British Council and HEC has resulted in a large number of qualified Pakistanis joining the local skills market. “Pak-UK Education Gateway is one of the key projects that is part of the global partnership programme.”

Chairman HEC Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed said that the VC Forum has resulted into meaningful discussion among higher education fraternity of the Islamic countries. He thanked all the local and international participants for their valuable input and stressed the need for serious efforts on the part of higher learning institutions to keep pace with the rapid developments in higher education sector.

During the ceremony, the Federal Minister formally inaugurated the platform named ‘Ilm-Bank’, proposed by the Chairman HEC. Ilm bank is a virtual bank which is expected to become a knowledge consortium of higher education institutions in the OIC member states. This would enable access to cross border education, training and research opportunities through a centralized platform. It was informed that ICESCO and World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists will work together to chalk out the terms of reference of the Ilm-bank. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed called on the Federal Minister for Planning and Special Initiatives to allocate resources for giving Pakistan a leadership role in establishing the Ilm-bank. He further added that efforts will be mobilized to convince donor/funding agencies like the Islamic Development Bank as well as other development funds to support the cause of emancipation of higher education in OIC member states.

Prof. Dr. Muhammad T. Afzal, Rector, COMSATS University Islamabad presented the conference recommendations. Salient among these were the need for collaborative approach, prioritizing skills over degrees, embracing new technologies and methodologies, bridging gap between academia and industry, developing clear understanding of benefits and risks of artificial intelligence (AI), promoting gender equity and developing facilities and infrastructure. The participants unanimously called upon governments of the Islamic World to allocate 1% of their national GDP towards higher education to secure the future of the Muslim Ummah in the wake of challenges of Industry 4.0. It was also recommended that Universities in the Islamic World adopt measures for the emancipation of women in higher education and embed the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals in their programs, processes and Systems.

The ceremony concluded on inauguration of the ICESCO Chair for Big Data Analysis and Edge Computing at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. Dr. AlMalik, Director General ICESCO handed over the formalised agreement of the establishment of the Chair to Vice Chancellor QAU, Prof. Dr. Niaz Akhtar in the presence of Chairman HEC and Minister for Planning & Special Initiative and Rector, COMSATS University Islamabad.