KARACHI: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) jointly marked the International Women’s Day by celebrating the achievements of female students and alumni under the USAID-funded Merit and Need-based Scholarship Programme at the Commission Secretariat here on Thursday.

Helen M. Pataki, USAID-Pakistan Mission Director (Acting) was the guest of honour during the ceremony, whereas Dr. Arshad Ali, Executive Director, HEC, Dr. Samina Qadir, Vice Chancellor, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, and Mr. Waseem Hashmi Syed, Advisor Human Resource Development, HEC were also present along with a large number of faculty members and students.

In his welcome address, Dr. Arshad Ali paid glowing tribute to Pakistani women, especially those associated with academia, and said women play a pivotal role in development of nations. He said ensuring gender equality through its programmes is among the foremost priorities of HEC. “HEC is committed to ensuring provision of equal opportunities to women in the higher education sector, as educated women guarantee a prosperous nation,” he asserted. He said it is the outcome of HEC’s initiatives that the female enrolment rate in higher education institutions since 2002 has increased from 32 per cent to 48 per cent. He underscored that women’s universities are playing vital role in the education of female professionals, artists, writers, and thinkers who are the future leaders of an educated, enlightened, ethical and prosperous Pakistan. He maintained that HEC encourages female researchers to avail themselves of the opportunities provided by HEC under various initiatives. He reiterated the HEC’s resolve to ensuring strong commitment to Protection of Women against Harassment at Workplace Act 2010. He said the role of HEC cannot be denied in achieving the goals of human resource development and transition to the knowledge-based economy.

Sharing the background of partnership between HEC and USAID, he said USAID has been extending cooperation to HEC in various programmes. “We are looking forward to enhancing the bilateral cooperation under the US-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor,” he underlined. He said USAID extended support to HEC in achieving national targets through investment in various HEC schemes such as scholarships, faculty training, infrastructure development of universities, research and development projects, and establishment of centres of excellence. This not only exhibits depth of strong relationship between the two countries, but also complements Government of Pakistan’s efforts to provide equal opportunities and quality education to all citizens.

Speaking on the occasion, Helen M. Pataki said the aim of organising the event was to acknowledge achievements and success of female scholarship recipients under USAID-funded Merit and Need-based Scholarship Programme. Since 2004, she said, HEC and USAID joined hands to provide quality education accessible to those talented students those students who do not have financial resources to afford expenses of university education, but demonstrated high academic capability, intellectual curiosity and passion for learning. She said under this scholarship programme, students can study in Bachelors or Masters programmes of 31 partner universities on fully-funded basis in the fields of Business Administration, Agriculture, Social Sciences, Medicine and Engineering. She informed the audience that 5000 scholarships have been awarded under the programme so far, adding that 2000 students have completed their education while 3000 students are currently studying in partner universities. Only through education, Pakistan children can thrive, she concluded.

In her remarks, Dr. Samina Qadir said the International Women’s Day is a call for gender parity across the world. She observed that education paves the way for development of sustainable societies and economic and social justice. She said HEC and USAID are proactively playing their positive role in promoting gender equity in the higher education sector.

In his introductory address earlier, Waseem S. Hashmi Syed said HEC is promoting gender equality through its programmes. He said HEC and USAID started the USAID Merit and Need-based Scholarship Programme in 2004 and the two sides agreed on awarding equal number of scholarships to male and female students. “It was a big challenge in a country where the enrolment of male and female students had a big gap in 2004,” he said, adding that, “we have met the target by extending 52 per cent scholarships to female students under this programme.” He observed that the real challenge for female students will now come across them in their professional life. “I wish you all may have good job opportunities in the public and private sector,” he stated.

On the occasion, the alumni of USAID Merit and Need-based Scholarship Programme including Dr. Saima Kalsoom, Assistant Professor Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam, and Nadia Beg, Assistant Development Manager, SZABIST shared their success stories, while documentaries on the achievements of Monika Andrani, BBA student from IBA Sukkur, and Shanzay Afzal, Chemical Engineering student from NUST were also presented. At the end, scholarship certificates were distributed among students of various universities under the USAID-funded Merit and Need-based Scholarship Programme.