ISLAMABAD:The Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan, has launched e-courses on its policies on “protection against sexual harassment in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)” and “Policy for Students with Disabilities in HEIs” to make Pakistani universities safer and more inclusive for students, faculty and administrative staff.

The e-courses have been launched in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women, and the Australian High Commission in Pakistan. The National Academy of Higher Education (NAHE) will host the e-courses that will promote awareness and outreach of these policies.

Addressing the virtual launching ceremony, Executive Director HEC Dr. Shaista Sohail said that the role of HEIs was instrumental to emphasize and promote the significance of practicing basic principles and high moral grounds. She informed the participants that two percent scholarships are specified for students with disabilities in the Prime Minister’s Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship Programme. She hoped that the coordinated efforts will not only make HEIs safer and inclusive, but will also improve students’ overall academic accomplishments.

In his remarks, Resident Representative UNDP Knut Otsby asserted that, “If we want to encourage the youth to stay in higher education and continue to make progress on the SDGs commitments to provide equal access to women to obtain a tertiary education, we must ensure that young people are able to attain education in a safe, culturally appropriate and equitable environment.”

Deputy High Commissioner Joanne Frederiksen said that “This is an important step for promoting inclusion on campus. We are heartened by HEC’s leadership in this area, and encourage Vice-Chancellors to ensure faculty staff and students to complete the e-courses.”

Country Representative UN Women Ms Sharmeela Rasool observed that a vast majority of women were still unaware of the protection available to them through legislations. She stressed the need for creating awareness among women about the legal protection. Rector NAHE Dr. Shaheen Sardar Ali said that the Academy was a national institution for capacity building of academic leaders, faculty and staff. “One of the aspects of capacity building is to translate the rules and regulation into knowledge.”

In his closing remarks, Adviser Coordination HEC Awais Ahmad reiterated HEC’s pledge to continue partnering with national and international entities to build awareness and capacity for operationalizing these policies. He highlighted that the creation of Students Services Division at HEC and inclusion of mandatory requirement for students to join clubs, societies, and sports under HEC Undergraduate Education Policy will create leadership opportunities to work with wider higher education constituencies in building understanding and compliance of two policies.

In addition, plans to develop an umbrella PC-I to gradually support universities in remodeling infrastructure, labs and equipment, and policies for control of tobacco and drug abuse, and use of security cameras in campuses are a few of many initiatives being executed to build a free, tolerant, safe and supportive, learning environment in HEIs.