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Higher education must go global

In the last few decades, the world has seen a steady march towards regional integration and globalisation through economic blocs like BRICs, intercontinental road and rail networks through the One Belt, One Road project and exceeding adaptation of the WTO regime.

However, Britain’s impending exit from the European Union and the revival of a nationalist political agenda in some leading countries, indicate that globalisation and wider cross-country collaborations are not exactly a done deal.

Even though globalisation remains a way forward for the world, much more robust efforts are required to promote a global orientation among the masses, and foster cross-cultural collaboration in the realms of economy, technology and education.

For its part, Pakistan presents an interesting case. On the one hand, it is confronted with security challenges, cross-border conflicts and energy shortages while, on the other hand, its strategic geographic location, promising youth bulge, natural endowments and competitive cluster base place it as a centrepiece of the world’s economic and political map. It is this potential which has persuaded China to pour in massive investments into Pakistan and the United States to build a knowledge-corridor between the two nations. Recently, China committed $46 billion on mega-infrastructure projects in Pakistan, while the US has provided financial support to 23 US-based universities for promoting research and academic cooperation with private and public sector Pakistani universities.

The world therefore is seeing Pakistan with a renewed interest, and as a future destination of investment, partnership and prosperity. We have to embrace the dynamics of the post-OBOR world, and prepare the nation to make the most out of this opportunity. Our higher education institutions would have to assume the role of torchbearer in augmenting a cross-cultural orientation and global outlook among the youth. Internationalisation of higher education institutions, therefore, holds the key to the future.

Internationalisation has increasingly been seen as a key facet of academic institutions. However, the challenges for internalisation in terms of their nature and magnitude for universities in developing countries considerably differ from those operating in academically advanced countries. Factors like broader socio-political framework, macro economic conditions, education policies and support structure significantly impact opportunities and challenges for universities to internationalise themselves.

For Pakistan, impediments like nascent internal processes of universities, lack of support systems, financial constraints and capacity gaps, etc, are by and large common to developing countries; whereas few, like security problems and cross-border tensions, are somewhat unique to us. In certain cases, inconsistent and evolving policies of government and the Higher Education Commission also put internationalisation efforts of universities at odds.

Despite all these constraints, Pakistani universities have shown notable progress towards internationalisation. Different internalisation avenues like joint-degree programmes, student and faculty exchanges, accreditation and membership of internationalisation bodies, etc, have been explored by both public and private sector universities. Yet, we are just at the beginning of a long journey.

To move forward, there is pressing need for fostering collaboration between the universities. While internationalisation is considered more of a university’s individual pursuit, certainly there exists room for undertaking joint efforts for the benefit of the entire sector. There must be a platform where internationalisation office-bearers of various universities could share their respective internationalisation strategies and learning with one another.

Moreover, through this platform key global players could be engaged with Pakistan, making it feasible for individual universities to work on their internationalisation agenda with and through these networks. The platform could also be helpful for gaining policy and technical support for the internationalisation of higher education.

Bajwa, Samiullah. Higher education must go global. The Express Tribune, June 14, 2017.

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