A group of eight university vice chancellors from Pakistan recently spent a week training at the University of Utah as part of the Higher Education Systems Strengthening Activity (HESSA)—a USAID-funded, U-led project. During their one-week visit in July, the education leaders toured U facilities and learned more about U.S. university management.
Pakistan’s population is the youngest it’s ever been, with about two-thirds of the total population under 30 years of age, according to the UNDP Pakistan’s National Human Development Report. Readying that influx of youth for a successful transition to the job market is paramount to the country’s long-term success. However, Pakistani employers report gaps in graduate preparedness. That’s why the $19 million USAID’s HESSA project is aimed at boosting Pakistan’s higher education ecosystem and better preparing graduates to meet the needs of the modern workplace.
In 2021, the University of Utah was selected as the lead implementation partner of USAID’s HESSA, thanks in large part to the U’s experience with educational capacity building in Pakistan. Partner institutions include the University of Alabama and the Institute of International Education (IIE). Over the course of five years, the trio will work with 15 universities in Pakistan to strengthen their leadership practices; approach to curriculum, research and industry partnerships; and student life initiatives.
“The Pakistani delegation graciously hosted our U representatives during several recent trainings in Pakistan. The team was excited to return the hospitality and welcome these vice chancellors to our beautiful Utah campus,” said Michael Barber, chair, civil and environmental engineering and principal investigator, USAID’s HESSA. “We were able to exchange ideas, showcase what makes the U a world-class institution and continue to build partnerships that will advance the caliber of our respective universities and graduates.”
“The University of Utah has much to offer in terms of demonstrating how higher ed can evolve, respond to the moment and truly lead-out on contemporary issues,” said Cheri Daily, executive director, Global Program Development Marketing & Communications and project manager, USAID’s HESSA. “The process of sharing will also help U leaders to reflect on how the campus continues to develop as a global thought leader.”
The July visit is the first of many trainings that will help higher education professionals witness firsthand some of the best practices in U.S. higher education management and then implement their findings within their local context in Pakistan.
While on campus, the vice chancellors attended workshops and meetings with U administrators, research faculty, student life professionals and state legislators. Topics of conversation included:
- Leading a research university in the “new normal.”
- International research and collaboration to solve global problems.
- Forwarding an equity, diversity, and inclusion agenda.
- Integrating disability services across a university.
- The benefits of technology and venture commercialization.
“This week was a great learning experience as a leader. When you see something amazing, you start believing you can do the same thing. Being at the University of Utah increased my own imagination, to aim high and think high,” said Dr. Zahour Ul Haq, vice chancellor, Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan.
Dr. Saima Hamid, vice chancellor at Fatima Jinnah Women University echoed the sentiment, “This experience was invigorating and energizing. The scale of the University of Utah is amazing. It was important to see how the U’s systems work. We have lots to learn and are taking home lots of ideas to implement,” she said.
The group continued their U.S. tour with a week in Washington, D.C., where they met with the Pakistani ambassador, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Utah Rep. Chris Stewart’s office, IIE and USAID.
The Higher Education System Strengthening Activity (HESSA) exists to address Pakistan’s mismatch in supply and demand of workforce development. Launched in 2021, the five-year project will increase the employability of the Pakistani workforce through trainings to improve Higher Education graduate capacity, relevance, adequacy and inclusivity.