ISLAMABAD - Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Sania Nishtar Monday said it is for the first time in the history that such a big Undergraduate Scholarship Programme has been initiated purely on government expenses under Ehsaas’ initiative to ensure 50,000 deserving students’ access to higher education annually.

She stated this while was addressing a press conference here on Monday. Dr Sania Nishtar said this scholarship will accommodate 200,000 students including 50 percent girls from the low backgrounds in the four years through providing them full tuition fee as well as living stipends. She said the prime objective of Ehsaas scholarships program is to ensure that no eligible student is deprived of higher education because of financial need.

Two percent scholarships will be exclusively awarded to students with special needs. This program is unique as it reflects a historic shift in scholarship policy of the government.

Unlike past scholarships that aimed at MS or PhD level programs, this project specifically focuses on undergraduate education, which is the surest way of rising out of poverty. The continuation of scholarship in following years will depend upon the maintenance of academic performance.

 By the closing date, as many as 132,192 undergraduate students (49,841 girls) applied for scholarships for the academic year 2019-20 under the first phase of the project.

The students from low-income backgrounds studying in undergraduate programmes across 119 public sector universities recognized by HEC were eligible to apply. Subsequently, the universities’ scholarship award committees made provisional decisions based on applications and documents received and recommended them for ratification by the program steering committee.

The provisional decisions were confirmed after formal ratification as well as follow up scrutiny, including income verification, verification of supporting documents, and personal interviews by the scholarship award committee. The project is being overseen by the Ehsaas Scholarships Steering Committee, co-chaired by Dr. Nishtar and Chairman HEC.

As part of this shared initiative, a joint monitoring and evaluation framework has been set up to ensure that the program is running in a transparent, equitable, and accountable manner. The monitoring and evaluation system reports directly to the Ehsaas Scholarship Steering Committee.

To a question regarding extending this scholarship facility to the students of private sector universities, Dr. Nishtar responded that this require a policy debate and in the next phase of the programme, the steering committee will sit together and have deliberations on it.

To another question, she said the students of not only the universities but affiliated colleges are also eligible to apply in this programme. She said massive advertisement will be done before launch of the second phase of this programme in the month of June. Responding to a question, Dr. Shahbaz Gill said unfortunately our higher education sector received prime focus during the last few years and primary, middle and high school level education was neglected.

He assured that the present government is endeavoring to lift the standard and quality of education from lower levels and taking many steps.