Islamabad - Engr Baleegh-ur-Rehman, Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training, has said that the government accords great importance to quality education, adding that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has brought about immense development in the country’s higher education sector during the last decade.

He expressed these views while speaking at the closing ceremony of the two-day 10th Meeting of the Committee of Heads of University Grants Commission/ Equivalent Bodies of SAARC Member States here on Tuesday. He appreciated HEC for hosting the event in Pakistan and underlined the need for enhancing cooperation among SAARC countries for development of higher education.

Lauding the role of SAARC Committee of Heads of UGCs/ Equivalent Bodies, he said, “In terms of collaboration, we need to do a lot of work. The government of Pakistan will provide every possible support to this forum for achieving the set targets.” He added that the education diplomacy is very important to bridge gaps among South Asian nations.

He underscored the importance of collaborative research among academics and researchers of the SAARC states. “Since all of us share many common things, there is a big room for applied collaborative research in many areas, so we need to come up with indigenous solutions to our local problems.”

Briefing the minister about proceedings of the two-day meeting, Chairman HEC Prof Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said that Pakistan has been honoured to chair the committee. He said that all the participants gave useful suggestions on how to make this forum more effective for development of higher education in all member states of SAARC.

After thorough deliberations, the meeting decided that the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan will prepare a draft agreement on cooperation in the area of higher education for circulation among the member states through the SAARC Secretariat by the end of October 2015 for views/comments. The agreement is recommended to be finalized and signed during the 19th SAARC Summit in Pakistan. The agreement would focus on the integrated regional approach in spearheading the common objective of socio-economic and leadership development through promoting higher education. It was agreed that each member state will develop their national qualification framework and align this with assessment and accreditation mechanism with a view to ensure access to quality higher education. It was also recommended that to promote the culture of quality higher education in member states, it is necessary to establish the SAARC Quality Assurance Network.

Furthermore, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan will develop a standard document on semester/credit hours and assessment mechanism by December 2015 and circulate it through SAARC Secretariat for comments. The HEC will also design/develop a commonly shared website of the Committee of the Heads of University Grants Commissions/Equivalent Bodies of SAARC member states, where all links relevant to Higher Education from the member states will be available for proper dissemination of information, and the link of this website will also be available on SAARC Secretariat website.

It was also decided to consider developing a mechanism for collaborative research programme among institutions of higher learning in the member states, addressing the common issues like energy, water, environment, natural disasters, etc. in coordination with the SAARC regional centres in the member states.

It was also agreed that Higher Education Commission of Pakistan will design SAARC Education and Research Network (SERN) for sharing published data in the South Asian region by December 2015. To organize SAARC universities vice-chancellors meeting, the committee also welcomed the offer of Pakistan to host this meeting.

The committee also recommended that to accelerate the process of implementation of the proposals and decisions taken in the meetings, and to make the system more organized, involvement of respective ministry of foreign/external affairs, ministry of education/higher education and the SAARC Secretariat will be encouraged.

The two-day meeting was attended by Tshewang Tandin, Director General Department of Adult & Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Bhutan; Dr Muhammad Mohabbat Khan, Member UGC, Bangladesh; Prof Hamidullah Amin, President of Private Universities, Ministry of Higher Education, Afghanistan; Fatimath Amira, Director General Ministry of Education, Republic of Maldives; Dr Parashar Prasad Koirala, Chairman UGC, Government of Nepal; Prof Ved Prakash, Chairman UGC, Government of India; Prof Mohan De Silva, Chairman UGC, Sri Lanka, and new Chairman of the Committee, Prof Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, Chairman HEC, Pakistan.