Education is the best investment for sustainable development

Islamabad - 10 September 2014: To fully tap the potential of higher education institutions to meet the present and future needs of Pakistan and make sure the higher education is on track towards sustainable development, COMSATS
Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) in collaboration with UNESCO Islamabad, British Council Pakistan and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) organized an event in Islamabad.

The event, "The World Beyond 2015: Is Higher Education Ready?" brought together experts who shared their opinions and recommendations in regards to the challenges and role of higher education with special reference to the Post-2015 development agenda

Dr. Junaid Ziadi, Rector of the CIIT, while inaugurating the event, outlined the role and importance of educational institutions and higher education for building a better society.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Sania Nishtar, Founder and President of Heartfil and a former Interim Federal Minister for Education, Health, Science and Information Technology emphasized the need for aligning the research work of academia with policy priorities and industry. She said the potential of Pakistani higher education needs to be tapped to meet upcoming challenges and that after a decade of investment, higher education was ready for new challenges and increased responsibilities, yet was under-funded. Institutional change, governance and oversight were important. The world was much more inter-connected now and the role of technology much bigger, she pointed out. Also, the availability of technical and vocational training could be an incentive for parents to send their children to school.

"The world is changing quickly and we need to be prepared for the new era of global promises", she added while speaking about Pakistan's progress on the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development goals to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly next year.

UNESCO Islamabad Officer in Charge, Abdul Hameed A. Hakeem stressed the need for reducing the number of out-of-school children, increasing literacy and investment in education. He stated that education was at the heart of sustainable development and had the power to contribute to greatly reducing poverty, inequality, violence and conflict. He encouraged the audience to harness the transformative power of higher education for the post-2015 development agenda, highlighting the ways in which education was a foundation for sustainable economic, environmental and social development.

UNESCO had strongly supported including lifelong learning as an integral part of the sustainable development goals. In order to create truly knowledge-based societies, learning must be accessible through the life cycle, and higher education institutions have an important role to play in making this possible.

Peter Upton, Director British Council, in his presentation highlighted the potential for South Asia to be the new China. There was an increased demand for quality and relevance in education and concern about education leading to employment prospects he said. Higher education was becoming a commodity and there was increased global competition for top professors he said. Pakistan would need to be able to provide higher education to a rapidly growing population and potential labour force he emphasized.

The need for a collective sense of urgency and strategies to harness Pakistan's youth dividend was stressed by Ann Keeling, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative in Pakistan. She added that attention was needed to keeping adolescent girls in school and stressed special attention to focus on youth.

Natasha Lokhun, Communication Manager for the Association of Commonwealth Universities also raised the importance of institutes of higher education of communicating their role in the post-2015 development agenda as well as how they contribute to wider society.