LONDON: Pakistan High Commission in London hosted the launch of the “Oxford Pakistan Programme” on 30 September 2021. The initiative, spearheaded by Pakistani students, academics and alumni of Oxford University establishes a framework for support, scholarships and facilitation for students from Pakistan for academic and research pursuits in the world-renowned University. In addition to promoting Pakistan-centric research, the Programme will also sponsor a lecture series on eastern philosophy.
The event was attended by a large number of Oxonians, senior Oxford academicians, scholars, and writers including Malala Yousafzai; former editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger; President of Wolfson College, Sir Tim Hitchens; Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Prof. Christine Gerrard; and Principal of Linacre College, Prof Nick Brown; and renowned author Victoria Schofield.
This initiative, the Oxford Pakistan Programme (the “OPP”), aims to promote various Pakistan-related activities at the University of Oxford. This will include graduate scholarships for deserving students, visiting fellowships for Pakistani faculty members and special lectures on Pakistan. The OPP has drawn strong support from the University of Oxford, the High Commission for Pakistan in London, and the British High Commission in Islamabad. The Programme has raised pledges of over £500,000 from Pakistani businessmen and key members of the Pakistani diaspora in the UK.
The OPP is the brainchild of Professor Adeel Malik of the University of Oxford, Dr Talha J. Pirzada, Lecturer in Aerospace Materials and Haroon Zaman, Trainee Lawyer at Travers Smith, London. They were assisted in this effort by Oxford alumni Minahil Saqib and Dr. Mohsin Javed.
In his keynote speech at the event, Syed Babar Ali, founder of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, termed this initiative as a historic effort, the first of its kind, that will unlock incommensurate opportunities for Pakistani scholars. Malala Yousufzai, who has been a strong supporter for this initiative from the outset, announced a major new scholarship that will allow one Pakistani girl from an underdeveloped background to study at Oxford every year.
The event was attended by several distinguished academicians from Oxford. Around 21 Professors and Fellows were in attendance, including four Principals and Heads of Oxford Colleges. These included Mr Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of The Guardian and the outgoing Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Professor Christine Gerrard, the current Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Dr Nick Brown, Principal of Linacre College, Sir Tim Hitchens, President of Wolfson College, Mr Ed Nash, Senior International Officer at the University of Oxford and Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at the University of Oxford. The Warden of Rhodes House, Elizabeth Kiss, attended the event virtually.
In their speeches, senior members of the University expressed their strong support for the new initiative on Pakistan that will not only help to consolidate Pakistan-related academic activities at one of the world’s leading universities but will also facilitate access to underrepresented communities. Alan Rusbridger applauded the commitment of the OPP team and Malala Yousufzai for bringing this idea to life. Senior members of the University highlighted the historic connection between Pakistan and Oxford, appreciating, in particular, the contributions of several Pakistani leaders who attended Oxford, including Liaquat Ali Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, and current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan.
Professor Adeel Malik of Oxford University and the Academic Lead of OPP lamented that Pakistan is still studied and represented through the narrow lens of security, radicalization, and militarism. He stressed how Pakistan is also a country where some of the earliest debates on Islam and social justice took root and where an active institutional struggle is currently taking place over civil rights and the distribution of political and economic power.
He highlighted that Pakistan has a fast-expanding middle class, its tech ventures are drawing global investors, and it is a country where the struggle for democracy has been paid with blood. Along with the OPP team, he announced a new research initiative on “National Sovereignty and Development” which will be named after Muhammad Ali Jauhar who studied at Lincoln College at Oxford. This initiative will develop a programme of academic activities that will document and study the multiple ways in which the economic, political, and cultural sovereignty of developing nations is constrained, and the consequences of this for economic development.
On this occasion, Ahmad Salam, son of Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate the late Dr Abdus Salam, also extended support to the initiative and said that if Dr Salam were alive today, he would have been an ardent support of this excellent initiative to promote Pakistani scholars.
In his recorded message, which was played at the event, Dr Christian Turner CMG, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, described the OPP as a milestone in strengthening the academic linkages between the UK and Pakistan. He said that the 1.6 million British Pakistani community is a living bridge between the UK and Pakistan, adding that the UK is committed to further strengthening its support to Pakistan in the education sector.
Warmly welcoming the strong contingent of Oxford academics and distinguished guests, the High Commissioner Moazzam Ahmad Khan, described the OPP as a timely initiative that will help cement academic relationships between Pakistan and UK, and will open new opportunities for deserving Pakistani scholars. On behalf of the High Commission for Pakistan, he assured the OPP of all possible support.
He said that Pakistan had abiding linkages with Oxford and counted among its luminaries many eminent personalities including leadership.
He termed the Oxford Pakistan Programme a timely initiative that would help address the critical challenges of lack of resources and guidance faced by many bright Pakistanis aspiring to secure admission in the prestigious University.
It would, he said, help cement academic relationships and foster understanding through in-depth research. Articulating his expectations from the Programme, he said that he wished to see it achieve its objective by allowing an increasing number of Pakistani students to break down barriers, exceed expectations and realise their potential. On behalf of the High Commission, he assured the Programme of all possible support.
Leading members of the British Pakistani community, businessmen and professionals were also in attendance. On this occasion, several donors pledged financial support for the OPP. Syed Sheheryar Ali, the Executive Director of Treet Group of Companies in Pakistan, announced an annual graduate scholarship for the next five years in the name of his late aunt, Dr Niloufer Qasim Mahdi. Similarly, Mr Abdul Ghani Dadabhoy, one of the strategic advisors of the OPP in Karachi, and Director of Dadabhoy Group of Companies, made a pledge to sponsor an annual Sir Muhammad Iqbal Lecture on Eastern Philosophy.
The lecture will be delivered at the University of Oxford every year by a leading global intellectual. He also announced support for a Visiting Scholars Programme. Mr Hamid Ismail, Director of Ismail Industries Limited, highlighted the need for the Pakistani business community to project Pakistan’s soft image in academia. He pledged support for a major new initiative that will enable the visit of one faculty member from a public sector university in Pakistan to Oxford every year.
Mr Ahmed Owais Pirzada, former Federal Secretary of the Tax Ombudsman of the Government of Pakistan, announced an annual Jamal Scholarship in the memory of his late brother, Dr Ahmed Bilal Shah, who was a leading physician in Zimbabwe and a front-line health worker who lost his life earlier this year while serving his community. Dr Tariq Zaman, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Cromwell Hospital in London and Honorary Senior Lecturer at Imperial College, announced the launch of annual graduate scholarship for deserving Pakistani and British Pakistani students. Other key donors who made pledges of financial support to the OPP included; Mr Areeb Chaudhry, a businessman, who will sponsor the visit of a female scholar from Pakistan every year; Mr Sarwar Khawaja, Chairman of the Oxford Education Group, who will support an annual graduate scholarship for the next five years; and Dr Omer Suleman and Shamyl Malik, Co-Founders of a London hedge fund, Westridge Markets, who will support a dedicated research programme on Pakistan.
Tariq Malik, Chairman of NADRA and former Chief Technical Advisor of UNDP, also attended the event and expressed interest in fostering research collaboration with OPP on data science and the use of biometric technologies for development. Several senior professionals and businessmen attended the event remotely via zoom. These included, among others, Mr Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh, Federal Secretary of the Ministry of Planning, Development & Special Initiatives; Mr Osman Waheed, CEO of Ferozsons Laboratories Limited; Mrs Rahat Qaunain Hassan, Chairperson of the Competition Commission of Pakistan; Mr Asif Bajwa, former Federal Secretary of the Ministry of Finance; and Mr Jalil Abbas Jilani, former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States.