Oxford Pakistan Programme offers major platform for Pakistani students

Murtaza Ali Shah

The Oxford Pakistan Programme (OPP), a new platform for academic access and public diplomacy for Pakistani students, was launched at the Lady Margaret Hall as part of the University of Oxford, where both Benazir Bhutto and Malala Yousafzai studied for undergraduate degrees.
The launch was attended by around 200 guests, including Malala Yousafzai, the High Commissioner for Pakistan Mr Moazzam Ali Khan, Naz Shah MP, Yasmin Qureshi MP and Pakistani American entrepreneur, Sohaib Abbasi. Senior academics and administrators from within the University of Oxford were also in attendance, including Professor Christine Gerrard (Principal of LMH), Helen Mountfield QC (Principal of Mansfield College), Dr Saira Sheikh (Academic Registrar), Dr Samina Khan (Director of Undergraduate Admissions), Dr Nadia Pollini (Director of Graduate Admissions) and Liesl Elder (Chief Development Officer).
The OPP is the first initiative of its kind through which a concerted effort is being made to address the underrepresentation of Pakistani and British Pakistani students at Oxford to raise the academic profile of Pakistan and promote academic exchange between Oxford University and Pakistan. It is led by Oxford academics and alumni, including Professor Dr Adeel Malik, Dr Talha J. Pirzada, Haroon Zaman, and Minahil Saqib.
Dr Malik launched the Allama Muhammad Iqbal Lecture Series “the Iqbal Lecture”, named after poet, philosopher and lawyer Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Supported by the Dadabhoy Foundation, the inaugural Iqbal Lecture was held on Thursday 19th May 2022, at which Professor Wael B Hallaq of Columbia University spoke on “The Ethics of Empire and Wealth: Ibn Khaldun and the Modern State”. The lecture was livestreamed to 20 universities across Pakistan. Dr Talha J. Pirzada, the co-founder of OPP, revealed that the initiative has secured commitments of around £1million over the next five years to fund various initiatives as part of the OPP, including a scholarship programme for graduate students at Oxford of Pakistani origin.
He explained that over twenty students from Pakistan each year are unable to take up graduate offers to study at Oxford due to a lack of funding, despite over 60% of Pakistan’s population of 220 million people being under the age of 30.
Haroon Zaman, another OPP co-founder, highlighted how British Pakistanis are the most underrepresented group at Oxford University, despite being the UK’s second largest ethnic minority community. Mr Zaman announced the launch of the OPP’s bursary programme, which provides supplementary financial support to existing Pakistani origin graduate students at Oxford. He also launched the OPP’s access programme.
Minahil Saqib, the OPP’s Outreach Lead, launched the OPP’s internship programme through which the OPP will partner with Venture for Pakistan to provide internship opportunities for graduates from Oxford and Pakistani universities. The programme would allow participants to experience Pakistan’s booming start-up ecosystem.
Dr Najy Benhassine, the Country Director for Pakistan at the World Bank, announced a new internship programme with OPP that will enable four students from Oxford University and four from a public sector university in Pakistan to intern at the World Bank Office in Islamabad every year.
Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize, announced the establishment of a graduate scholarship for Pakistani women at Oxford as part of the OPP.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, termed the OPP a pioneering effort to advance academic access and engagement. He expressed great personal pride at the OPP being supported by LMH, the College where his beloved mother Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed studied.
Syed Babar Ali, the founder of LUMS, termed this initiative as a historic effort having huge transformative potential. Dr Elizabeth Kiss, the Warden of Rhodes House and CEO of the Rhodes Trust, announced the Rhodes Trust’s campaign for a second Rhodes Scholarship for Pakistan, supported by the OPP. A group of Pakistani Rhodes scholars, led by Mohammed Khaishgi, CEO of TRG Global, have already raised $60,000 for this goal.

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