With Vanessa Potter our Director of Communications and External Relations (CER), I led a University delegation to Pakistan from 26 February to 5 March. It was a privilege to be the first British Vice-Chancellor to visit Pakistan for over a decade and not only were we made to feel extremely welcome, I am delighted that the visit was also very successful. 

We have a long history of recruiting students from Pakistan, with our first student graduating in 1972. We are now in the top fourin the UK for number of students from Pakistan with 700 students currently studying at the University of Essex. Popular departments include Essex Business School, Essex Law School, the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering and the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science. This is a tremendous achievement and testament to: the growing reputation of Essex in Pakistan; new recruitment opportunities created by offering January starts: word of mouth feedback about the ‘Essex welcome’ that we offer to students from Pakistan; and the impact of our University of Essex Regional International Office staff who are based in Karachi and Lahore and led by Muhammed Talha.

Graduates at the ceremony in Islamabad

It is because of our track record of success in student recruitment, that we felt the time was right to build on this, by broadening and deepening the nature of our engagement in Pakistan – a key part of our Essex approach to international partnerships, which we want to be based on equity and mutual benefit. In particular we were keen to create some long-term university-to-university research and education partnerships; to see how we can build links with business and industry; and to hold an in-country graduation ceremony to say thank you to our graduates, their families and supporters. 

Members of our delegation visited five universities Air University, Bahria University, Hamdard University, Lahore University of Management Sciences and the National University of Science and Technology. With each partner university, Dr Annecy Lax, our Dean of Partnerships (Education), Professor David O’Mahony our Dean of Partnerships (Research) and Ivan Hutchins, our Head of International Business Development explored research strengths and education links, and with academic colleagues who were part of the visit, we have identified a number of opportunities to take forward. We also offered a series of very popular ‘Essex Guest lectures’ in a range of subjects by Dr Annecy Lax, Professor Mehmet Demirbag and Professor Simon Weidenholzer. 

Reflecting the profile of our visit, under the careful stewardship of Liam Preston our Director of Communications, I completed a dozen media engagements including: for the largest audience English speaking channel PTV-World hosted by Hajira Satti and Shahzad Kahn; for Khalid Malik’s show on FM91; and for Urdu TV, radio and social media channels including GEO News and CNN Urdu. There was genuine media interest in the experience of studying in the UK, the University of Essex offer, and how we helped our graduates stand out from the crowd and prepare graduates for the world of work. 

Our Vice-Chancellor meets graduates in Islamabad

It was a pleasure to meet the Acting High Commissioner, senior representatives of the British Council, the Chevening Pakistan team and key in-country recruitment agents, which provided an opportunity to share our success stories and explore how we can build on this in future. We also had a very productive meeting with the Director-General of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and an impressive tour of the PBC radio and TV facilities. 

The culmination of our visit was our first ever graduation ceremony in Pakistan, for nearly 60 graduates and over 200 family and friends and special guests. We believe this was the first ever UK university gradation ceremony in Pakistan. Such was the interest in the ceremony, that some graduates and their families had taken 24 hours to travel from all parts of Pakistan to be in the ceremony and some graduates currently working outside Pakistan travelled to Islamabad to be able to celebrate the occasion with their families. 

We also took this opportunity to honour Nasira Habib and Nasiruddin Mirza who both received Vice-Chancellor Awards. Nasira graduated from Essex in 1990 with an MA in Practical Reasoning and set up the ‘Society for Peoples Education’. The non-profit organisation helps provide access to education for Pakistan's women and children from disadvantaged backgrounds and Nasira has championed a safe food campaign. Nasiruddin graduated from Essex in 2005 with an LLM in International Human Rights Law. He has gone onto hold a number of roles at different organisations, including Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Secretary for the National Commission for Human Rights, and is currently the Special Secretary for the National Health Services. Nasiruddin’s work has also seen him team up with UNESCO to champion the preservation of the cultural heritage of Pakistan. Led by Jo Rogers, Lorena Saiano and Jasmine Gray from CER and our Middle East and Pakistan Regional International Office team led by Rosanna Kaylani, Sabahat Mahmood, Marium Javed, Nura Shahin and Hassan Abdelrahim, together created an amazing ceremony that was an absolutely joyous occasion. I am delighted that there was significant print media, TV and social media coverage, allowing us to share with as many people as possible the achievements and pride we have in our graduates.

It was an absolute honour to visit Pakistan and I’m truly delighted that we will be able to build some high quality broadly based and enduring partnerships.

All the graduates celebrate together