Steven James / Staff Writer
University staff and faculty met earlier this month with scholars and researchers of the National University of Modern Languages and other Pakistani universities by hosting the U.S. Department of State’s University Partnerships Conference.
UNT and several other universities joined the U.S. Embassy University Partnership Initiatives in Pakistan in 2012 after receiving a $1 million grant each to travel to partner universities to help talk about each institution’s academic and economic challenges. UNT’s Pakistani partner is the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad.
Each individual partnership focuses on a specific area of study, including gender studies, business management, anthropology, sociology, political science and media studies. UNT and NUML focus on English literature, linguistics and language teaching. The partnership also requires faculty from each university to go to its partner school and become adjunct faculty there for certain periods of time.
“Because of this program, a lot of people have applied to UNT to come study here,” conference director and associate English professor Masood Raja said. “This conference has been a success for us, and working with faculty from other schools helps us develop our own research.”
Raja applied for the grant two years ago so UNT could become part of the initiative. He also applied to have UNT compete against other universities in hosting the conference so deans and professors of the Pakistani schools could visit UNT and Denton.
The grant ends in one year, but Raja said he would like to continue programs like this to help UNT academics and research.
Some of the partnerships in the initiative are Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore and Arizona State University, and Karachi University and George Mason University.
Nikhat Khan, department of physics vice principal and dean of post-graduate programs at the Kinnaird College for Women, said the state department initially contacted her about joining the program. Khan said the two most successful programs at her school are environmental science and English literature. She also said before graduating with a bachelor’s, the women at her college must write research projects, similar to an undergraduate thesis.
Khan said in Pakistan, women are starting to become more successful than men in certain fields, including medicine and engineering. She said women are expected to get married, and if they get married, they have to share their research papers and proposals with their husbands, even if their husbands are not scholars or scientists.
“Everybody in Pakistan sort of realizes they should go get a higher education,” Khan said. “[Women’s] grades are generally higher than the men.”
She said another problem her college is currently facing is the lack of money. She said large sums of the Pakistani economy go into the defense budget instead of education, affecting schools across the country. The spending on the defense budget has contributed to the national debt.
“We talk about 100 percent literacy. We haven’t achieved it yet,” Khan said. “We have been in debt for a long time and we are now paying interest on it. The interest is so big that money goes into paying the interest and the defense, so very little money is going into education.”
Jim Mitte, George Mason sociology professor and director of the Center for Social Science Research ,first visited Pakistan this summer. He said natural sciences and technology have been widely taught in Pakistan, but the social science education in Pakistan is limited.
“I found it fascinating to bring the social sciences to a place where they had been neglected a long time,” Mitte said. “It’s important for us to understand that part of the world. The first morning, when I woke up, and heard the call to prayers, it really is magical.”
He also said he appreciates the program advocating the use of two-way partnerships.
“It’s not just us handing them stuff,” he said. “It’s this reciprocal knowledge that makes it really special.”