STORY 13 - 25 FEBRUARY 2014 - NAMAL COLLEGE: BUILDING THE FUTURE

The challenge of providing quality schooling to all of Pakistan’s children is daunting enough, and not a goal that can be achieved overnight. Meanwhile, young men and women who successfully complete their schooling have few options to pursue higher education close to home. Most of the country’s colleges and universities are situated in and around large towns and cities, making access to university difficult for those who live at a distance from the country’s urban centres. One institution hopes to change that, offering world-class higher education on the outskirts of a small town in rural Punjab.

Namal College, situated 30 kilometres outside the town of Mianwali in north-western Punjab, was founded in 2008 by former test cricketer and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan. Starting out as a technical training institute awarding a diploma, the college today offers two degrees in the sciences, a BSc (Hons) in the Computer Sciences and a BEng (Hons) in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, with ambitious plans to expand the courses on offer.

Namal’s purpose-built lakeside campus is spread over 1,000 acres, with half the land donated by local residents and the remainder acquired for the college at low cost through the Punjab government. Affiliated with the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, Namal College awards the same degree as the UK university but at a fraction of the cost. There are currently around 300 students in the college, of which 20 are young women. While initially the college drew students from nearby areas, in a few short years Namal’s reputation has grown, attracting young men and women from across the country.

“I came here from Karachi because my mother saw an ad in the paper,” says Mahgul Malik, in her second year studying computer sciences. “It was an important factor for us that Namal offers a foreign degree.” Studying at Namal is not cheap, with a degree costing somewhere around 1 million rupees. But studying in the UK easily costs 10 times as much, and nearly 90 per cent of Namal students receive some form of financial assistance. Malik, herself on a partial scholarship, says this allows young people from all backgrounds to attend the college. “There is a good mix of students here,” she explains, “from upper- and middle-class families to those who come from low-income households.”

District Mianwali is home to around 1.6 million people, with high unemployment and a large percentage of residents migrating to the Gulf states in search of work. “There are few jobs here and there is no culture of entrepreneurship in the region, even among skilled people,” says Mohammad Rafique, President of the Research and Community Development Organization (RCDO), a non-governmental organisation based in Mianwali. “As a result, most people would just migrate.”

Since Namal opened its doors, however, things have started to change. The second batch of Namal students graduated in September 2013. To date, 60 per cent of Namal graduates are employed in Pakistan in both the public and private sectors. Another 20 per cent have gone on to postgraduate studies, including at universities abroad. “People are happy coming to Namal even though it is a bit out of the way,” says Rafique, who believes that Namal has the potent to transform the economy of the area. “The college awards genuine degrees in the sciences and this means that students have a better chance of getting a solid job after graduation.”

Today, students at Namal come from 47 districts across Pakistan. The vision for the future is to create an ‘educational sanctuary’ where teaching and research can be carried out in a supportive environment. Khan, who hails from Mianwali, wants to set up the ‘Namal Knowledge City’ by the year 2020.

The Knowledge City will house seven different schools and centres for the study of agriculture, business, economics, environmental sciences, rural entrepreneurship, the humanities and social sciences, as well as institutes for wetlands research, flora and fauna research, animal research and veterinary sciences, and molecular biology, in addition to an aerospace department.

The Knowledge City will house seven different schools and centres for the study of agriculture, business, economics, environmental sciences, rural entrepreneurship, the humanities and social sciences, as well as institutes for wetlands research, flora and fauna research, animal research and veterinary sciences, and molecular biology, in addition to an aerospace department.

“It has only been around for five years and it has already helped so many people,” says Malik. “I don’t know a single person from any batch that hasn’t landed a job after graduating from Namal.” She is confident that the college will attract even more students from across the country as new departments open.

Situated in an area known for high unemployment and high migration, Namal College shows that curbing the brain drain from Pakistan is not impossible. By providing quality higher education along with financial assistance, the college is transforming the lives of hundreds of young men and women, equipping them with the tools they need to seek gainful employment at home. At the same time, Namal hopes to transform the economy of the area, building a state-of-the-art educational and research facility in a small town in rural Punjab.

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