“I can never forget the day when I was selected to receive a USAID scholarship,” says Aisha Butt, a talented young woman from Punjab province, Pakistan, recalling her happiness in 2009. She had successfully gained admission to the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, to pursue her Master’s Degree, but did not have the money to pay for her studies.
Aisha had just completed 12 years of schooling when her parents died. She was left alone to take care of her younger sisters and saw no way to continue education while providing for her siblings.
“My ambitions to get higher education looked like a fading dream,” she says.
Aisha is one of over 1,800 young and talented but financially needy Pakistanis who have received scholarships to pursue higher education from the USAID Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program implemented by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan.
Currently, only 7.8 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 23 have access to higher education in Pakistan. According to the country's national income statistics, only one in five Pakistani families can afford to send one family member to a local public university. To help these young people pursue university education, USAID and HEC launched the scholarship program in 2004. Scholarships are awarded in the fields of agriculture and business administration.
In addition to her tuition, Aisha’s scholarship included an allowance for living expenses and accommodations. This enabled her to fulfill her dream of obtaining a university degree. The University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, is one of Pakistan’s premier institutions of higher learning, and was established in 1961 with support from USAID and Washington State University.
Today, Aisha holds a Master’s Degree with honors in agricultural bio-technology, which she received in June 2011, graduating with the highest honors in her class. She is now pursuing her Doctorate Degree in biotechnology thanks to a scholarship she received from the Government of Pakistan.
“As a child, I remember reading a statement that, coupled with talent, great desire creates its own opportunity,” says Aisha smiling. “The USAID-funded scholarship made it true for me.”
A total of 1,807 scholarships were awarded in Phase I of the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program to financially needy students, more than 1,350 of whom have obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees. The program also served as a catalyst for other donors to award scholarships at participating institutions, more than doubling the number of students enrolled in these institutions since 2004. Based on the successes of the USAID program, needs-based scholarships have increased from two to more than 70 public and private universities in Pakistan since 2004.
In December 2013, USAID expanded the program by providing an additional $23.1 million to benefit 3,000 additional young and talented Pakistanis. Eighteen additional universities have also been included, with 50 percent of the scholarships reserved for female students in the expanded program.
The Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program is part of a comprehensive U.S. education assistance program in Pakistan, which includes building or rehabilitating more than 850 schools; establishing centers for advanced studies at three Pakistani universities focusing on applied research in energy, agriculture and water; expanding English skills for more than 5,000 low-income students; and creating accredited degree programs in education at 90 teachers colleges and universities across Pakistan.
Last updated: March 24, 2014