Professor Dr. Muhammad MukhtarVC, National Skills University Conducted by: Muhammad Faisal Kaleem Arranged By: Adnan Arif Within a short span of time since its inspection, the vice chancellor (VC) of the first ever technical university in the country, the National Skills University (NSU), Islamabad, Prof Dr Muhammad Mukhtar, got a certificate of honour from a United Nations agency for being best technical higher education providing institution. The VC was chosen among 150 others worldwide. Prof Dr Muhammad Mukhtar said in an exclusive interview with Daily Times that he is among 150 to be recognised in the UNESCO-UNEVOC, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) across the globe to be trained by UNESCO under the umbrella of the “UNESCO-UNEVOC TVET Leadership Programme 2022”. Dr Mukhtar said the UNESCO-UNEVOC TVET Leadership Programme aims to build the capacity of TVET leaders and professionals from around the world and support them to become successful and effective agents of change in their institutions and beyond, adding that the potential success of these change processes largely rests with the TVET leaders responsible for converting policy into practice. According to Dr Mukhtar, this year, UNESCO-UNEVOC TVET Leadership Programme focuses on re-thinking TVET systems and programmes to anticipate demand, adapt, and take action for a just and green transition. “Notably, the idea of greening TVET has had immense momentum due to climate change over the past decade,” he said, adding that 150 leaders including him got training and guidance to evaluate, assess TVET markets, and propose changes required in the respective countries. Moreover, he said, through an integrated network, these leaders will support TVET. He said that practical uses, including practices adopted in different TVET settings across the globe, were discussed. In the coming days, this group will formulate action plans for promoting greening in job markets and institutions, including national programmes, thus averting the adverse effects of climate change. The NSU is a premier institution for skill-based technical education with focus on excellence and economic empowerment of the youth. Converted from National Institute of Science and Technical Education (NISTE) in 2018 under university charter, the NSU has a historical background as first it was established in 1985 called the NTTTC. Currently, the NSU is a premier institution for skill-based technical education with focus on excellence and economic empowerment of the youth. It is dedicated to providing skill-based education aligning with the changing landscape of academic priorities for youth. The principal objective of this university is to equip the workforce with industry-relevant skills and knowledge, thus enhancing their chances of employability in the national and international job markets. The exchange of technologists supported through these programmes and curriculum improvement makes NISTE a primer institute for in- service and pre-service training in technical education. Right after one year of its establishment, Dr Mukhtar joined the NSU in October 2019. The passionate services of Dr Mukhtar yielded significant results as the university expanded to another full-flagged state-of-the-art campus in Muridke. According to the VC, to open the campus in Muridke was the need of hour as a large number of students were in search of proper degree in technical education with standard vocational training as well. Currently, the seven departments of the university offer nine programmes/technologies of different levels, and 17 courses in various technical fields. Moreover, 180 students are currently enrolled in certificate courses. The commitment of the university administration yielded results as 420 students have qualified from the varsity in seven different fields. Currently, the seven departments of the university offer nine programmes/technologies of different levels, and 17 courses in various technical fields. Moreover, 180 students are currently enrolled in certificate courses. Sprawled on 26 acres of land, the NSU has a covered area of 296,157 square feet. The varsity has seven state-of-the-art workshops giving practical education to its students and also has a library for students’ facilitation. As for the budget, it is being funded by the Ministry of Finance under Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) instead of Higher Education Commission (HEC) as the varsity is yet to get proper entitlement until completion of the four-year project-based term. The NSU has been allocated and released Rs200 million in 2022 compared to R212 million the previous year. Since its establishment, the government has released Rs624 million for the university. The university has 149 staffers including professors, associate professors, assistant professors, lecturers and others. The VC said this number will be increased in the future as per requirements. All academic programmes at the NSU are recognised by the HEC and NTC. All policy-level decisions are being taken through legally authorised bodies. The NSU has apex decision making bodies including Senate, Finance and Planning Committee and Academic Council. However, as per available information, the constitution of syndicate, approval of statues and regulations and recurring grant, issuance of revised minutes and administrative approval were among the daunting tasks the university has to face in the future. Dr Mukhtar is confident that all these tasks will be achieved amicably. The NSU has been declared as the most relevant institution to initiate soft skills training programmes in collaboration with the American Institute of Pakistan (AIPS). The NSU has been declared as the most relevant institution to initiate soft skills training programmes in collaboration with the American Institute of Pakistan (AIPS). This was jointly agreed upon by the visiting team members, including Professor Dr Mike Hirsch, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from the Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas, and Nadeem Akbar, Director AIPS, stationed in Pakistan on their visit to the NSU. Prof Hirsch appreciated the “NSU Student Once NSU Student Forever” model. He said his university in Austin, Texas, USA, has embarked on several new initiatives after the COVID-19 pandemic, and among these, re-skilling and retraining models like NSU are the most popular ones. He also mentioned that Pakistan is lucky to have a young population compared to the US, where elderly people predominate. As such, life learning initiatives are being strengthened in the US to cope with emerging technology challenges. Prof Hirsch also visited different workshops of the university and appreciated the accessibility efforts of the university for especially-abled individuals. It was agreed that the AIPS and the NSU would work on devising a curriculum for soft skills. Under the aegis of the AIPS, mutual exchanges of scholars and scholarly activities will be promoted between the NSU and American institutions. Such efforts are essential for both in this age of collaboration and learning from each other’s experiences. Recently, Chancellor of the NSU and President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi admired students, employees, and the University Advisory Council. “Dr Alvi congratulated students of the Information Engineering Technology Department of this university for securing first position in the coding competition,” shared Dr Mukhtar. SoftFest 2022, a national level software skills competition, was held at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad. “I would like to congratulate the NSU Islamabad students on winning the coding competition in Islamabad. This success reflects a unique University-Advisory Council initiative of the public-private partnership model. Importantly, all Advisory Council members strive to promote skills education, freely giving their time and resources to the university and countrywide,” Dr Alvi said in his message. He recalled that a skilled workforce always finds better job opportunities with decent earnings than unskilled individuals. “I am glad to note that some of the leading companies of Pakistan, System Limited, Muller & Phipps, and Dell Pakistan Limited gave valuable support in the form of IT equipment, curriculum planning, and delivery which significantly contributed towards this success. “I urge the students to learn coding and other skills required in the country,” the chancellor further said. The NSU’s founding vice chancellor took charge in October 2019 and, over the past couple of years, has revolutionised the outlook of a deserted area into a vibrant university providing skill-based education in various technological domains, including biotechnologies, computing, electrical, mechanical, medical, and information engineering. Besides several undergraduate programs in various fields, the university also offers short-term skilling and reskilling programmes in trades widely sought by employers in the country and abroad. The Advisory Council of the university initiated by the NSU Senate members led by Zohair Ashir of the AASA Consulting and Adnan Asdar of Multinet, is chaired by Mazhar Valjee from the House of Habib. It includes several prominent members from top-notch industries in Pakistan. Professor Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar VC, National Skills University Professor Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar is currently serving as Founding Vice Chancellor of National Skills University Islamabad. Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar PhD has served in the Department of Biotechnology as Professor of Biotechnology. Prior to his arrival at AURAK he served as Vice Chancellor/Professor of three Universities in Pakistan concomitantly – a unique honor for any academic leader. Through his judicious academic leadership and innovative governance he converted a regional university in Pakistan into one of the top ranked in the country. Dr. Mukhtar received his Master and MPhil in the field of Biochemistry from Pakistan and his PhD in biosciences from the Drexel University of Philadelphia, USA, and also completed a Graduate Certificate in Research Management from Thomas Jefferson University of Philadelphia, USA. He served at various academic/administrative positions in the USA on an outstanding scientist (O-1) visa. Professor Mukhtar is an avid researcher also. His laboratory developed an in-vitro model of human blood-brain barrier to study viral neuropathogenesis, and with Dr. Mukhtar as Principal or Co-Investigator, has received several awards from organizations including American Diabetes Association, American Society for Microbiology, Diabetes Trust Foundation, US National Institutes of Health, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. Human blood brain barrier model developed in his laboratory is extensively used to understand ferrying of viruses into the brain and finding cures for neurological ailments. Dr. Mukhtar holds specialized Certificates in Public Health, and Bioinformatics. Committed to the role of technology in biomedical research, he serves as managing editor of Frontiers in Bioscience and is on the editorial board of several research journals. He has several research publications, including peer-reviewed research, review articles, invited articles, book chapters, commissioned articles and critiques to his credit. A book describing accomplishments of Dr. Mukhtar’s academia leadership has been published in Urdu language entitled “Hayat Zauq e Safar Kay Siwa Kuch Aur Naheen” and it’s English Version “The Making of a Best National University” is in progress.