ISLAMABAD: The Higher Education Commission (HEC), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) on Wednesday celebrated the launch of new online method for scholarship disbursement mechanism of the USAID-funded Merit and Needs-based Scholarship Programme in 30 partner universities across Pakistan during signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between HEC and NBP.This online system is part of USAID’s multi-year $36 million Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Programme and is the first program at HEC to adopt an online disbursement mechanism. Under this programme, students will be issued ATM cards so as to facilitate them in withdrawal of funds for both tuition fee and boarding expenses. In this connection, NBP accounts have been opened for 1,470 awardees at 30 partner universities throughout Pakistan. First payments using the new system will be made during next week. Addressing the ceremony, HEC Executive Director Arshad Ali said: “the conventional methods of stipend disbursement have involved lengthy procedure at the partner universities, which frequently delayed stipend release to the scholarship recipients. Now, through the new online stipend disbursement mechanism, students will receive payments directly into their bank accounts, ensuring maximum efficiency.”In his remarks, NBP President Saeed Ahmad lauded the efforts of HEC for adopting the online banking system replacing conventional procedures to disburse funds in speedy manner. He said that scholarship funds facilitate a lot to the students and we are pleased that NBP through its Asaan Account has given the facility to the scholarship awardees of this program to open their accounts anywhere in Pakistan. “No doubt it will be a huge relief for the students,” he added. On the occasion, USAID Office of Education Pakistan Acting Director Erica Rounsefell lauded HEC for partnering with USAID throughout the program. “This is a remarkable achievement that brings not only efficiency, but also greater security and transparency to the scholarship payment process. We look forward to continue to work with HEC to assist student access to higher education,” she emphasised.Since 2002, HEC has been playing its significant role for development of the higher education sector in Pakistan. Its efforts have been focused on ensuring access to quality tertiary education for youth and promoting relevant research. The USAID Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program has been supporting the goal of HEC since 2004 to provide quality education and make it accessible to talented students who cannot afford the cost of higher education.More than 5,300 scholarships have so far been awarded to students from rural areas and less-developed regions such as FATA, South Punjab, Rural Sindh, and Balochistan, while 50 percent funds are reserved for women.