In 2015, UNDP proposed seventeen (17) goals that need to be achieved in 15 years’ time. The goals are stretched from education and partnerships to health and peace. All goals are equally significant for the world to sustain, and Pakistan is no exception in this regard. Fortunately, Pakistan is actively playing its role in achieving them. Where social and corporate sector is dedicatedly working to achieve them, the government of Pakistan is also coming up with initiatives to assist them.
Although, all goals are correspondingly important, the goal number 4 which is related to education has attracted more attention in Pakistan than other goals. One reason for this hype might be the fact that Pakistan has been among the countries with lowest literacy rate. Even though the figures have improved lately, that “literacy rate” exemplifies a person with age 15 or above who can read and write.
Education has by far been the most neglected necessity in Pakistan. Where education can open the doors of opportunities for many, poverty is the main reason for them to not even approach that door. Utilizing time in seeking education is seen as an opportunity cost. It is often argued that time utilized in studying can be utilized in earning to feed the family. This dispute is mostly raised when considering higher education. Having 23.4% of population living below poverty line in Pakistan, this concern is valid. As the opportunity cost is not only related to time, but also money.
In order to address these obstacles, numerous non-profit organizations have emerged to enable primary and secondary education in Pakistan. However, the tertiary education hasn’t been the highlight in the social sector due to the hefty cost it involves. Although, there are handful of scholarships available by the corporate sector and government on need cum merit basis, many exceptionally brilliant students are compelled to quit higher education due to lack of funding opportunities. Scholarships being an unsustainable solution always requires more and more funds every year to financially assist the same number of students.
As the target number 7 of SDG 4 requires equal access to higher education, it is very important that these students are provided with a better solution than scholarships to get access to quality education.
Ihsan Trust (IT), a non-profit organization based in Karachi, introduced the idea of interest-free educational loan in 2010 which has proven to be a sustainable solution for enabling higher education in Pakistan. Affiliation with 125+ universities and professional bodies across Pakistan, Ihsan Trust has so far facilitated more than 2,200 students of Pakistan on need cum merit basis. The model of Ihsan Trust such that IT directly transfers the funds to the institutions where its students are pursuing their higher education. In return, the students are asked to repay the loan via monthly installments even during the study period, providing its student an easy way to repay the entire loan.
Moreover, Ihsan Trust aims to make the workforce more productive. The organization achieves this target by letting its students gain the work experience while they are studying. Students of Ihsan Trust are encouraged to do jobs such as teaching, paid internships, and other freelancing jobs, which also helps them in monthly repayments. This not only grants them with the work experience, but also makes them much more responsible and dedicated in life.
IT decided to provide interest-free loan rather than scholarships because interest-free loans are more sustainable than scholarship. To become a bridge for students for completing their higher education, all that needs to be done is to assist them while they are studying. After the completion of education, the individual is stable enough to return the amount invested on him/her leading Ihsan Trust to help more students in future. Unlike scholarships, interest-free loans have a roll over effect while inducing a sense of responsibility in students and a drive to achieve more. Hence, this way, the access to quality higher education is ensured for all.
This Islamic Economy Award winning Waqf model is now being acknowledged by the corporate sector as well. Numerous organizations are collaborating with Ihsan Trust to provide more students with this facility, acknowledging that interest-free educational loans are more sustainable with greater impact than scholarship in the long run.
However, what have been achieved is just the tip of the ice-berg. Every year hundreds of students proceed their case to Ihsan Trust, when only few hundreds get entertained. Like every business model, Ihsan Trust, in order to sustain, requires an external push every now and then to increase the number of students facilitated by them.
But that is not an obstacle in their way, it is just an opportunity for others to be a part of this great initiative. Be it corporations or individual donors, this initiative is a sustainable investment in higher education of Pakistan.