Although perhaps not one of the first study abroad destinations which come to mind, Pakistan (Officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) has a great deal to offer international students, with a rich diversity in its culture, landscapes and people, as well as well-respected universities.
If you’d like to study in Pakistan, read on for information about Pakistani universities, student cities, applications, costs and more.
Higher education in Pakistan expanded significantly following the country’s independence from Britain in 1947. Today the system is overseen by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), which oversees funding, research outputs, and teaching quality. The commission recognizes 174 universities in the country, including both private and public institutions, and some which are military or vocational in focus. You don’t need to worry about learning Urdu (the national language), as all teaching at universities in Pakistan is conducted in English.
There are a total of 10 top universities in Pakistan featured in the QS University Rankings: Asia 2016, which highlights the top 350 universities in Asia. Six Pakistani universities are also featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17. These are:
Established in 1991 for the promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, the National University of Sciences and Technology is the highest-ranked Pakistani university in the QS World University Rankings, in the 501-550 range.* The university prides itself on its innovative outlook and ranks as one of the top 250 universities in the world for electrical engineering in the QS World University Rankings by Subject.
Formerly known as Islamabad University but renamed in honor of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan), Quaid-i-Azam University is ranked 701+ in the world and is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in Pakistan, and is located at the footfall of the picturesque Margalla Hills. Established in 1967, the university has recently collaborated with various international institutes, including the United Nations and the University of Tokyo.
Founded in 1984, Lahore University of Management Sciences is a private research university which is placed 701+ in the world and is the country’s highest ranked university in the Asia rankings, at 111th (up from 160-170 in the previous year). One of the most selective universities in Pakistan, it is also relatively small, with around 3,500 students taught by 200 faculty members.
The next of the top universities in Pakistan, the University of Engineering and Technology (also known as UET Lahore), is also ranked 701+ in the global rankings, and is a highly selective public research university. Established in 1921, it has developed a wide range of programs over the years, and was the first Pakistani university to offer a bachelor's degree in mining engineering in 1954.
Also ranked in the 701+ range internationally, the University of Karachi was founded in 1951 and is Pakistan’s largest university, spanning 1,200 acres and with 800 academics teaching 24,000 students. The university conducts a high level of research and has a large library of over 400,000 books dating back to 1600.
The University of Lahore is ranked 701+ and is the youngest of these top universities in Pakistan, having been established in 1999. It’s another large university, with around 22,000 students in 11 faculties and 32 departments. The university has seven campuses, located in Lahore, Islamabad, Sargodha, Gujrat and Pakpattan.
*For information about ranking categories, and answers to other frequently asked questions, click here.
With a landscape ranging from dramatic mountains in the north to its long stretch of coastline on the Arabian Sea in the south, Pakistan is home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a wealth of vibrant student cities.
Pakistan is a Muslim country and this is reflected in its laws and customs. You should respect these at all times, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. This means dressing modestly (shoulders and legs should be covered) and women should also cover their heads when entering religious buildings or traveling in rural areas. Homosexuality and pre-marital sex are illegal, and non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol only with a permit. You should also carry a photo ID at all times.
Pakistan’s largest city, and one of the largest cities in the world, Karachi is Pakistan’s main seaport and financial center, and has been nicknamed ‘the City of Lights’ for its nightlife and notoriety as a city which never sleeps – ideal if you’re always on the go! Home to over 24 million people, Karachi is a center of higher education in South Asia. This fast-paced and cosmopolitan city is arguably slightly more liberal in its social attitudes than other areas of the country, and has been ranked one of the world’s least expensive cities to live in based on the cost of living – great news for students! The University of Karachi is the city’s only representative in the QS World University Rankings, and is placed 701+.
Known as the cultural heart of Pakistan, Lahore has a rich history dating back over a millennium, and is the country’s second-largest city, home to over 10 million people. Lahore is full of great cuisine, unique architecture, arts, festivals, music, film-making and more, as well as being the national center for publications – some 80% of Pakistan’s books are published here. The city is also known as Pakistan's educational capital, with more colleges and universities than any other city in the country, including the University of the Punjab, the oldest and largest university in the country.
Islamabad was built in the 1960s to replace Karachi as Pakistan’s capital city, and has since been regarded as the most developed city in Pakistan. It has some of the most advanced universities in the country, as well as the highest literacy rate in the country at 88%. Islamabad’s name means ‘City of Islam’ and the city is home to the Faisal Mosque, the largest mosque in the country and one of the most iconic in the region. Home to two million people, Islamabad offers a more peaceful environment than megacities like Karachi. The city is home to Pakistan’s highest-ranked university in the QS World University Rankings, the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Islamabad.
Pakistan’s third-largest city, Faisalabad has prospered into a major industrial center over the years, producing major goods in agriculture, engineering and textiles, contributing significantly to the country’s GDP and earning it the nickname ‘Manchester of Pakistan’. Its affluence has been advanced by its ideal central position in the country, with great links by road, rail and air. Faisalabad has several public and private universities, and its University of Agriculture has been ranked among the top 100 institutions in the world for agriculture and forestry in the QS World University Rankings by Subject.
There are currently two broad categories under which international students can apply to study in Pakistan:
For the self-finance scheme, you must submit your application form to the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC). Self-finance scheme students will also need to take a HIV test before they can commence studies. For the general scheme, apply directly to the university where you wish to study, supplying required documents such as an academic transcript and proof of proficiency in English with a valid IELTS or TOEFL test result (unless you’re a native speaker). You may need to pay a small application fee.
You’ll need a visa to study in Pakistan, which you should apply for after you’ve gained admission at a Pakistani university. These can take up to three months to process, so apply in plenty of time. The documents you need are:
As your stay in Pakistan will exceed 30 days, you’ll need to register at your nearest Foreigners Registration Office on arrival.
Tuition fees in Pakistan are very reasonable in comparison to many better-known study destinations, such as the US and UK. They vary between universities, locations and subjects, but as an example, the National University of Sciences and Technology charges US$3,500 per year for undergraduate degrees and US$1,140 per year for master’s degrees. As well as tuition fees, you’ll probably need to pay a semester fee, security deposit and admission processing fee.
Those looking to study in Pakistan will be pleased to hear that living costs are also on the low side – and around 66% lower than those in the UK (according to Numbeo). Rent in a students’ residence is around US$200 a month, and you should only need about US$200 for food, entertainment and travel costs each month, meaning you can live comfortably in Pakistan for less than US$5,000 a year.
Scholarships are rarely available for students from developed countries; financial assistance is usually aimed at helping domestic students from poorer backgrounds and those from developing parts of the world.
Most foreign visitors will find Pakistan a hospitable place, but students looking to study in the country should be aware of recent terror attacks and political unrest. Social protests and political demonstrations can and do turn violent, so it’s best to avoid these. Before you arrive in Pakistan you should check the latest travel advice from your home government. Make sure you’re aware of any off-limits areas, and stay up to date with political and military developments.
The sheer size of Karachi means the city faces some issues of crime, poverty and affordable housing, but the city’s crime rate has been decreasing in recent years. As in any major city, you should take sensible precautions to avoid being a victim of crime.
Visitors are advised not to drink tap water in Pakistan due to the impurities, and you should secure health insurance before arrival. You should also visit your doctor a month or so before your visit to check if you’ll need any vaccinations or other preventative measures.
Pakistan is prone to earthquakes, so familiarize yourself with the safety procedures in the event of one. The monsoon season in Pakistan is from late June to early October and can cause severe flooding, while temperatures can get extremely high in May and June – so come prepared!