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Education industry: low-risk, high-return

Dr. Abdul Basit, pioneer of private university, stressed on the need and challenges of private-public partnership in education

Public-private partnership (PPP) has become a buzzword in new development strategies. It is being publicized as a ground-breaking idea to encourage the involvement of the private sector in national development. It is more vehemently advocated in countries where public resources are insufficient to meet the development needs. PPP is already being adopted in several infrastructure development sectors, such as the development of airports, railways, roads, and so on. But the initiatives are no longer confined to these; they are being extended to human development sectors such as education and health.
Though the public sector remains an important player in providing education services, it is not possible for a country like ours, which is unable to allocate more than 4 percent for education in the budget, to provide high-quality education to all and sundry– lowest in South Asia. A latest global trend therefore, has been the emergence of fully private universities followed by PPP. Fairly large numbers of countries has or are opting for PPP for there are ways in which the two can join together to complement each other’s strengths in providing education services and helping Third World countries to meet the Millennium Development Goals for education set by the World Bank.

Though the concept of PPP is not gaining momentum in Pakistan due to unsupportive attitude of the government, inadequate public-sector investment and ineffective delivery in education interest of the private sector in education has increased significantly, mainly in terms of schools, universities and vocational training institutions. It is interesting to note that the popularity of public sector institutions like Dow Medical, NED, IBA, KU, PU and QAU, has not been an obstacle in the way of business expansion for the private concerns. The investors still consider education to be a ‘low-risk, high-return’ option. The wealth thus generated has started flowing towards investment in real estate and even media.

According to a report, “some 17 million students – 37 percent of total – attend 87,659 private education institutions in Pakistan. A middle class family spends around 30 percent of domestic budget on education compared to 2 percent in the US and 17 percent in India. Liberalization without effective regulation has led to market failure resulting in abuse of dominant position, cartelization, lack of disclosures and outright deception. The sector has thrown up a new class of tycoons with the financial muscle to create ripples in other sectors. It could be demand-supply gap, perception of falling standards at Peelay (yellow) schools, better employment opportunities, social prestige or whatever else, Pakistanis want to buy their children the best they can and even beyond. The natural outcome is expansion in education industry.

Education industry: low-risk, high-return

Dr. Abdul Basit, who was the first to establish a private university in the country explaining the role of a private university in Pakistan, said that since the private universities in the country have come to age, the time has come when educational institutes can be established on the basis of PPP. Highlighting the need for PPP, he says that benefits of such partnership in higher education are far greater and some of the potential benefits are increased financial resources to Higher Education (HE), increased participation in HE, increased relevance of HE programs and research, improved governance, sharing of experienced and professionally qualified human capital etc.

He argues that apart from this, PPP can play an important role in building university-industry relationships focusing on supporting collaboration between private firms, universities and public research organizations (PROs) to carry out research and development, promotion of networking between higher education institutions, assisting PROs through small research grants, promotion of long-term collaborative R&D between PROs and industry, developing of programs aimed at supporting early-stage development and commercialization of pre-competitive R&D etc.

He is of the view that instead of encouraging philanthropy and inculcating a sense of social responsibility in the private sector, the government may invite prominent businessmen to do normal business in education with huge government subsidies.

Sharing his experiences of launching the first private university in the country he says that those were the days when the very idea of setting up a university in the private sector was unheard-of and the Federal Government had no regulations regarding the establishment of private universities. This was a major obstacle which took time until the erstwhile University Grants Commission (UGC) finally came up with regulations for private universities. Secondly there was a tough resistance from our detractors, but we were firm on our decision to go ahead with the project and through dedicated and untiring team effort we were not only able to overcome all the obstacles but also succeeded in ultimately convincing our detractors to accept our existence as a private institution of higher learning; an institution that is significantly contributing towards the cause of higher education in Pakistan since the past over three decades.

Elaborating the formation of Pakistan first ever university in the private sector he says that until we decided to lay the foundation of a university in the private sector, in 1984, Higher Education was exclusively the domain of the public sector in Pakistan. There were a good number of universities operating under the aegis of the public sector in the country leaving a huge demand being unmet. The need to further augment the existing number to meet the rapidly growing population of aspirants of higher education was seriously felt. This conspicuous vacuum motivated us to establish the first of its kind institution of higher learning in the private sector in the country.

 

Speaking about the challenges he faced, Dr. Basit says it is, “maintaining a competitive edge over the university’s counterparts engaged in imparting higher education across the length and breadth of the country”. But then his University is fully geared up to face this enormous challenge by constantly enhancing the quality of education it imparts and offering state-of-the-art curriculum to its students. More importantly, to attain this vital objective the University also plans to further bolster its research program to equip its students with knowledge and skills that would provide them a competitive edge over their counterparts in the domestic and international job market.

Another challenge, he points out relates to the adoption of technological innovations to upgrade student-teacher interaction beyond the classroom and to enhance the learning environment for the scholars. Adoption of technology is closely related to its role vis-à-vis social media and the corresponding social revolution taking place in the lives of young people. Dr. Basit considers this area as a major challenge to deal with in the coming years.

Universities now follow the semester system of education which he argues, besides impartation of state-of-the-art education, demands constant monitoring and evaluation of the students. To be able to attain this extremely important objective successfully, his university has on its roll a large number of highly qualified and experienced permanent PhD faculty. It also hires the services of highly experienced and qualified professionals, possessing decades of professional experience, to fulfill this important requirement as visiting faculty members.

He is of the view that those running educational institutes must have enough vision to prepare their institutes to meet the challenges of coming years and he is fully aware of the paradigm shift in the economic scene of Pakistan through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPEC). In order to promote better understanding between the peoples of our two countries and to derive optimum benefit from this gigantic project, in the shape of job opportunities for our graduates, the university has embarked on imparting Chinese language education among its students. “I could state with a sense of pride that our university has the distinction of being the only private university in the country where Chinese language is being taught free of cost by Chinese teachers.”

He said this program is being administered under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed between the Confucius Institute and his university on September 23, 2015 regarding teaching of Chinese language course at the Preston University. The MoU was mutually extended for a further period of one year, on August 24, 2016. Under the existing MoU inked between the two institutions, students and faculty members of his University can also go to China for short visits to perform academic activity. It may be added here that three of our BBA final students went to China for Summer Camp in July, 2016.We have also planned to send our faculty and staff to China by the end of this year.

Commenting on the job opportunities for the students from the private universities he says that his University takes genuine pride in the fact that since its inception in 1984 it has produced and provided a very significant number of qualified graduates to the domestic and international job markets. There have always been bright prospects and tremendous employment opportunities for Preston graduates. The graduates of his University are gainfully employed in national, international and multinational organizations of repute both within the country and abroad. “We can state with full confidence that you walk into any organization in Pakistan today you will find at least one graduate from his university occupying a responsible position in the organization and serving it to the best of his/her abilities. We are very proud of the fact that our graduates who are spread across the length and breadth of Pakistan and abroad are significantly contributing towards the economic progress of the country.”

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