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Imparting Quality And Professional Education Remains A Big Challenge

Interview with Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed  (Dean, Karachi School of Business & Leadership)

Profile:
A PhD from Mississippi State University, USA, an MBA from Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed currently heads the leading business school in Pakistan. With special interest in the area of Earnings Management, Islamic Finance, Microfinance, Capital markets, Personal Excellence and Business Ethics, Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed has over 20 years of diverse experience including training, research and consultancy projects.

PAGE: Kindly tell me something about yourself, and KSBL:

Zeeshan Ahmed: Well, I have been in academia most of my professional life with over 20 years of diverse experience in teaching, training and research. My true passion for teaching came about after I completed my Ph.D from Mississippi State University. Prior to joining KSBL, I was heading the undergraduate program at Suleman Dawood School of Business, LUMS. I strongly advocate that academia have a role to play in the socio economic challenges that lie ahead of us.

My experience as an academic at top business schools in Pakistan including KSBL, IBA and LUMS, helped me contribute towards the curriculum for business education at these schools. At KSBL, my emphasis has specially been to introduce the latest courses as per the emerging needs of the market and global trends.

A relatively new entrant in the business education landscape of the country, the Karachi School of Business and Leadership (KSBL) was established because a group of Pakistani business and corporate leaders recognized that Karachi, the business and commercial hub of Pakistan, needed a world-class business school. We collaborated with Cambridge University to set up KSBL, and since then, we have successfully cherry-picked students from all disciplines to be part of our prestigious MBA program.

PAGE: What are your views on the quality of professional education in Pakistan?

Zeeshan Ahmed: Countries at all income levels constantly endeavored to improve their education systems and invest in higher education in pursuit of intellectual growth. We know for a fact that tertiary school enrolment has been extremely low for a country like Pakistan and in 2016-17 post graduate numbers (with 18 years of education) were under 20,000, as per the Higher Education Commission. And our primary education needs a lot of improvement too, to prepare the students for professional education, as the quality of intake is usually key. The challenge that lies ahead is, not just to have educational infrastructure available for our youth, but also to make it more accessible and affordable for all strata of society. Talking about the quality of professional education, while many institutions are mushrooming, giving more options to today’s youth — there are some institutions that are doing a phenomenal job at imparting knowledge. This healthy competition and growth is very likely to improve the quality of professional education in Pakistan.

Our country is full of eager minds with high potential, seeking opportunities to develop and lead — but they need more avenues to grow. This is where the private sector should provide opportunity and facilitate. Also, professional education has usually been operating in silos – there is a need to make it more integrated and connected.

At KSBL, we are always linking up with industry echelons, for our Mentorship program, Career Counselling Sessions, Eminent Speaker Series, Student Research Projects, Seminars etc. We also endeavor to do our part and disseminate knowledge on the latest business and policy trends by regularly inviting globally renowned speakers. Our aim is to keep collaborating with thought leaders, as a key element that contributes to the overall quality of our MBA experience. We also try to keep updating our curriculum according to market needs – just recently we added courses on Design Thinking, Block Chain and Data Analytics into our MBA curriculum.

PAGE: There is common perception that fee for getting professional education in Pakistan is beyond the affordability of the masses. Your views:

Zeeshan Ahmed: I agree. Quality professional education comes at a cost in Pakistan and this means that there is talent that is not being able to be tapped into due to affordability issues. I think this is where the private sector should step up and contribute in the area by way of scholarships, sponsorships etc.

We understand that this is an issue that affects our MBA talent too, so to address this, we have a needs blind admissions policy at KSBL, which means that a candidate is assessed entirely on his academic and professional credentials only, irrespective of whether or not he can afford to pay our fee. Our comprehensive Financial Assistance Program comes into play then, whereby we accommodate students through fee waivers, interest free loans, and work study programs etc – all to address the issue of affordability. And high merit students also get scholarships.

PAGE: How would you comment on the government support for the professional education in Pakistan?

Zeeshan Ahmed: Scaling up efforts to align higher education with market trends and demand for industry-specific skills is crucial. Now, more than ever, the government has to play a vital role to support the growth of educational institutions and making policies that are conducive to an environment that supports professional education. This is because, as we move further into the CPEC era, and with technological advancements impacting all sectors, be it medical sciences or textiles, the government needs to facilitate the public and education sector so they do not fall behind. We need multi stakeholder partnerships to address the enormous challenges that lie ahead of us so our youth has a share in the pie of immense economic growth that lies ahead.

Let’s talk about Research for instance — To be honest, genuine academic research is a phenomenon that is still in the take off stage in Pakistan, and the need of the hour is to shape it up in such a way that it helps the public and private sector address the local socio economic challenges. We need research that solves our own problems. We have an immaculate pool of local academia who are research-driven, we just need to ensure that the research being done is solving a local pressing issue. This can only be achieved by forging multistakeholder partnerships with government involvement.

PAGE: What you say about foreign investment in Pakistan education?

Zeeshan Ahmed: Realizing that the future workforce will be the key economic driver, we need to devise policies that attract foreign investment in education, like we do in business. Let us take the example of the UAE – so many international universities have their presence there, and they have set up academic cities and free zones, much like we do for trade only. Why can’t we be the hub for higher education and Pakistan should also try to adopt the same model, to bring in more international talent and investment into the country? I think going forward, it will be imperative for governments to realize the payoffs of investing in mega educational projects from an economic development angle.

PAGE: Kindly tell us about the job prospects for the professionals?

Zeeshan Ahmed: Last year we inducted the sixth MBA batch while four of the graduated batches have already been well absorbed in the market, with placements in organizations like McKinsey & Co, Unilever, Nestle’, Coca Cola and the Planning Commission of Pakistan. So I would say that the job prospects for the hard working professionals are many. For KSBL students, I would particularly like to mention that exposure to business competitions, business discussions, mentorships and interaction with local and international level thought leaders, gears them up for the post-graduation challenges that lie ahead of them. KSBL is where students come to not just study, but to absorb an ethos of challenging questions about business practices, international commerce, global finance, etc. all of which enhances their job prospects in this time of competition. Off course.

PAGE: How could Pakistan attract foreign students to get professional education from a Pakistani institute?

Zeeshan Ahmed: Pakistan is at an interesting juncture in the wake of the new silk route. We are the 6th largely populated country in the world currently – and well, I will not get into the perception management and leadership issues that Pakistan faces as a country, but the law and order situation has certainly improved over the last few years. Moreover, the faculty that some of the universities have, are top rated with both local and international level exposure in their area of expertise. With such faculty coupled with the state-of-the-art facilities that some institutions have – I have no doubt that it’s just a matter of projection and better perception management that Pakistan will increasingly attract foreign students.

Like I said, with technological advancements, commercialization and foreign investment on the rise, opportunities are many for today’s youth. The last 50 years have seen a technological revolution that has brought a radical change to human behaviors and interactions, and such leaps in technological advancements have affected all sectors including education. In teaching and education specially, the need is to provide equal access to learning globally, and embracing technology to attract talent from a global pool.

Pakistan is also expected to be the 20th biggest economy by 2030, and the education sector should also have a share in the pie – this can only be achieved through better policy making, public-private partnerships and better PR management in the global arena.

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