SZABIST PROGRESSING WELL AHEAD

SADAF AURANGZAIB, Senior Correspondent
Nov 27 - Dec 03, 2006

Szabist is one of the leading universities of Pakistan. Szabist is playing a crucial role in meeting the challenges of today's world by keeping it's eye both on the national and international front. We talked to Dr. Javed Leghari to learn more about its enhancement and progress and its role in imparting quality education.

PAGE: What is the ongoing progress of your institute?

DR. JAVED LEGHARI (JL): Horizontally in terms of having new programs, last year we have added the Media Sciences program which actually has been a very successful program. Perhaps we are the only one who are offering four years degree in Media Sciences. There is a full fledged Media Facility in studios. Vertically, of course, we continue to add programs to our existing programs. For example this January onwards we will be adding the Executive MBA program at Karachi. We have already started this program about four months back in Islamabad and more than a year back in Dubai. At both these places this program was very successful, particularly in Dubai where we have a lot of students having a great interest and because of it we have to keep the program going. There are very high level senior people who actually come and impart training to the Executive MBA program, so that is the model we tend to use in Karachi as well. The Senior Executives, CEOs and the top level managers are ones who will be coming in and basically imparting training to the Junior Executives and the middle level managers. And then of course we have a curriculum part to it as well.

The quality is growing as we continue to get noticed by large number of foreign universities and I think just in the last three months we were visited by at least the deans of three British universities so there is a considerable interest in terms of collaboration and it's not us seeking them out but they are seeking us out and I believe we might be signing a number of articulation agreements with a couple of British universities in which people will be able to freely transfer between one university to another university.

Another program that yet another British university is talking to us, for example, is related to our Dubai campus. They have got programs like they want to send their whole business class for a whole semester to Dubai to take one full semester courses at SZABIST's Duabi campus. These are the types of things that are very exciting.

PAGE: You have just mentioned about the students transfer agreement between a British university and Szabist Dubai. I would like to ask as Szabist have four campuses in and outside Pakistan, do you have any exchange program for the students enrolled at these campuses so that they might have the international exposure?

JL: Well, first of all we do not do it forcibly. Once you are a student of Szabist you are free to move between campuses like there are a lot of expatriate families in Dubai and if a family moves to Pakistan then the student can move to any of the campuses. Similarly, between Islamabad and Karachi there is a lot of movement of families so the students do change their campuses. But the way we link up our campuses is through a unique feature i.e. video conferencing. We have this video conferencing facility currently between Islamabad, Karachi and Dubai and we regularly bring in lectures from other campuses. Only last week, in Dubai Executive Program there was a very senior American who is teaching there, a General Manager, he talked about the organizational behavior and the lecture was video cast to our BBA students here. Sometimes we get very high profile people as well. Lord Nazir Ahmed, who is the Member of the UK House of Lords, is the only Pakistani Kashmiri there so he was giving a lecture at our Islamabad campus so again students from other campuses can actually avail on such different opportunities. I don't think any other university in Pakistan is able to do it. Higher Education Commission has a program that says that eventually cities will be able to get connected but so far we have not seen anything, however, we have been doing it for the last three years. We have also introduced in August the online courses in Computer Sciences and Management Sciences and this is the type of education that will be completely over internet where people would be easily able to access not just the course material by lecture but they will also be able to access the faculty through different discussion groups and chat rooms on the internet and the system is very vigorous.

We study for a full year a lot of online models around the world and we know that this is becoming a very popular way of communication. This is basically a hybrid model where people would do certain quizzes online and then the quizzes themselves are randomly generated out of the huge data base so that two students would have different questions randomly generated for them and similarly when they do the test, it is exactly the same formula. We have a large number of questions assigned to the server so the questions that are generated for the test for one student are different from the other students but then they follow the same sequence of weeks so you can't finish the whole course in three weeks, for example. You can only get material for one week at a time and you have to progress accordingly and when you miss the test and if you haven't done a test within a week there is a window of performance to show your performance of test, so basically it's a hybrid model as if you are actually attending classes physically at a campus.

The only thing which is different is the final exam which we allow to be offline at any of the Szabist authorized centers, so we might even be dealing for example with Saudi Arabia university where we don't have any campus. We can actually send the paper over to a certain university there and the student will appear with two forms of ID and appear for the test so this is the whole model of online education.

PAGE: There are a lot of foreign universities with whom Szabist is affiliated, what sort of benefits these kind of affiliations give to our institutions?

JL: I give you a very recent example that we are doing. There is a University of Media Arts, which is also the Asian Academy of Film and Television in India. Obviously we all know that the film industry in India is very mature so they offer degree programs and within their degree programs they offer certain kinds of specialized courses which in Pakistan no university have the ability to offer, so what we are doing this December is that we are sending our whole class of 32 students to Delhi for three weeks. They will be attending these courses with them in their studios, and with their staff, they will be exposed to the real people working in the industry both from television and film industry. This is one example of how we are taking advantage of one kind of international agreement that we have.

PAGE: Talking of the current education development in the country like Education City Plan, what is Szabist planning for that?

JL: Before the Education City idea, we were looking for establishing a campus, we went around the outskirts of Karachi where we identified our land, we were the first ones to go and get that land there. We have had that land for almost 11 years. What happened in the mean time was about five years later Aga Khan University came and they were looking for extending their campus, they went around and came exactly next door directly opposite to where we were located and they bought 500 acres there. When the two of us came there together we went to the Sindh government and told them that we have taken the land there but there is no infrastructure like roads, water, sewerage, electricity, gas, etc so the then governor Moinuddin Haider capitalized on this idea and said that we have had two leading universities of Pakistan together why not bring in other universities there and he declared it as Education City. Later, five more universities came so now there are eight universities that acquired land in that area. The current government is of course expanding the area so many universities have applied there. Besides, there are another 20 which will bring the total up to 28 universities in the same area.

PAGE: Do you think your institution is facing any impediment in its progress because of its affiliation with one of the leading political parties?

JL: We are not affiliated with any group. SZABIST is a trust, it has got members of the board of trustees. We are neither affiliated with a political group nor to any political individual. It is an educational institute which is chartered and it is for all and everybody. People from all fields of life can join it. If government or any individual feels like that you can't help it. I as an individual may have my political affiliation or my professional affiliation and you have your own. It does not mean that when you go to an educational institute that school is politically associated with your school of thought. Same thing is here, we might have people in the board of trustees who might have their political affiliation that does not mean the institute is politically affiliated. We follow basically a charter and we have a governing body. There are representatives of the government also on our governing body like Chairman HEC, Secretary Education and few other official members are part of our governing body. We are following a law and there is no political affiliation as this is a chartered university.

PAGE: How do you see the government funding and supporting the higher education in Pakistan?

JL: In Pakistan there are public sector universities and there are private sector universities. Unfortunately, the current government policy is to provide support to public sector universities. All the funds and grants from HEC are clearly dedicated to public sector universities and they just have increased the funding by five times so they are getting a lot of money. There is no money or funding available for private sector universities, for example, like in foreign faculty hiring we can't even get somebody from outside to come and teach here even on cost share basis that we and government will bear half of the amount. Now when the grants are coming from foreign countries, they are coming through bilateral agreements and they are coming through the government. Now the government decides where this money will go so if there is a money that is coming in for entrepreneurship center, the government will decide where it goes, they might decide whether to put it in IBA or to Sindh University but the point is that they will not put it to a private university.

In other programs for which foreign funding is coming like USAID scholarship for MBA students and Japanese government scholarship, in those cases the government has put their feet down and provided half the money to the private institutes and half the money to public institutes. In this case we are the only private university in Sindh that is a part of a USAID MBA scholarship program. Similarly on the Japanese government scholarship program we are the only ones so at that level everybody knows where we are. Now this time government did its own rating and ranked us No. 3 in Pakistan.

PAGE: Being an educationist and a Senator, how do you see the current role of the government towards education, how effective and productive do you think this will be for the future?

JL: I am an educationist at heart and I am an academician. All my views that I give whether these are on the Senate floor or in any interview, these are my personal views. Professionally, the government's current education policy is geared towards the public sector. In the Western world especially if you look at the United States, the top universities are all private universities and half of their money is actually coming from the government. Unfortunately this is not being done in Pakistan. Here you are choking the private sector and you are hoping that the public sector will flourish. Public sector hasn't flourished for the last 60 years, what makes you believe that they will flourish now. Had the government given any support to the private universities in the form of incentives or grants, I think we would have come up as probably the better universities of the world in private sector but that hasn't happened so here I am critical of the government in the sense that yes there has been a support for the private university which the government is not doing. Now if you talk about the budget, it is my professional view that there is not enough money in the budget for education. If you actually look at the amount of the money that has been earmarked in the federal budget, I guess it's 20 billion rupees compared to 250 billion rupees for defence. Look at the difference here. Here you are trying to impart education to around 50 million and the other budget is only for about half a million soldiers, so the difference is that you are spending about 250,000 per soldier versus 200 rupees per student.

PAGE: How do you see the role of HEC keeping in view its past performance and how do you see its educational reforms structure?

JL: All the past governments had come up with their own educational policy and educational reforms. What we have seen so far is that none of them has worked out. The current government has been in power for about five years but do have we seen any difference, do have we seen literacy growth rate going up and the quality of education growing, do have we seen that the ghost schools have disappeared in various provinces or the qualified faculty coming back to Pakistan. Let's talk about the ground realities. I look at the ground reality because when I advertise I got CVs. Do I find the quality of faculty any better today than what I saw it five or ten years back. The answer is simply 'No', so I don't see any improvement. Yes, the government should be credited for making an effort but its not working, HEC is pushing the same policy which is not working. They are making a sincere effort to improve the quality but there are certain flaws in that policy.

PAGE: Another thing that I would like to ask is the performance of the faculty. Are you satisfied with your faculty performance?

JL: From day one we have always been evaluating faculty. We have a program which is faculty and course evaluation which is done by the students themselves as quality is always customers' satisfaction. It's not what I say faculty is good, it's what the students say who are taking the course from the faculty. We continue to do that and by the Grace of God the kind of feedback we get is 99% that our faculty is excellent or very good. If some faculty comes to the good level we discontinue that faculty for subsequent semesters. Sometimes we take a risk by appointing a faculty with very high credentials and experience for a semester and may be the feedback was not good but even though we didn't make the wrong decision in appointing that person who might have a foreign Masters degree or may be a PhD degree with years of experience in the corporate or academic world but the feedback about him is not good so we discontinue that faculty, so every faculty that is here in Szabist for the last eleven years is based on students' evaluation. Even our curriculum continues to change every time based on the feedback that we get from the industry. We have a regular networking with the industry through our executive development sector about the HR requirements, so we modify our curriculum accordingly. Our courses are absolutely in line with what the industry needs both in Computer Sciences and Management Sciences.

PAGE: Do you think that the graduates that your university is producing would be willing to work in the country?

JL: Well, we ourselves encourage our students as obviously they have to go for the best job offer wherever they are getting it from. They start off with very good companies themselves (especially the IT industry which has networking all around the world) so the IT industry mostly place their senior managers overseas, so we see a lot of interaction taking place between people who might have even started off here and end up in some foreign country. Everybody wants to move up and when they get good education, they surely go there.

PAGE: Tell us about the PhD program that Szabist is offering?

JL: Well, if we talk about the professional education, we have PhD program since 1999 and we see a large number of applicants who want to apply first in the MS program and then go for PhD. We see a lot of interest, even the Sindh government sent around 20-21 senior ranking officers here to pursue their MS education. We have had a research journal for the last 5-6 years and the quality of paper that are published in that research journal could be taken both to the national and international conferences, so there is a big surge in the people who want to pursue their PhD. Even the people are pursuing the HEC for PhD scholarship.

PAGE: How do you see the future of Szabist?

JL: Szabist is continuing to grow. I see a bright future. We will continue to add faculties, we will continue to add campuses and programs, we will continue to enhance the quality of education as well as research. In the long run we'll perhaps have more Szabist forums where we will have very prestigious people to talk on various issues. I see more research conferences taking place, we have one conference in December and the other at our Larkana campus which is going to deal with the economic and regional development.