Published in Jan-Feb 2014
Education is about honing eager young minds, fostering brilliance, and shaping bright futures for individuals and societies. It is also serious business, now more than ever. It is about money and competition and success and glory – for students and universities both. Despite Pakistan’s lackadaisical performance in education, there are yet a handful of institutes that are doing things differently, and revolutionising education as a whole.
1 In the past, educational institutes of high repute remained aloof in their lofty towers of excellence, never deigning to descend from on high to commune with the common folk. No more. Now, colleges like the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) have active Facebook pages and Twitter handles. Students, current and prospective, can visit these pages and interact with the college and each other. They can get a taste of being part of the institution, and institutes can communicate not just practical information, but softer content aimed at engagement and image building. Visit LUMS’ Facebook page to see students sharing ideas; it’s quite invigorating!
2 Institutes are brands, just like any other and in fact, more high profile and sensitive on occasion. And like other brands, they need good PR. This is a lesson well learnt by the more proactive educational institutes that seem to be investing in such activities of late.
3 Student recruitment and admissions are generally done according to a standard process that differs only in the details. There are written (and sometimes oral) tests, complemented by interviews and of course, the candidate’s past academic history. Some colleges now have a more dynamic process, testing softer aspects of candidates, such as EQ/emotional intelligence. Such tests reflect the need of the hour; students have to be more than academically gifted to succeed in the real world. Colleges are tapping into this insight, and doing it well. They are also offering a wider variety of disciplines, finally moving beyond the standard MBA in Marketing or Finance – literally the only two options available locally in the past. Such developments in processes and curriculum highlight a new innovative desire on the part of institutes; with a corresponding impact on reputation and image.
4 Yes, colleges are usually money making ventures. But in addition to their directive of improving the future of a nation, they are increasingly investing in human capital to give back to the community by targeting under-privileged, deserving individuals for scholarships. The IBA’s Talent Hunt and LUMS’ National Outreach Programme are two such ventures. CSR, done by entities like the Aga Khan University (AKU) for years, has now found its way to other brands in the sector; a most welcome development. The fact that such activities generate great PR is just a happy coincidence!
5 Another aspect to the last point is that of social involvement, on a scale previously not attempted. Colleges are realising that safeguarding our future doesn’t just mean churning out smart kids with perfect GPAs; it means cultivating a sense of morality, empathy and social awareness. This is more crucial than ever in Pakistan, given the multitude of complex issues students will be grappling with. Hence, the LUMS Balochistan Talks which provide a forum for frank discussion on a very loaded issue. Beyond social awareness, some colleges actively get involved in social welfare work; AKU stands as a pioneer in this regard, with its longstanding AKU Urban Health Programme in Sindh. For colleges to assume more responsibility is a positive development and in fact, a ray of light in an increasingly murky sector where standards are continuously falling and the local Matric Board’s performance is abysmal; there is a reason why Pakistan is the world’s top market for GCE!
All these trends seem confined to the premium institutes. So yes, the revolution is tiny and elite at present; but it is happening.
Sara Amjad Qureshi is Marketing Manager – Exams, The British Council.