In 2010, the Habib University Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation of the House of Habib – announced its decision to launch the Habib University. Four years on, and on the cusp of starting classes in the fall of 2014, the University is one of the most talked about developments in educational circles.
For one thing the House of Habib, whose group companies include Habib Bank AG Zurich and Indus Motors among others, is well known for quality education projects and has to its credit the Habib Public School and the Habib Girls School in Karachi. However, and perhaps more importantly, Habib University has made waves by virtue of being Pakistan’s first liberal arts and sciences university.
Expanding on the University’s philosophy, Yasmeen Bano, Head of Student Recruitment and Outreach explains that “we believe the purpose of higher education is not only to impart knowledge, rather it should be a process of growth and development which continues after students leave university.”
|Habib University’s state-of-the-art campus is “an experience; and everything has been designed keeping the students’ needs in mind.”|
This philosophy is espoused in a one-word concept – ‘yohsin’ or the ongoing process of self cultivation – and is expressed in the undergraduate degree programmes offered as well as in the University’s ‘liberal core’.
In terms of degree programmes, Habib University students will have four choices – BA in Communication Studies and Design, BSc in Social Development and Policy, BS in Electrical Engineering and BS in Computer Science. Bano says that the decision regarding which degree programmes were offered was not only based on what is currently popular, but one major consideration was “the areas where Pakistan as a country is not producing enough graduates and leaders,” and that is why areas relating to communication, development, energy and technology were chosen.
In addition to the courses pertaining to their respective degrees, the University has made it mandatory for students to take on the six courses which make up the liberal core. These include Rhetoric and Communication, Science, Technology and Society and History of Islamic Thought among others. Furthermore, in line with a concept known as ‘divisions of knowledge’ students will be required to take certain electives from a degree programme other than their own – for example a student of Social Development and Policy will be required to take courses from the communication design degree.
There are many advantages of integrating the liberal core and divisions of knowledge throughout the University’s programmes, explains Samar Hasan, Assistant Director, Office of Strategic Initiatives. Not only will it create well rounded students with the ability to communicate effectively, it will also break academic silos and help students focus on the world in relation to their field of study, as well as encourage interaction among students from different disciplines. Hasan says the liberal core also offers a course in Urdu and the University has its own centre for vernacular languages which will be “especially important for social development and engineering graduates because they will be interacting with communities.”
The innovative and exciting curriculum is not the University’s only distinctive feature. The state-of-the-art campus in Gulistan-e-Jauhar with a vast library, amphitheatre and auditorium, students’ commons, writing centre, fitness centre as well as several different labs, is “an experience; and everything has been designed keeping the students’ needs in mind,” says Bano.
Then there is the faculty which is a mix of local and foreign professors, all of whom are PhD’s apart from celebrated film director, Jamil Dehlavi and communication designer and editor of Mazaar Bazaar, Saima Zaidi, both of whom are Master’s degree holders.
However, these facilities and faculty don’t come cheap and the annual tuition of a BA in Communication Design for example amounts to Rs 900,000. However, as Sibtain Naqvi, Head of Media and External Relations, points out, there is one enormous caveat.
“The chancellor of the University, Rafiq Habib has said that getting in [to Habib University] is the challenge, paying for it is not.”
In line with this needs blind philosophy, Habib University, which like most Ivy League universities in the US is based on the endowment model, offers several full and partial scholarships and financial aid and work-study programmes. Naqvi says that “over 80% of the student population will have some sort of financial aid depending on their needs.”
To ensure student interest and enrolment, the University has been marketing these attributes quite heavily over the past year. Its many marketing activities include a widespread recruitment drive with visits to schools across Karachi in the last 18 months, plenty of advertising in newspapers, via rich text banners and on radio and participation in education expos as well as organising an Expo of its own called Shaping Futures.
As part of this marketing drive, the University has also been hosting a series of seminars and lectures with Pakistani intellectuals in the United States, and with international experts in Pakistan on a range of topics from ‘women in technology’ to ‘the impact of climate change’.
Naqvi says, “Habib University sees itself as a means of creating intellectual debate in society and a means of generating dialogue.”
All of these efforts have been supported by a highly responsive and up-to-date website (which is one of the few if not the only university website in Pakistan that allows students to apply online) and a well defined social media presence with a constantly updated Facebook page and Twitter feed which keeps the University and its news top of mind.
Naqvi says that with 10.3 million Pakistanis, most of them under the age of 25, currently on Facebook, social media simply could not be ignored (other universities may want to take note!) and while the recruitment drives helped spread awareness about the University, it was the social media posts (a mix of faculty interviews, contests and information posts) that got students to come to the education expos.
Generating student interest in a new university is a complex combination of distinctive course offerings, a diverse and well rounded faculty, a solid programme of financial aid and scholarships and a sense that students will get, as Bano puts it, “an interesting experience in a respectful environment.” Clearly Habib University has managed to check all those boxes.