Planning the Future of Higher Education
Published in Sep-Oct 2021
I believe that a productive morning routine can lead to a highly productive day. Therefore, I begin my day early at 4:00 a.m. I offer my prayers and then head out for a long walk. Walking is essential to me, and I find that exercising in the early morning is an excellent way to think and make plans for the future. This is the time when I like to strategise for the university. Every day, I make sure I do 10,000 steps and as I live in a colony, I get to walk around in a quiet, peaceful environment whilst people are still asleep.
After my walk, I come home, check my messages and start communicating with my team. My wife is an excellent cook and prepares a healthy, nutritious breakfast that sets me up for the day. This allows me to skip lunch and anytime I feel like I need an energy boost, I drink a cup or two of strong coffee.
After breakfast, I drop my wife, Dr Zubaida Qazi, a doctor and the founding President of Pink Pakistan, a breast cancer NGO, at her clinic. I then drop my two daughters to school before heading to the university.
As Iqra University has five campuses in Karachi, I have to be available across all campuses. So, my routine is never set. I may start my day at the main campus and then visit the North Karachi or Gulshan campuses. Another day, I may begin at the Gulshan campus and then visit our Airport and Bahria Town campuses before returning to the main campus in Defence. I go wherever I am needed.
At the office, I spend most of my time in meetings. These could be with the Board of Governors, the Financial Assistance Board for Indigent Meritorious Students, our faculty deans, interdepartmental meetings, or senior management members. We have several international faculty and they bring with them their international academic and industrial experience. So, we plan how to adapt their teachings to a Pakistani context, while ensuring our students have a globalised approach to the fields they are studying. We like to prepare our students for a career in Pakistan and for an interconnected world.
The corporate sector is another group that I regularly meet with. Iqra has built up strong alliances with industry, as well as the public sector. We collaborate on scholarships with private sector stakeholders. It is important to understand the needs of C-level executives and what they are looking for from graduates. It is essential that we provide our students with the skills of today for the workforce of tomorrow. This is why networking with public and private sector stakeholders forms a vital part of my day.
I am always thinking about how to move forward, beyond the current educational thinking. We have a young, growing population in Pakistan and we need to foster entrepreneurship in our young so they can create the jobs of tomorrow. This year I spent considerable time setting up our Business Incubation Centre. We have half a million dollars in seed capital and free office space for start-ups to establish their businesses.
Although it took us all by surprise, the pandemic was an opportunity for us to accelerate the digitisation we were already implementing. I understood very early on that the pandemic would fundamentally change how education will be conducted in the future.
We were the first university to introduce Blackboard to our students. Blackboard provides direct interaction between teachers and students and allows discussion forums. After the lectures, our discussion forum is available if any student has some difficulty and other students can also benefit from it. The faculty also inputs into that discussion.
Furthermore, Blackboard integrates into our control system, unlike Zoom, which doesn’t connect with our Learning Management System. Whenever you bring in new technology, you need comprehensive training. Technology adaptation has stages and people adopt it at different speeds. So, when we brought in Blackboard, we conducted an across-the-board training of all the staff, faculty, and even students.
The digitisation of education is taking up a lot of my time these days. We are developing significant amounts of video content for students. Just as television is making way for OTT services like Netflix, education is moving away from linear to non-linear delivery. We are introducing Associate Degree and Continuing Education programmes, which allow online education for busy professionals and stay-at-home mothers. Education has to revolve around people’s busy lives, not the other way round. We are working on building the next-generation university. We are assessing what our universities should look like in the next 20 years. As AI takes over, and more and more jobs become automated, what are the subjects that students will need to know in order to flourish in the future?
In the afternoons, I often attend events or functions. Iqra University hosts lots of events and functions, and this takes up a lot of my time. We may have dignitaries from the regional or federal government, military, police, and foreign universities visiting us. It provides them with a better understanding of how education is evolving in Pakistan. It is also vital they understand the needs of students today. For example, we recently held a symposium for HR professionals; it was an excellent opportunity for us to share knowledge. We were able to not only gain insight into what corporations are looking for from new graduates, but also communicate with them about the changes we are making to our HR curriculum.
No matter how busy or demanding my work is, I try to call it a day by 6:00 p.m. That said, my phone is never too far away from me! I go home and see my daughters and wife. I am usually famished by the time I get home. So, I have dinner, lovingly prepared by my wife. My favourite dish is biryani, which I think is a classic favourite of every Pakistani.
After dinner, my daughters like to take me out shopping or to a coffee shop. There is nothing I love more than spending time with my family. We shop, drink coffee and eat dessert. I also make sure that at least once a year we travel as a family abroad. After all, travel can be one of the best forms of education! Sometimes, I meet up with friends at the Golf Club or at a restaurant for a catch-up. It is nice to relax with friends and chat, but education is never far from my mind. My friends keep me grounded and spending an hour with them in healthy banter never fails to relieve the day’s stress.
I am usually in bed by 10:00 p.m. My routine before bed consists of making necessary preparations for the next day, praying Isha, and catching up on the news. I have always had a habit of reading before bed, and I find it helps me to sleep better. So, I usually have an interesting novel or a biography on my night table and I like to read a couple of chapters before I finally retire for the day.
Dr Wasim Qazi is Vice-Chancellor, Iqra University.
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