Rethinking Higher Education: The 5C’s University

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Shahid M. Haq

The World Bank has recently launched the World Development Report 2017. Not surprisingly, this timely report, addresses the issue of “Learning to Realize Education’s Promise”. The report notes:

“Given that today’s students will be tomorrow’s citizens, leaders, workers, and parents, a good education is an investment with enduring benefits. But providing education is not enough. What is important, and what generates a real return on investment, is learning and acquiring skills.”

Two critical aspects are to be addressed; one, that educational institutions have to become learning institutions and second, that the return on investment is a promise with enduring benefits that the institutions need to fulfill. The issues might seem simple but to address them, the traditional model of a university as it is implemented has to be re-evaluated especially in the Pakistani context.

For the last few decades the understanding of good education has been expanded. Development of skills and especially those that are the need of the industry, market and society have gained tremendous importance. Development of specialized skill set tailored to meet the requirement of a certain country, geographical area, industry sector or community has become more specific. The condescending evaluation that was given to skill-based education is diminishing as market dynamics drive the need for such education.

In a 2014 report McKinsey warned that countries will be faced with the dual crises of youth unemployment and shortage of people with critical job skills at the same time, pointing to an education focus versus market needs gap.

Countries such as Germany who understood this in the 80’s, followed by others around the world, upgraded the skill-based education to a university level and now have a large presence of universities of applied sciences. These universities of applied sciences exist alongside the traditional universities.

While many developed countries have started to take the necessary steps to overcome the education focus vs. market needs gaps, countries more hit and more likely to be impacted by the crises–the developing countries–are still slow to respond. Paradoxically these are also the countries that have a very high youth population and thus face an increasing need to make appropriate plans for their future.
In the developing countries like Pakistan, universities are still patterned on the format of a traditional university. In their need to be evaluated on the basis of criteria developed for classic teaching institutions in the developed countries, the developing countries have not sufficiently addressed their specific and individual needs for learning institutions. The developing countries are at a different step on the economic and the educational ladder. To break out of their continued lag to the developed countries they need to find ways and means to develop expertise which others would need. In the last few decades the countries that have adopted these methods have shown growth. While at the outset they did not go for high-end theoretical research, rather shifted their focus to developed expertise.

This brings us to the very critical question. What should HEIs (universities) in Pakistan do?
Universities can no longer afford to simply be islands of higher education. Being an essential part of the country’s critical human resource producing eco-system it has a larger role and much wider footprint. Supported by the country’s scarce financial resources, be they from the government institutions or private individual as fees, they have a responsibility that is beyond the traditional teaching model.

HEIs today have a responsibility to the:
• Customers–The market (Who will ultimately pay for the product/service they will produce or generate).
• Consumers (The students who consume the services the universities offers).
• Collaborators (all the partners, regulators, that help it to fulfill its responsibility).
• Community (which provides the catchment area for its clientele and its services–the society).
• Country (Government, financing bodies, and the nation which is the identity and its ultimate overall responsibility).

This 5C’s model for a country’s HEI can help it to plan its offering of education, skill development, services and other support systems to fulfill its holistic responsibility.

The classical university now has to incorporate additional roles as a means of furthering technical, economic and societal development. It has the additional responsibility of transference of knowledge and skill for generating economic development. It needs to impact the economic development by using applied science, engineering, medicine, technology and management to further the objectives of the state.

This paradigm shift is being understood in Pakistan but it needs to be further defined and clarified. Traditional universities will find it difficult to survive in the coming times as the needs of the world outside the university i.e., in the market, are changing. HEIs therefore need to realign themselves to the new realities.


The writer is a corporate and academic professional associated with a university in Islamabad.

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