Sharda University Speech
Frank F Islam
The Role of Higher Education in the 21st Century:
Shaping Studies, Students and Society
Mr. Vice Chancellor; Dr. Siddiqi; Members of the Faculty; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you for your hospitality and your warm welcome.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Siddiqi for inviting me to address you today. Both of us have a store of shared memory of Aligarh. Thank you Dr. Siddiqi to make this possible
It is truly a pleasure and a distinct honor to be here with you on the beautiful campus of Sharda University. I feel a common bond through shared history, shared heritage, and shared background. Let me take one step further, as I look around, I see me in you, I see the future of India .I see the future of the world.
I accepted the invitation to deliver this speech that I have titled The Role of Higher Education in the 21st Century: Shaping Studies, Students and Society for three primary reasons.
The first reason is that I understand how important higher education can be in one’s life. I graduated from Aligarh Muslim University with a concentration in mathematics and then went to the United States and got two degrees in computer science from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
That higher education provided me with the basic knowledge, skills and abilities that I needed for success in the business world and as an entrepreneur. It provided me with the essential foundation for realizing the American dream.
The second reason is that I am passionate about higher education and what it can do to transform lives – especially for those who come from modest circumstances such as I did. I provide assistance and serve on boards ranging from my involvement with Montgomery County Community College in my home state of Maryland to international institutions like Johns Hopkins University, American University, and Marymount University.
My foundation supports numerous scholarships in India and the United States. I am here as part of this trip to dedicate a new school of business management complex that we have funded at Aligarh Muslim University. This management complex bears our name: Frank and Debbie Islam School of Management.
I look at the time and dollars that I contribute to higher education not as charity but as investments. The return on those investments has been and will be graduates who will secure gainful employment, start businesses and invest in the growth of the economy and help others climb up the ladder of success as well.
The third and final reason for accepting the invitation to speak here at Sharda University is that as I did my research I was inspired by what I found out about this institution. You have a clear and compelling vision and mission and are doing excellent work in an area – higher education – that needs excellent work – much more excellent work.
When I was invited to speak here I was told that I could speak on any topic that I wanted but some topics related to mathematics and sciences and technology were suggested. I must confess that my knowledge in those areas is more than a bit dated.
When I got my higher education here and in the U.S., the slide rule was the tool of choice for calculations and when you said computer you meant main frame. Pocket calculators and lap tops were in their infancy. Using an I-phone or some other cellular device for calculating, computing or communicating had not even been conceptualized.
As I said, after I got my higher education I moved on to become a business person, an entrepreneur and then a philanthropist and concerned citizen with one of my key areas of focus being education. I can no longer write algorithms or solve simultaneous equations in my head so I will leave the detailed and technical talks on math, science and technology to the specialists and academics. And, I will address my remarks today to an area in which I have experience and expertise. That as I said is, The Role of Higher Education in the 21st Century: Shaping Studies, Students and Society.
I have structured my speech into five parts. In part one, I will talk about The State of Higher Education in India today. In part two, I will provide my view on the purpose of higher education with a focus on Shaping Studies. In part three, I will address the purpose of higher education with a focus on Shaping Students. In part four, I will discuss the purpose of higher education with a focus on Shaping Society. Finally, in part five, I will share some thoughts with you about what this means for Sharda University and those of you in this audience comprised primarily of students, faculty, staff and administration from the School of Science and Research.
The State of Higher Education in India
Let’s get started. What is the state of higher education in the India today?
Overall, I would say it’s mediocre. If you look up mediocre in the dictionary, it says “of only moderate quality.”
If I were to assign a letter grade, I would give it a C-.
I have not done a comprehensive literature review nor examined all of the relevant research. But, it gave me great cause for concern. Here are some examples of the findings that have led to my assessment.
The U21 Ranking of National Higher Education System Report for 2016 prepared by the University of Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research ranked India 49th out of 50 countries for the quality of its nationwide higher educational system. The only country below India was Indonesia. The four countries directly above it in the rankings in descending order were Turkey, Croatia, Iran and Bulgaria.
The ranking was established based upon measuring 25 variables spread across four areas: Resources, Environment, Connectivity and Output. Resources and Environment are the input for the higher educational system and Connectivity and Output are the outcomes.
While I’m certain one could quarrel with the metrics or rankings, it is hard to imagine no matter how the data is cross-tabulated or manipulated, that India would move into the top one-half of the countries assessed.
That is the measure of the performance of higher education system in India over-all. I will move from there to a focus on math, science and technology in India.
The Center for Global Education at the Asia Society has prepared an interesting paper that looks at those topics from the ancient to the recent beginning with mathematics in the fourth century. That paper lauds India’s storied history and accomplishment in the math, science and technology fields through the centuries.
But in looking at conditions today, it concludes, and I quote, “The scene in India continues, as always, to be uneven. In spite of its size, India’s presence in the world of science and technology is still small.” The paper continues, “Today the major problem in further development of India lies in learning to manage the extraordinary talent that the country possesses. India is often said to be home of one of the largest scientific communities in the world, but only a small percentage of those graduating in the sciences are doing research.”
Let me move from looking at the higher educational system overall and a perspective on math to the students participating in higher education. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) does the most comprehensive comparative analysis of education in its 35 member and other partner countries.”
In its 2016 report, OECD notes that India has a “lower share of adults with tertiary education” than the average of the countries it surveys. OECD also reports that India has “fewer students than average enrolled in vocational programmes at the postsecondary level” and “graduation rates from vocational programmes are also one of the lowest among OECD and partner countries.”
In concluding this assessment of the state of high education, let me clarify that I am not saying India does not have some very high quality educational institutions. Indeed India has several high quality educational institutions including Sharda University, BHU, Aligarh Muslim University, the Indian Institutes of Technology, the University of Mumbai and Jawaharal Nehru University that have garnered international prominence.
In addition, it appears that India has made substantial progress in the higher educational arena over the past decade or so – many miles have been covered. Still, the data that I have looked at indicates that there are still many miles to go before we sleep.
The Purpose of Higher Education: Shaping Studies
That said, I will turn my attention to the first purpose that I have identified for higher education which is Shaping Studies.
There are entire books devoted to curriculum design and development. What I want to call attention to is not how to write a lesson plan but to the areas in which lesson plans should be written and what subjects should be covered in a curriculum of study.
Too often, schools of higher education develop curriculum which are instructor driven rather than driven by what the market place needs or requires. The studies have been shaped from the inside of the classroom out rather than from the outside of the classroom in.
The other thing that has happened for some time – especially in the United States- is that the studies are time-based rather than competency-based. Everyone has been forced to get a four year degree when a two year degree or some type of micro-credential or advanced certificate would suffice.
That focus began to change in the United States during the second term of the the Obama administration as it placed an intensified emphasis on career, technical and vocational education. I bring that up now because as I looked at the statistics on India with the OECD numbers revealing the low number of students enrolled in and graduating from vocational programs I saw a real problem.
This is a serious major gap and need that must be addressed with innovative ideas, solutions and investments if India is to have a world class higher education system. At the beginning of 2016, the Asia Society published a report titled preparing a Globally Competent Workforce through High Quality Career and Technical Education that presents case studies on model programs that have been implemented.
These programs cover a broad range of career options including automotive technology, agriculture, construction, digital media and advanced manufacturing. They could serve as models for consideration here.
The Purpose of Higher Education: Shaping Students
Just as there is much work that must be done on the first purpose of education – shaping students, there is much work that must be done on the second – shaping students.
The reason for this is that during the 20th century too much of higher education operated using what I would label an “institutionally-centered model.” In that model, much attention was paid to the interests of administration and faculty and the development and buildings of the college or university but too little was paid to the needs of the students.
What higher education needs to do in the 21st century is to convert to a “customer-centered” business model. That model would put the student as the customer at the center of all decisions and do things that add value for the student.
Higher education students come to school to learn. But, the vast majority of them are there not only to graduate but to get a job or promotion where they can earn an appropriate return for the investment of their educational dollars.
Viewing things from a student perspective as opposed to an institutional one, I would classify the purpose of higher education from the student perspective into three broad categories:
- learning purpose
- earning purpose
- turning purpose.
For a very long time in higher education the academic perspective has prevailed. The learning purpose or knowledge for knowledge’s sake was front and center on the higher education agenda.
Now, given the developing needs of a country, the changing world, globalization, and the challenges that students and we all are confronting, what should be the purpose of higher education for students? Or, more appropriately, should there be a single purpose?
In my opinion, the general purposes of higher education that we have discussed to this point – learning, earning and turning – are not mutually exclusive. An institution could emphasize only one purpose or embrace all three.
The essential requirements should be for the institution to align its curriculum to its purpose(s) and to communicate its mission clearly. This will enable a prospective student to make an informed decision on where to go to school based upon an institution’s espoused intent.
This is essential because students come in all shapes and sizes: Some are interested in learning. Some in earning. Some in turning. Some in all three forms. Others are uncertain.
The exercise of student choice acknowledges this. It brings into play a fourth category of purpose for higher education. That is fulfilling the educational “yearning” or desire of the student. The yearning purpose should be the key driver for the type of education that a student pursues and that an institution provides.
The Purpose of Higher Education: Shaping Society
The third general purpose of higher education is shaping society. Higher education accomplishes that through the civic engagement of its administration, staff, faculty and students.
India is the largest democracy in the world. Through the increased civic engagement of its institutions of higher education and those in those institutions India can become the leader on the world stage for democracy. It can demonstrate what can be accomplished through democratic means to shape society to make India and the world better.
What is civic engagement? The best definition of civic engagement that I have seen comes from a collection of readings titled Civic Responsibility and Higher Education.
That definition states:
Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.
Some times when I say civic engagement people mistakenly think I mean political engagement. I do not. Political engagement is a form of civic engagement – but just one form.
In my opinion, civic engagement takes five primary forms: Individual Engagement, Organizational Engagement, Political Engagement, Community Engagement, and Social Engagement
Let me define each of those forms briefly
- Individual Engagement is being the best one can be and personally responsible for one’s actions
- Organizational Engagement is contributing to the success of the groups to which one belongs such as the place where one works, the place where one worships, and the places of affiliation.
- Political Engagement is participating in those processes that shape the structure and nature of government
- Community Engagement is collaborating to make the locale and the world in which we live a better place
- Social Engagement is advocating for justice and equality of treatment and opportunity for all
When I began my education and started my business, I didn’t really think about them as a form of civic engagement. In looking back now, I understand that they definitely were and that we are all here on this earth for a higher purpose.
I have described the forms of engagement not as prescriptions but as examples. I would dare to guess that the majority of you in the higher educational community in this audience are already involved in all of these forms of engagement both individually and collectively. I am shining a spotlight on them here today to say that they contribute significantly to accomplishing one of the purposes of higher education: Shaping Society.
Sharda University and the Role of Higher Education in the 21st Century
Shaping Studies, Shaping Students, and Shaping Society: As I see it that is the role of higher education in the 21st century.
Based upon the material I reviewed to learn more about your University, I can see that Sharda University – unlike many traditional higher education institutions here in India that are still locked in the 20th century – has been structured and is fulfilling its 21st century role.
I say that because when I look at your vision and mission statements and the words of your Chancellor I see a commitment to implementing an operational model that will transform higher education here in India in a fundamental way.
Consider the vision: To be a global centre of learning to promote professional excellence and innovation.
Consider the mission: Sharda seeks to realize its vision by:
- Creating a stimulating and flexible learning environment for its faculty and for its students
- Leveraging academic research to form strong industry linkages
- Developing a culture that strongly promotes innovation and continued betterment in all facets of life
Consider the words of Chancellor Gupta: “Sharda University was established to evolve a unique system of higher education that increases the relevance of higher education.”
Consider the fact that Sharda already has students from over 55 countries. It is delivering on its promise to be a global centre in a troubled world which needs more connectivity among people from different nations. It is shaping its studies to the needs of industry and the market place and shaping its students by being student-centered.
Finally, I see that Sharda is also playing its role to shape society here in India. I say that because of your program of social responsibility which places a strong focus and commitment on “social responsibility” especially for “the underprivileged section of society” providing “dedicated services in healthcare, education, and skill development programs for community welfare.”
I also say that because of a proposal that I saw that has been submitted to the HRD Ministry by the Indian Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ISIAM) to establish an Institute of Mathematics here at Sharda. The Institute of Mathematics is intended To Make Mathematics Popular and to Connect It to Real World Problems.
I may be a little narrow-minded but I don’t think Mathematics will ever win any popularity contests. On the other hand, I do think that advanced Mathematics and mathematical applications are absolutely essential for developing emerging and new technologies, building businesses and industries, processing information, growing the economy, and addressing the whole array of socio-economic issues confronting the people of India.
Those are the “real problem” and the opportunity areas for shaping society. I am heartened, given the need for much more higher education research and development to be done in India in order for it to be competitive and to become a developed nation in a short time period, to see Sharda through ISIAM being a leader in putting that proposal forward.
In closing, higher education is at a pivot point. I define pivot pints as an “area that must be leveraged and addressed effectively in order to achieve positive outcomes.
As you all know, many years ago, Mahatma Gandhi advised us, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Sharda is being that change.
Higher education, India and the world will be a better place because of that.
Although it is a bit contrary to my nature, let me offer some advice to young people in the audience as you take the next steps in your life:
- Be a lifelong learner
- Be the best you can be
- Get a good education
- Exploit your fullest potentials
- Stay true to you
- Never give up
- Create your own legacy
- Make it your own journey
- Do well but do also Good.
- No hope should be high enough for you to achieve and no dream should be big enough for you to achieve. You have capacity to make impossible as possible
- Do not forget your heritage and roots. Dedicate your selves to draw upon the values, ingenuity, decency, dignity, and spirit that has been the greatness of this country.
- Be the leader for the next generations
- Never be frightened of the future but you need to build the future
- Invest in others by sharing and giving back
- When you are successful provide ladders of opportunity for others to succeed
I would like you to extend your hand, hope, help, and heart to those who are less fortunate and those who are socially and economically disadvantaged and those who are underprivileged and those who are voiceless and vulnerable. You should make a commitment to making things better for them. Let us empower them with education and economic mobility. Let us help them through their darkest moments of their lives. When they succeed, ALL of us succeed. India succeeds. World succeeds
Thank you for spending this time with and listening to me. I appreciate your attentiveness.
I wish you all the best as you continue your work to fulfill you role and to bring higher education into the 21st century.
Good luck and God bless you all.