Foreign brands in higher education

International universities and higher education
Nov 09: An ordinary youth from an affluent family was able to enroll in an Ivy League institution. Earning degrees in political science and public administration, he returned to seek appropriate career options.

With the tag value of his degrees and more, most of the doors of prospective employers opened up without the slightest of effort. He was soon flooded with attractive offers from international agencies, autonomous bodies, corporate affiliates and administrative service. And after some weighing and comparing, he settled in a cosy career path with possibilities of speedy rise to higher management positions a win-win situation indeed!

A brilliant lad with humble background, who had topped all the way to the higher secondary school, entered into a well-known local university. He became a sought after student by the faculty members by virtue of his bubbling talent, promise and merit. After completing some of the most challenging academic exercises as his dissertation, he bagged his well-deserved degrees in the same discipline. But when he began trying his luck for a befitting gainful employment, he found out that merit and attainment alone are not enough!

After knocking at different doors in vain, he finally accepted a mundane position in a line government department - to eventually work up as a ranker. A different brand emblem of the institution and its western location would have added far more to his life.

It is an undeniable fact that the various brands that exist in the realm of education have a direct bearing on the future prospects of the concerned students. An unwritten praxis is normally found in this respect. The prestigious institutions of higher learning located in New England or Californian shores in the United States are a celebrated mention. Other locations in that country also have plenty of universities which trademark their alumni with certified success in professional lives.

Historically established campuses in Oxford, Cambridge and elsewhere in the United Kingdom are another assorted mention. Most of the cities and counties in Britain have well-established campuses that now potray motley of educational brands. Similarly the ancient campuses in Benelux countries, Germany, France, Spain and Italy have a credible existence in the domain of knowledge.

Those educated from these institutions make it big in professional circles, the corporate world or even within self-employed pursuits. One fact is stark clear. Those educational degrees with a plausible brand name have the charisma to lead their holders to cradles of success. They are able to preponderate the folks with native degrees, individual merits and talents notwithstanding. Several aspects need to be closely examined in this state of affairs.

Top institutions across the world used to entertain the highest merits, often without regard to origin, colour, caste, creed or even the students' financial background. Generous scholarships and inviting approaches used to ensure that the high achievers were inducted as a norm. The reason for this was simple. The academic performance of an institution is largely dependent upon the quality of intake. Whereas the admission criteria is still based on merit, it is found that the rules of admission are often bent in favour of the rich and powerful. No wonder some of the leading universities in the world - especially in the West - have the kin of the princes, sheikhs, tycoons and business magnets abroad.

The universities attract such high-paying clients to maintain their financial health. With a rising middleclass that is conscious of educational brands, many South Asian countries including Pakistan make up an excellent opportunity for middle range and even lesser-known universities from the West. One finds a brand race during admission seasons in the form of educational fairs where western campuses sell their merit points to attract students who become paying clients. The overseas students constitute a multi-billion dollar fortune which is an overwhelming business prospect for such campuses. Strange nomenclatures are also spotted in the company of well-known university brands. Some obscure institutions try to stand side-by-side distinguished brands.

The only facet that they attempt to market is their location in the same British county or Australian city where a famous university may be present for centuries. A few simpletons do fall prey to their traps and end up sending their children without confirming the status and credentials of the institution. Tales of unfortunate folks who brave the odds in the form of unaccredited faculties or non-recognised degree programmes are abounding.

A new wave of brand marketing has hit our towns. Several private sector and public sector institutions in Pakistan offer joint degree programmes in association with western universities. Different combinations are offered. In sandwitch programmes, the partner western university offers a portion of the programme at its home campus. This is a useful prospect as it ensures exposure of enrolled students to its faculty, resources and other learning opportunities. Many local institutions have acquired the rights to conduct programmes from foreign schools at their own campuses. The faculty and resources are arranged by the local outfit while examinations are conducted by the foreign affiliate.

Business education, computer science and law are the more visible disciplines in this respect. Mixed results are obtained which are entirely dependent upon the intent and approach of partnering institutions. However, one fact remains beyond doubt. Each of these arrangements is cobbled together for raw profiteering. It makes a very lucrative enterprise for collaborating institutions to benefit from the enthusiasm of affluent students and their guardians. The real level of educational attainment from such venues in comparison to local institutions requires an objective research study.

With very few exceptions, the leading educational institutions across the world make concerted efforts to maintain quality and standard. This fact is visible from several perspectives. Flexible conditions to hire the best faculty members; generous research grants to induct researchers; unrestrained access to state of the art technology; peaceful environment for learning; excellent support services for educational assistance and general tolerance towards academic freedom are some of the factors that with the passage of time help educational standards reach new heights.

Thus the degrees awarded to these pupils are true to the prescribed status of learning. Besides, the society must recognise merit beyond tag names. Corresponding approaches are needed to properly weigh the local or foreign qualifications.

Obtaining quality education from an established institution in the developed world is a virtue, not a vice. Those who accomplish this meritorious task and return to serve the nation must be welcomed with open arms. A few pre-requisites have to be kept in view. Our young professionals find many handicaps, shortcomings and barriers in local working conditions. This is especially the case in pure and applied sciences. Such professionals must be patient and innovative to bring about a change in the status quo. Instead of becoming cynical, they must adopt a positive and resilient approach to contribute to the respective sphere of their specialisation.

The challenges, in other words, must be transformed into opportunities. Tides can surely be turned by persistent hard work and optimism. And this perhaps is the only way society can benefit from the high-value education obtained by the privileged souls. Dawn

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