Karachi - Most university degrees are usually seen as a means to an end–either gainful employment or graduate studies. However, a liberal arts and sciences education, such as the one offered at Habib University, aims to create thoughtful individuals who are focused on lifelong learning which is crucial for developing an engaged workforce of the future. 

This was suggested by Habib University President Mr Wasif Rizvi while representing Pakistan at a regional education summit, Times Higher Education Universities Summit 2021, on Tuesday morning. 

He was speaking at a session on “Liberal arts and employability: How does a liberal education develop talent to meet the demands of a global workforce?” His co-panelists included Fatma Abdullah, the Senior Vice-provost of Strategy and Planning at New York University (NYU) in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and Dr Amine Bensaid, President of Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco.

Mr Rizvi said that the concept of building a liberal arts and sciences university in a place like Pakistan came up in the wake of the War on Terror which claimed over 70,000 Pakistani lives.

“Most societal leaders, private citizens and those in the public sector were concerned about the lack of any positive impact coming out of their universities in any demonstrable way”, he said, adding that an argument emerged that Pakistani higher education is wrong-headed where it focused on a very narrow, vocational idea of what tertiary education should be.

“It has really failed societally,” he said.

Noting that Habib University was a natural calling, he said that they have created an environment at Habib University that helps make students interested in becoming life-long learners. He explained that the model of liberal arts and sciences education at Habib University follows one of an engaged community and community ownership, both within and outside. 

With most Pakistani high school certificate holders unable to access good quality higher education to match their merit, he said that Habib University has been trying to influence philanthropy in general in supporting higher education and increasing access for students while allowing the institution to not cut corners in terms of supporting faculty and students and ensuring world-class facilities and infrastructure.

He said that business leaders, who have been exposed to the kind of education that is offered at Habib University, are very open to the idea of looking at liberal arts graduates favourably for employment. 

Fatma Abdullah was of the view that liberal arts education really engages students in a certain way where they can build on the skills that they are learning during their degrees. On employability, she was of the view that the UAE is moving towards becoming a knowledge-based economy and hence it is embracing both liberal arts graduates and the diversity of its students who come from around the world. What makes this easier, Abdullah said, was that many of the skills required by employers today are covered in the curriculum offered at liberal arts universities.

Dr Amine Bensaid, who heads Morocco’s sole liberal arts university, said that there has been an evolution in the mindset of employers over the past 25 odd years the university has functioned in North Africa, noting that many have adapted and learnt and are clear on the type of employees they want. He suggested that students should also become acquainted with the job market and must be cognisant of what is required of them by certain employers.