Rolling out the Red Carpet

I welcome you to my blog and hope that you will like the tour. Please leave your footmarks with comments and feedback. This will through and through enhance my knowledge and profundity of thought. Enjoy! Asif J. Mir

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Academic Excellence

In 21st century there is a need to develop a new entity in higher education - one that educates and develops graduates for meeting the challenges of this century. Such an institution must emphasize the creation and development of knowledge into practical, sustainable solutions to today's problems, and the commercialization of those solutions to create wealth. This must be done within a learning community that emphasizes communication and teaming skills leading to creative problem solving and within an environment that emphasizes a sound appreciation of humanity’s ethical and moral principles. Anthony G. Collins, President of Clarkson University, has expressed this in: “The Evolution to Academic Excellence.”

He asserts that with the advent of the industrial revolution during the nineteenth century, some liberal arts institutions added faculties that supported economic growth and spurred business development. At the same time, technological institutes sprang into action to create manufacturing professionals and some colleges even specialized in the art of business itself. After WWII a new emphasis began to emerge on research - the creation of scientific knowledge.

Those who have a vision to track the process of economic development – the connection of science to engineering to business coupled with liberal arts to provide the humanistic elements are best suited to create this type of institution. Ideally this type of institution would have engineering at the core of its being and value interdisciplinary activity rather than a culture that wants to retain disciplinary purity. The very interdisciplinary intellectual capacity and fundamental mathematics and sciences needed for engineering, technology and business degrees create the academic institution of the future.

General Francis Walker, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology once said: “In the present stage of social and industrial change, change almost bewildering in the rapidity of its movement and in the extent of the field over which it is taking place, it is most reasonable to believe that great gaps exist between the public needs and the supply of those needs by the existing institutions of learning. As a result of their freedom from obligation to the general system of education, they not only will be at liberty, but they will be strongly impelled to search out those real needs of the people in the matter of education which are at present unsupplied. It is essential to this function that they should remain in a state of flux; open to all impressions; mobile under all influences; not too soon assuming that they have found their ultimate resting place and have taken on their distinctive character.”

The mission of the institution has to be of graduating and developing students who lead and practice technology. Our focus must be on this “product.” While we must recognize the influence of nanotechnology, we have to fully grasp that “technology” and also the engineering to embrace a new knowledge-age definition that includes biotechnology and info-technology. We have to broaden our vision of technology to include contributions from the life sciences, to embrace the vitality of new disciplines within engineering, and to appreciate how businesses operate with the sophistication of integrated technology systems.

We have not recognized the dramatic changes in demographics - the changing fraction of underrepresented individuals, the geographic shifts in population centers, the socioeconomic profile of our constituents - nor have we fully recognized the need to introduce new majors to draw more women into the technological workforce so that their talents can be developed and utilized. In short, we need to and should be obligated to deliver education that is appealing to a broader range of potential students.

In addition to lagging behind in reacting to changes in student interest, the marketplace, and the demands of employers, we have failed to react to the roles our educational institutions must play in the economy. We must now recognize that the creation of knowledge can no longer be our end goal. We must also develop intellectual property, transferring technology to the marketplace, and become a central part of the economic enterprise that values innovation, creativity and creates wealth. Implicit in this direction is the development of research at all levels of the institution.

Given this unsettling background of an institution dependent upon its external environment, our institutions must revitalize higher learning in order to provide a more comprehensive, unique image that remains true to core mission and values.

The students ought to know that they are the center of the educational process and all academic staff demonstrates an unparalleled commitment to creating a person-to-person connection within our living, research and learning environments. The faculty needs to collaborate, innovate and create knowledge across disciplinary boundaries and educate students to have a particular appreciation for the opportunities that lie at the intersection of traditional disciplines.

Our campus community must stimulate the intellectual environment that attracts a diverse pool of exceptionally talented women and men who will rise to be leaders of the 21st century with the passion to create enterprises that benefit society.

The evolving strengths and vision for the future must intersect precisely with the growing technological needs of the society – a society that must depend upon a workforce capable of creating, adapting and managing technology regardless of discipline of study or natural individual talents.

To fulfill this vision for academic excellence, our educational institutions should uniquely position to further stake their legacy to society based on commitment to technology and leadership in marrying coursework, research and extracurricular pursuits in engineering, business, science, health sciences and arts.

We should create a distinctive place in the higher education order as attainable as we each ought to continue to promote and explore innovative ways to arrange the basic building blocks of traditional fields of study to reflect new avenues for interdisciplinary education, research breakthroughs, and solutions for society.

Our education system is a pack of confusion disorder. Can we transform it for delivering academic excellence as envisioned by Anthony G. Collins? (

Pakistan - A Country of Young Men

In more than 100 countries, people are getting not only more numerous, but younger. Youth bulges, combined with economic stagnation and unemployment, can burden these countries with disproportionately high levels of violence and unrest—severely challenging their hopes for social and economic stability. Pakistan is one such country

Pakistan currently has the largest number of young people in its history, with approximately 25 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. Pakistani youth makes up 63% and adolescents nearly 43 % of the total Pakistani population. Illiteracy, lack of awareness, poverty and dearth of focused attention to youth-related problems add to the complexity of the problems currently faced by the country in social sector development.

The predominance of young adults can be a social challenge and a political hazard. Our economy and labor markets have been unable to keep pace with population growth, contributing to high rates of unemployment. While unemployment tends to be high in Pakistan in general, it is among young adults three to five times as high as overall adult rates.

Young men in rural areas are often hardest hit relative to their expectations. Agriculture is the single largest source of livelihood worldwide, but many young rural men expecting to inherit land increasingly find themselves disinherited.

With few opportunities in rural areas, young people in Pakistan are increasingly forced to leave behind more traditional lifestyles and migrate to cities in search of work, education, and urban amenities.

Many urban areas are thus now home to significant, and potentially volatile, youth bulges. Rapidly industrializing cities and frontier areas can be spawning grounds for political unrest because thousands of young men migrate to these sites in search of already in short supply livelihoods.

Yet urbanization is proceeding faster than municipalities can provide infrastructure, services, and jobs. Municipal governments in Pakistan are the least able to muster the human and financial resources to contend with these problems, especially when the poorest, nontaxable segment of the urban population continues to grow rapidly.

Most young people, men and women, work in agriculture. Other types of work are segregated by gender, with females engaged in stitching, embroidery, and knitting (largely based at home) while young men work in factories, are self-employed, or perform skilled labor. Young people’s attitudes about gender roles remain traditional, with well-defined lines between the domains of males and females.

The UN projects that by 2007, for the first time ever, more people will be living in cities than in rural areas. This urban share could top 60 percent by 2030—with almost all of this growth projected to occur in the developing world.

We have a large number of youth between 18 and 35 who are properly educated, but have nothing to do. Urban discord, more than the rural sort, afflicts diverse social classes, including the angry unemployed. The risks of instability among youth are increased when skilled members of elite classes are marginalized by a lack of opportunity.

It isn’t difficult to find contemporary parallels. The collapse of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s in part to the mobilization of large numbers of discontented young men who were unable to put their technical educations to use due to party restrictions on entering the elite. And Samuel P. Huntington, Harvard professor and author of the controversial treatise on the Clash of Civilizations, has pointed to connections between tensions in the Middle East (where 65 percent of the population is under the age of 25) and the unmet expectations of skilled youth. Many Islamic countries, he argues, used their oil earnings to train and educate large numbers of young people, but with little parallel economic growth few have had the opportunity use their skills.

Pakistan where a large youth bulges, coupled with high rates of urban growth and shortages of employment opportunities, is already creating a very high risk of conflict.

The US has begun to take notice. In April 2002, in a written response to congressional questioning, the US, CIA noted that “several troublesome global trends—especially the growing demographic youth bulge in developing nations (Pakistan included) whose economic systems and political ideologies are under enormous stress—will fuel the rise of more disaffected groups willing to use violence to address their perceived grievances.” The CIA warned that current US counter-terrorist operations might not eliminate the threat of future attacks because they fail to address the underlying causes that drive terrorists.

Fortunately, demographics are not destiny. But the likelihood of future conflict may ultimately reflect how Pakistan chooses to deal with its demographic challenges.

There are nevertheless examples of some countries, where policies were in place that provided young men with occupations and opportunities—including land reform and frontier settlement schemes, migration abroad, industrialization, and the expansion of military and internal security forces. The latter strategy probably helped regimes such as North Korea, China, and Turkmenistan maintain political stability during the post-Cold War era despite large proportions of young adults.

In the short term, Pakistan government will need to tackle the underlying factors contributing to discontent among young people, including poverty and the lack of economic opportunity. And the government can address part of the risk associated with youth unemployment by investing in job creation and training, boosting access to credit, and promoting entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, however, the only way to achieve the necessary long-term changes in age structure will be through declines in fertility. Government can facilitate fertility decline by supporting policies and programs that provide access to reproductive health services—voluntary family planning services and maternal and child health programs and counseling, including providing accurate information for young adults—and by promoting policies that increase girls’ educational attainment and boost women’s opportunities for employment outside the home. (