Investigating a Pakistani University

My Pakistani Experience-1


Inside the Lahore University of Management Studies (LUMS).

LUMS faculty & students.

LUMS founder Syed Barbar Ali on his wedding day with President Richard Nixon.

Darshanie Ratnawalli

I went to Pakistan in winter when winter-chic dictated trousers only and even had the religio-social norms been a non-issue I mightn’t have worn skirts. Had I gone in summer, I may have worn a skirt to test the social climate. After all, that was why I went, to function as a human barometer and plunge into the socio-political atmosphere of Lahore. "Lahore is a very old city. Very conservative. Nobody wears skirts, except maybe some tourists in summer. Karachi is more cosmopolitan because it’s coastal," I was told by none other than the press attaché at the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo. Nevertheless, I was immersed in a very cosmopolitan pocket in Lahore called LUMS for a week.

It was past midnight when the two of us, I and a colleague from a Sinhala newspaper were driven into Lahore University of Management Sciences, LUMS for short, by Muneer Khan – an ex-army man with Punjabi Pathan good looks- that’s another thing about Lahore, apart from its possible conservativeness compared to Karachi - the effortless, taken for granted good looks of Panjabis, some of it is Pathan, though occasionally you find someone who channels the Mongolian good looks of Ghenghis khan and his hoards.

However, as I enter LUMS - nestling in a very exclusive pocket of Lahore called DHA, no buses on the streets and all the houses are upper middle class - what concerns me is its status as a private university. Sri Lanka has had a very strange and warped experience with private universities where an entire genre, private universities, became equated with its smaller, stigmatised subset, for-profit private universities. Somehow, the massive protests and fasts unto death in Sri Lanka against the for-profit private medical school SAITM came to be defined as a movement against private medical schools and private universities because of a misdirection. SAITM and pro SAITM spokespeople somehow equalled being pro-private universities with being pro-for-profit education and a lot of people, even opinion leaders, just did not know any better.

Pro SAITM people behaved as if the for-profit model, instead of the not-for-profit model, sustained by fundraising and endowments, represented the worldwide norm in private medical schools and private universities. They said it was neither possible nor desirable for the government to be the sole provider of university education including undergraduate medical education, hence the need for private universities and private medical schools, and voilà SAITM. In fact, nothing less voilà could be imagined than a for-profit college as the pioneer private medical college in a country, whose undergraduate medical education has never been out of government hands and never been fee levying, except for a short interlude in the late 80s when a private medical school, NCMC was allowed to operate for a short time before the government affiliated it to an existing public university in response to widespread protest.

Education for profit, especially in the professional disciplines such as medicine and law, is resisted and mistrusted even in the USA, that Mecca of capitalism. For example, prior to 1996, the American Bar Association was opposed to accrediting of for-profit law schools. In 1996, United States of America vs American Bar Association was resolved, establishing that the American Bar Association was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act when it prohibited a law school organized as a for profit entity.

According to an essay published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2017 by a group of scholars from Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Rhode Island, "after a century of exclusively not for profit undergraduate medical education in the United States" it was only on 29 August 2007 that the monopoly of not-for-profit medical education ended in the USA with the provisional accreditation of Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine. In August 2008, an op-ed article, the American Osteopathic Association about the dangers of for-profit education stated, "The tax status [whether for-profit or not-for profit] of a school is critically important in defining the overall philosophy and mission of that school—and it goes to the heart of what is wrong with for-profit education… For-profit medical education is an anathema to the larger medical community. Most for-profit medical schools exist in impoverished, legally permissive locales, such as the Caribbean region, to exploit the desires of individuals who are willing to pay a premium in tuition—and sacrifice education quality and personal credibility—to become physicians."

The Sri Lankan aversion to for-profit universities - mistakenly projected onto all private universities, stems from a point of view that would be called Flexnerian by Americans. Abraham Flexner was an American education theorist who issued a report in 1910, renouncing for-profit medical education and creating a paradigm shift in American Medical Education. Thanks to Flexner’s labours, for-profit medical education, the prevalent model in USA back in 1910, disappeared completely and remained unable to raise its head again till 2007 in osteopathic medicine and till 2014 in allopathic medicine. According to the essay by Brown University scholars however, the Flexnerian concerns about for-profit medical schools in 1910 are now obsolete in USA because of stringent accreditation laws that all schools whether for-profit or not-for-profit have to conform to. However, as the recent SAITM accreditation controversy highlighted – it was revealed SAITM had admitted even students without the minimum university entrance qualifications – SL accreditation is several steps away from stringent, and Flexner resonates in Sri Lanka like a prophet.

According to the Brown University essay, "After all, the Flexner Report left little doubt as to its low opinion of the proprietary medical schools of the era, which were noted to lack admission and graduation requirements, quality instruction, clinical experience and research exposure. As stated by Mr. Flexner, the schools in question "were essentially private ventures, money-making in spirit and object" wherein "the man who had settled his tuition bill was thus practically assured of his degree, whether he had regularly attended lectures or not."

LUMS belongs to the category of university known as private, not-for-profit, of which some of the universally known names are Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, Cornell, Columbia and NYU. It started in 1985 as a business school, which was modelled after Harvard Business School and which from the outset was accredited by government charter for fully-fledged university status.

Today LUMS is a fully-fledged university with five schools: Business; Humanities and Social Sciences; Science and Engineering; Law; and Education.

Being from Sri Lanka and having University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Colombo and University of Peradeniya, all public universities as my yardsticks, I tried to find out the status of LUMS in the scheme of things.

Of the three most influential university rankings in the world, two are very familiar to us. QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education World University Rankings. According to QS World University Rankings for Asia for 2018, University of Delhi ranks 72, LUMS 103, Quaid. i. Azam University, Pakistan 133 and University of Colombo 156. Ranked below Uni of Colombo are Manipal Academy of Higher Education 198, University of Engineering & Technology (UET), Lahore 200, Management and Science University (MSU), Malaysia 217, Aga Khan University, Pakistan 234, University of Peradeniya 242, University of Moratuwa 291-300 and Panjab University, India 301-350. Jawaharlal Nehru University has no overall ranking in the QS.

LUMs does not appear in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018. University ranking systems do have their kinks. Panjab University, India which ranks way below Uni of Colombo and even below Uni of Moratuwa in QS 2018 rankings weirdly appear on par with Uni of Delhi (601-800) in Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the same year. Even more inconsistently, Quaid-i-azam University, Pakistan which ranks below Uni of Delhi and LUMS in QS rankings for 2018 appears a league above (at 401-500) Uni of Delhi. JNU does not have a ranking, probably because they haven’t submitted data. When such disparity exists between two world class ranking systems, you start to wonder about methodology and begin to grasp that maybe universities are complex entities that resist being defined by numbers.

However, in QS World University Rankings by subject, University of Delhi ranks number 16 in the world for development studies and Jawaharlal Nehru University 101-150 for politics and international studies. LUMS is ranked 251-300 in the world for business and management studies. In the study of pharmacology in the world, Manipal ranks 251-300 as does Quaid-i-Azam University for agriculture and forestry. Uni of Colombo does not have a QS world ranking by subject, though one would have expected its medical faculty to possess some rank given its age and eminence.

Next morning we meet Sarah Kareem, who is in charge of corporate communications at LUMS and who some call ‘the face of LUMS’. I am wearing a blue jumper, which leaves one shoulder and arm bare. But as it is Pakistan - which was created, Dr. Sarfraz Sipra of the Pakistan High Commission of Colombo once informed me, as a homeland for Muslims in South Asia – and it is winter, I wear a coat to cover up. This is a caution I give up by the second day after hearing how keen LUMS is on emissaries from other cultures. Sarah Kareem is a Lahoree, or rather a Lahoress, who is good looking in a Punjabi way, or is it more a Parsi way? I love to categorise people based on their phenotype, perhaps sometimes getting it wrong.

Sara tells us, "When you say business school, one name that immediately comes to mind is Harvard. So, they decided at that time, why not have something world class – Harvard being an example – but is accessible to everyone. And we will not differentiate who can or cannot afford education. If they have what it takes, we will make it possible for them to achieve it. Our sole criteria for admission is merit. If you have the talent, we have the money, that is how we put it. Then finance is not your worry. LUMS is a not-for-profit organisation, whatever we earn or what comes out, goes back in. A lot of universities in the world run on that standard, fundraising model, the donations model, where individuals or organisations donate the cost of education. LUMS has had similar kind of endowments from individuals, organisations. Like those people in the beginning, who said, let’s put in our money and start something. They have never looked back"

All those years ago in 1983, it was Syed Babar Ali who said to all those people, trading on the credentials he had built as an entrepreneur, "let’s put in our money and start something." Early this year, I asked Intisar Ahmed, the Press Attaché of the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo, if Pakistan too will have to lease bits of itself to China during the course of CPEC. I was told that such a contingency was remote as Pakistan was a big country, with big industrialists. Pakistan is proud of its big industrialists and Syed Babar Ali is one of them. They call him SBA.

According to ‘Interview with Syed Babar Ali, interviewed by Tarun Khanna, Boston, Massachusetts, May 5, 2016, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School’, a turning point in SBA’s business outlook came in 1973, when he went to the Harvard Business School and attended its Advanced Management Program for 13 weeks. In 1984, SBA went to President Zia ul-Haq and asked for a charter to set up a business school, so that they could be independent and have their own exams and curricula without being hampered by the Pakistani Higher Education Commission, equivalent to our University Grants Commission. He intimated that he "would get the status of a not-for-profit so that I could go to people and raise money which could be written off as an expense in their companies."

A critical thing SBA did in terms of getting presidential favour, was to answer ‘no’ when Zia ul-Haq asked if they needed any land or money. This was because SBA had learned from "my friends among the bureaucracy that when you get land then you are already tarnished, that you got land at a concessional price and your integrity will be questioned. And money I didn’t want because I wanted to raise money from the private sector." –




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