The LUMS bubble

Published: March 19, 2014
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The writer is editorial consultant at The Express Tribune, news junkie, bibliophile, cat lover and occasional cyclist

The writer is editorial consultant at The Express Tribune, news junkie, bibliophile, cat lover and occasional cyclist

Nothing ever goes quite to plan. The plane to Lahore was late — and then arrived earlier than the time that airport staff were telling me it was due. The taxi was waiting for me at the other end, but unsurprisingly, the driver did not know where the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) was. I sometimes wonder if taxi drivers all have their minds erased every day, a blotting out of everywhere they have ever been. Large and prominently signposted campus eventually found it was a deep dive into a very exclusive bubble — and a few surprises.

After over 20 years of living and working inside and on the borders of the education system in Pakistan, I was a little surprised at myself for never having visited the nation’s leading management university. I was also surprised to find that it is a private institution, not government run, and is supported by the corporate world that its students and alumni circulate in.

There was a bite to eat, a detailed briefing by my hosts and a dreamless sleep before my introduction the next morning — after a breakfast in a cafeteria sponsored by a global soft-drinks brand – to the students that make up The Hatchery.

This innovative programme seeks to bend the minds of the best and brightest around the problem of creating paid employment for people less fortunate than themselves. My job was to provide each of them with a constructive critique of their work thus far.

It was quickly obvious that the words ‘deadline’ and ‘urgency’ were not at the core of their vocabulary. Neither was timekeeping. They were good at good ideas, rather less good at shaping them into practical reality and most had the completer-finisher skills of the average housebrick. Thinking out of the box was not high on the agenda either and the narrowness of their vision was striking. There were exceptions to all of the above, but few.

Discussions with faculty members between bouts of mentally torturing their students suggested that they recognised the deficits and the problems that they faced and also recognised that the Hatchlings were themselves ill-served by the education they had received prior to coming to LUMS.

Critical and analytical thinking does not come naturally to most of us; it has to be both taught and learned, and challenging the intellectual status quo is quite definitely not encouraged. Placing 18 young-ish men and women in a position where they have to send their minds off around corners that are unmapped, is inevitably going to expose their ability to navigate terra incognita. Or not. And most of these people were at a cartographic loss, never mind being unsure which way up you hold the compass.

By Sunday morning and the last group of victims having sloped off hopefully with an enhanced sense of — at the very least — urgency, it was time to wrap things up. All needed to sharpen their presentational skills and few had considered what their responsibilities might be as future employees. There needs to be a very swift understanding that any application for international funding that does not include a gender component is going to fall at the first hurdle. And despite my having given them each a hard time, we parted the best of friends — I think.

A weekend in the LUMS bubble, the very peak of academic management in Pakistan, was a salutary experience. The students I met were not stupid, far from it. In every case I would say they were of above-average intelligence. Not all of them came from privileged or moneyed backgrounds either; they were a reasonably cosmopolitan bunch. They had got their places at LUMS on the basis of merit rather than patronage, but what they all shared was a common educational heritage and therein lies the problem not just for LUMS, but for every higher education institution in the country.

If children from an early age are not taught to think rather than just be passive receptors of education, then by the time they make it to university, there is a vital item missing from their mental toolkit. It was that missing tool that I reached for — and grasped little but fresh air.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (52)

  • Raza
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:41AM

    You nailed it Sir. The problem (or rather one of them) with Pakistani education system is that rote learning is still considered to be the way forward; rather than analytical thinking and conceptual learning, let alone creativity.

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  • Nadir
    Mar 20, 2014 - 4:38AM

    LUMS is a strategic institution. Nation must appreciate.

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  • Sultan Mehmood
    Mar 20, 2014 - 9:04AM

    Plato, here, with his Philia for the Sophy of Education is quite incongruous in his topography of thought. First, I consider the article to be on CAA, then Cabies, then his experience in bed and food, the IQ of Luminities, then LUMS courses, then the whole education System, and before I decide, there it was, the end, me and it, staring at each other.
    .
    Like somebody’s grandmother said, if it smells funny, she ain’t eatin’ it.
    .
    I concur with the bid about wrong training of children in the country. But, it is an acknowledged datum by virtually all English news reading populace, including the maniacs from LUMS. In the opinion section of a national news agency, we expect something more illuminating than 40 words in the conclusion, which every reader already knows.

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  • Sohraab
    Mar 20, 2014 - 9:19AM

    An Eye opener for the Ministry of Education and the LUMS management. But nothing will change…. as usual!!

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  • Raj Kafir
    Mar 20, 2014 - 9:34AM

    Who is the highest paid LUMS graduate in LUMS history?

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  • Deep
    Mar 20, 2014 - 9:46AM

    lol, LUMS think they’re on Oxbridge caliber.. you aint even hitting Bradford levels

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  • Mirza
    Mar 20, 2014 - 10:43AM

    A pragmatic and balanced Op Ed by ET. Critical thinking is one of the most scarce commodity in our country. No student is encouraged to critically think. We all have been taught to accept blindly what is taught even if we actually do not agree. In fact critical thinking is crushed by the parents and teachers from the very beginning in life.Recommend

  • Ali S
    Mar 20, 2014 - 10:56AM

    There’s only so much that can be taught in a 4-year course to someone who has lived through most of their most impressionable years (assuming the average age of the LUMS freshman is 18-20 years old).

    Critical thinking needs to be instilled from primary school onward and developed during secondary school – our system and culture (both at school and at home) outcasts anyone who dares question conventions (case in point: you can’t openly debate religion without risking blasphemy accusations), and that manifests itself in the personality and mindset. And it can’t be changed just through education, the environment at home (cultural nurturing) plays an equally or even more important role.

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  • MSK
    Mar 20, 2014 - 12:15PM

    Yes, they all share a common educational heritage. But that flows from the social norms which inhibit independent thinking. A institution like LUMS should endeavour to break that mould.

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  • Tz
    Mar 20, 2014 - 12:46PM

    The author `s point of view is surprising as he did not acknowledge the fact that the way LUMS grooms its students irrespective of their backgrounds is exemplary and has no single university in the country matching that level. The exposure and the upbringing that four or two years one get while at LUMS is the reason graduates from LUMS are the top priority of majority of the employers in Pakistan.

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  • Uza Syed
    Mar 20, 2014 - 12:57PM

    Ouch—-You pricked the highly inflated balloons of many many egos here! Good that you did it and exposed the reality of this symbol of elitist institution where they groom a sense of superiority and selfish goals of self-promotion and greed. I particularly liked the highlighting of deficient educators who themselves need to overcome the deficit in their own training and thinking as educators. Hope someone who can do something there in LUMS has read this and also learnt a thing or two from this great short lecture equally useful for both, in LUMS, the Faculty as well as the students.

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  • hmm
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:00PM

    I had a plan for PhD from LUMS, after reading this article it is cancelled now.

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  • Toba Alu
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:03PM

    No surprise. Pakistan is a Muslim glasshouse with a very low ceiling for every individual. Outside looking at you are your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, your clan, your community, your molvis, the devil, the ISI, Sharia law, and loads of microphones to listen to your words. Do your thoughts, words, dress, and actions fit or don’t they fit in what your environs strongly believe in? Not an encouraging environment to develop any sort of thinking let alone critical thinking.

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  • MrT
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:11PM

    This piece is nothing but absurd generalizations based on one man’s interaction with a handful of students for just a few hours. Congratulations for having succeeded in saying nothing, using no critical ability and yet ensuring that cos of the title your shoddy piece of opinion will be shared and tweeted and discussed and scathed.
    LUMSIsLove

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  • Qaisrani
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:44PM

    Inquisitivity is killed at early stage in Pakistani society. Critical thinking is the word we are unfamilier. With this, no society has ever evolved.
    Question each and every thing around you including religious dogmas; only then you can proceed as society otherwise only you can have English speaking “Desi Che Gueveras” style managers being graduated from LUMS.

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  • Zak
    Mar 20, 2014 - 1:44PM

    I worked with a few fresh and senior LUMS grads last year and having started up my own venture now, I vow never to hire from LUMS. The reason is that all of them think alike and I have seen grads from lesser known institutions more creative than any from LUMS. Zero street-smartness, 100% arrogance and 10% ability. Make for poor hires and even poorer 21st century citizens.

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  • Mar 20, 2014 - 2:05PM

    @hmm:
    You are killing your ambition on the opinion of an unknown? Please. Go for it and Im not a LUMS alumni.

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  • excalibur
    Mar 20, 2014 - 2:23PM

    Both Cork and the Bubble are unable to recognise that the qualities they lack is rooted in the archaic HSC as also the outdated O&A levels ( an exam that no one fails )

    The Gold Standard has long shifted to the International Baccaluareate ( IB ) which is fast replacing the redundant A Levels in UK itself.
    For IB in Pakistan it could be the next century at the earliest.

    Whether it is IBA ,LUMS or AKU the intake largely consists of these rote learning systems .Hence, the inadequacy.

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  • Parvez
    Mar 20, 2014 - 2:57PM

    From reading this I gather that you are not critical of the LUMS system but rightly critical of the system that imparts a school level education, the foundation building process.
    LUMS could rightly claim that they improve on the raw material that they are given to work with…….and that is an achievement.
    An aspect that I have noticed about LUMS is the worrying PERCEPTION that a straight clean boy or girl goes into LUMS and comes out with a beard or a niqab ( as the case be )………please note I have used the word perception.

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  • Anon
    Mar 20, 2014 - 3:03PM

    @Tz: “In Pakistan”. Not “in the world”. Says a lot about even our best universities. Like the proverb goes: in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king.

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  • Mar 20, 2014 - 3:54PM

    but what they all shared was a common educational heritage and therein lies the problem not just for LUMS, but for every higher education institution in the country These are the most important thoughts that sum up where we need to improve our education system. It is so important that feedback from experienced teachers like yourself become a guiding map for the policy makers on education. We do need to completely revamp our primary, secondary school education system and undergraduate education in order to cultivate a larger learning perspective, critical thinking and broad based outlook in basics.Also a larger syllabus in social sciences & arts at undergraduate level is very important to cultivate out of the box thinking and curios inquiry.I am glad you wrote this article.Recommend

  • Azhar Mushtaq
    Mar 20, 2014 - 4:12PM

    Excellent piece of writing. We should not be lazy receptor of education, we should be taught to think rather.

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  • Ch
    Mar 20, 2014 - 5:10PM

    The reputation of an institution in not measured on perceptions based on limited interactions with selected group of people. The reputation of LUMS has to be gauged on the basis of its faculty, research and development going on, placement of its graduates in grad schools and in the employment circles. In 2013, as many as 56 students qualified for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarships. If you consider US and its educational institutes as best in the world (which they are), the acceptance of 56 students just from LUMS speaks for its quality and creativity required at grad level.
    Some of the comments have mentioned LUMS as one of the elite institute. In 2009, 156 students were granted admission on NOP scholarship. All of the 156 students belonged to families with very humble financial backgrounds.
    In short, identifying the culture of LUMS by spending a mere weekend is nothing but building castles in the air.Recommend

  • ivehadit
    Mar 20, 2014 - 6:13PM

    The students are not to blame. They reflect the thinking and values of society at large. People are taught not to challenge authority, not to apply critical thinking in their daily lives, to focus on family, financial and personal security, not necessarily community and intellectual achievement.

    Good secondary schooling, for those lucky enough to get it, is also generally about mastering the technical skills rather than liberal thinking skills. Of course we lose a lot by focusing on Western education – there’s a lot lost in translation. LUMS can certainly make a difference but the writer seems to have a higher expectation than seems reasonable.

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  • Kashif
    Mar 20, 2014 - 6:19PM

    Adding to the article, if we take a cursory view of current educational system, we ‘ll come to know that in last 5,8 years education has more dilapidated. We are talking about Thinking out of Box and IDEAS but on the other hand Pak govt has totally changed examination system in Matric ( from where majority of our Students pop up). Now exams are completely Objective based and there is no subjective question. All a student has to do is: just remember some facts and tick mark/ true false some questions in exams. Hence More rote learning. I always fail to understand that how can we produce a better nation without asking our students to use their own minds rather than just remember some facts. So Problem is not only there but it is also getting worse.

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  • Luminite
    Mar 20, 2014 - 6:47PM

    How can any one comment on the quality of the education provided at an institution by just spending a couple of days there! There is no logical basis of the arguments which the writer of this article made here. Perhaps he should come and audit the Logical and Critical Thinking course at LUMS and study how to avoid fallacies & generalizations!

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  • Adnan
    Mar 20, 2014 - 7:06PM

    Still Lums cant make to the list of top 100 universities in the world??? Honestly, I never applied for admission at LUMS, but having secured admission in MBA at top 10 business school in FT rankings (with 20% scholarship fees), I wish if one of the best management institute in Pakistan makes entry into the league….

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  • A. Khan
    Mar 21, 2014 - 12:08AM

    “If children from an early age are not taught to think rather than just be passive receptors of education, then by the time they make it to university, there is a vital item missing from their mental toolkit.”

    This statement absolutely nails the issue with education in Pakistan. There will be people criticizing this critique of LUMS but its meant to foster discussion. And the issue mentioned has a lot to do with culture.We are taught from a young age not to question authority or seniority. This, in my view, shackles free thought.

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  • buzzinga
    Mar 21, 2014 - 2:15AM

    You’re all just sad you couldn’t get in.

    LUMS grads don’t need anyone to tell then that they’re a smart bunch.

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  • ahmed
    Mar 21, 2014 - 6:20AM

    The writer, is a little ‘jelly’.

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  • The Khan-Waterloo,Ontario
    Mar 21, 2014 - 8:36AM

    @Adnan:
    If you got in LUMS, you will realize you would have gotten admission in many top 20 universities EASILY.
    Alas, writing (20% scholarship) on internet with no proof will not prove anything

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  • Mirza
    Mar 21, 2014 - 8:42AM

    The Op Ed is writer’s personal opinion after he was invited as an expert there. His intentions are not to trash LUMS but suggest critical thinking among students. People may not agree with him (I don’t know why) but there is no need to trash him personally. Apart from critical thinking another major problem in Pakistan is abundant excuses for all failures. Unless they take responsibility of their failures they cannot improve.Recommend

  • Professor
    Mar 21, 2014 - 10:24AM

    @Nadir:
    What is a “strategic” institution? Are other institutions in Pakistan “tactical” in nature? Just curious, that’s all.

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  • Ali
    Mar 21, 2014 - 11:16AM

    @buzzinga:
    If this was a pun ! This guy won!
    If not. Carry on my dear friend.Recommend

  • p
    Mar 21, 2014 - 12:40PM

    @Ali S:
    Yes. home and early education.

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  • Uza Syed
    Mar 21, 2014 - 12:54PM

    @buzzinga: ……and egomaniacs, suffering from acute narcissism and need to be put on the couch and counselled, no?

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  • Agreed
    Mar 21, 2014 - 3:52PM

    Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to work with LUMS graduates (mostly MBA’s). Some of them are extremely brilliant and some are as bad as it can get.

    The one thing in common between them is arrogance of the highest order. They consider no one, no one as equal to them in terms of intelligence. They will hardly ever be open to taking suggestions from others and accept another team member’s point of view. What’s even worse – they tend to give career opportunities to other LUMS grads only – only in rare circumstances will a LUMS MBA hiring manager hire a Non-LUMS employee.

    Another thing that I have seen in common in them is lack of teamwork. They will never give credit to others. They will try not to give others, including their fellow team members, opportunities or exposure to succeed in their organization. It will be their preference to project themself only with their team member’s work. There is a reason for this – in LUMS classes a large percentage of their GPA comes from ‘Cipis’ – or a competition of which student mentions most points in class, which would usually come at the cost of denying your peer the opporunity to speak.

    I had an opportunity to take a course at LUMS’s Executive Centre on behalf of my employers. The teaching methodology I saw in that 4 day course was strange. All they did was given ‘Case Studies’ written by Harvard Business School to students; give them 2 hours to go through it and then spend two hours discussing it in class. I went through about a dozen case studies during the week. Not a single case study was written by LUMS – despite the fact that this Executive Center is teaching for last few decades. Most of the student were aged 40 or above, and had the same view as me. The course cost my organization Rs 140,000 – there were 40 students in this course.

    Despite shortcomings – it is a fact that LUMS is an excellent place and it produces great results. Objective of making the above points is not to undermine their capability. If the above shortcomings, mostly behaviour related, are addressed – LUMS will produce far better graduates than it already does!

    p.s. For those LUMS buddies who might think I wrote the above out of ‘professional jeaslousy’ – I have had a much faster growth in my career than my LUMS peers. My closest friends are all from LUMS and I keep pointing out the above shortcomings to them.

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  • OA
    Mar 21, 2014 - 4:29PM

    Private Education Institutions are nurtured by Investors more precisely (Producers) they Create Employees of their wanting to put it simple it is like producers are producing a particular Good (Service provider aka employee aka student) for a certain market which demands this Good that is this market (producers are the consumers in this case). You see most of the private universities (not only in Pakistan but all over the world) are associated with big private organization in form of charity or etc. This does not give a chance to a transparent system which impacts long term growth potential.

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  • usman786
    Mar 21, 2014 - 8:36PM

    @Agreed: @Parvez: Aim of life of a muslim should not be to earn money whichever way. Infact its to help others and live according to principles of Islam.
    I am not a grad of MBA and do not have interaction on professional level with graduates. Hoever, I have meet many faculty members. Neither all of them are religious nor students. Its a mix and in my aunt’s opinion its good that most of the girls have found their spouses there.
    The face is that the cream of nation come there. Be it poor or rich. So intelligent or un-intelligent, this is how the nation is.
    Those Harvard case studies are to develop decision making and critical thinking. Does it makes a difference if we change the name of firm to local one. Of course, there will be students who d find them difficult

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  • aaaaa
    Mar 21, 2014 - 10:04PM

    @hmm:

    Im not sure you understood the piece if thats the conclusion you drew from it.

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  • Adnan
    Mar 21, 2014 - 11:54PM

    The Khan-Waterloo,Ontario: I think reality bites. Unfortunately, if this was the case, I am sure Lums then would have been into the list of top tier business schools. I am trying to be objective and would like to base my analysis on readily available data instead of imposing my own subjective views. Lums is not in FT rankings, so you can not compare it with schools in FT rankings. You think I am bragging here about scholarship. You have been too quick to conclude that I am some attention seeker who is trying to make a point. Anyway,I did not like your comment. Allah is great, but you have no idea who I am and what kind of professional qualifications, and international experience I have ! Just to give you an idea, Allah is great and by HIS grace, Esade business school, IESE business school, Warwick Business School, IE Business School, Cass business School already offered me an admission into MBA/EMBA programme. Next time, please think before commenting. I am sure there are many attention seekers out there, but I am not one? Please learn to respect others, so you get respect as well?

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  • assad
    Mar 22, 2014 - 1:38AM

    The “rutta” (rote) culture was bound to catch up with us and it has. I don’t fault LUMS for this because you cannot deconstruct a mind used to conformance and rote learning through 2 years of an MBA program. The rub is in the recognition of this problem at the primary and elementary education phases and getting things turned around. Otherwise Pakistan can never overcome the dearth of innovation in the country.

    My own experience has been that Pakistani students excel when put in challenging programs, which tells me all is not lost. However the fundamental and regressive problem of rote learning has to be discarded post haste.

    In my view, IBA and LUMS are promising institutes. However they need to increase their reach by perhaps funding feeder schools that allow students exposure to much greater levels of creativity and ideation than what our regressive schooling system allows for.

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  • Hassan
    Mar 22, 2014 - 11:34AM

    @Luminite:
    How do you evaluate a candidate for a job? Through a 30 minute interview right? A couple of days spent at a university is more than enough to evaluate it.

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  • Antonio Marasco
    Mar 22, 2014 - 8:57PM

    So somebody with an exotic look pops up all of a sudden and of course he needs to make some sweeping statements or use some eye catching key words to grab attention (eg ‘bubble’) and everybody falls for it. As a person that has traveled the world and has had teaching experiences in several other countries alongside LUMS, I can easily see this piece for what it really is: a cheap attempt at grabbing the front page.

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  • Malik
    Mar 22, 2014 - 9:25PM

    I feel that the author is very much biased. Perhaps, he was not well treated as per his expectations. I experienced education system of LUMS for 8 years at different levels and don’t agree with the exaggerated opinion of the author.

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  • Antonio Marasco
    Mar 22, 2014 - 9:35PM

    The author of this piece oviously used the LUMS name to enjoy his five minutes of glory in the limelight

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  • Ali
    Mar 23, 2014 - 12:32AM

    @Agreed:
    “Arrogance of the highest order” I just can’t think of a better description for LUMS grads.

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  • Malzi
    Mar 23, 2014 - 12:44PM

    @Agreed: I am a LUMS graduate and a manager of a fairly large team.

    I can agree to what you said to an extent. However, I believe you cannot generalise the whole population of LUMS in a certain way. I routinely hired and promoted non-LUMS people all the time.

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  • Emad
    Mar 24, 2014 - 12:31AM

    While I don’t doubt the experience that the writer had, the article is currently littered with generalisation and there is no mention really of specifics that led him to this conclusion. Surely, so many words currently used redundantly could better be employed towards some form of concrete reasoning for this conclusion. I do look forward to a follow-up that gives us more substance.

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  • hamdani
    Mar 24, 2014 - 1:19PM

    If the author is critically reviewing LUMS as influenced by rote learning and lack of analytical and out of the box thinking, this only clearly means that this author has not visiteed any other educational institute in Pakistan.

    Compare it with ivy leagues and criticise it. You cannot compare with local universiites.

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  • Agreed
    Mar 24, 2014 - 7:55PM

    @Malzi:
    I agree with you Sir. Obviously it doesn’t apply to everyone but so far from my experience these arguments are true for most people. I am sure that with time this will change. LUMS professors should stress on these points during the 2 year course so that the quality of graduates is even better. No one is saying LUMS grads are not good, they are very good – but there is always room for improvement and it needs to be accepted.

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  • human
    Apr 30, 2014 - 10:09AM

    @hmm: If you make and cancel your plans by reading candid articles on an online blog cum news website then my friend you shouldn’t be really doing PhD from anywhere in the world. The point in discussion is of critical thinking and you just showed how easily you are receptive to ideas and opinions from an external source without forming your own. LOL!

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