KARACHI: An unexpected flight in 2010 was all it took for Senior Vice Provost for Planning at New York University Dr Ron Robin to help steer Habib University (HU) in the right direction.
"I had missed my flight from Abu Dhabi to New York and had to fly through Dubai instead," he tells The Express Tribune during a two-day visit to Karachi. "During my flight from Dubai to New York, I found myself sitting next to Habib Foundation CEO Wasif Rizvi. It so happened that the both of us helped build universities from scratch. Throughout the flight, Wasif discussed his plans to establish HU. I was instantly drawn by his commitment and decided to assist him with the project."
Five years on, Robin is among the board of governors at the varsity. Looking back, the serendipity of meeting the right person at the right time never fails to surprise him.
"I cannot believe the varsity is up and running," he says, though not without pride. "Even though it's been little over a year since we began operations in Karachi, I think the project has managed to generate the desired impact."
Every new initiative has its teething problems. However, Robin believes the university has managed to sail through its initial challenges.
"We wanted to find faculty members who were willing to step out of their comfort zone and think out of the box," he says. "This was not an easy task as most academics tend to adopt fairly conservative teaching methods."
According to the senior provost, the varsity concentrated on finding lecturers who were willing to take a risk and enable students to think critically.
"In a country like Pakistan it is often difficult to make academics realise the importance of education as a mission," he explains. "Pakistan is a nuclear power and academics must realise that they have a responsibility to create a positive future for this country. Education can help Pakistan view itself in a different light."
Unfortunately, Robin realised, many academics in Pakistan did not understand their responsibilities and were instead chasing opportunities abroad. "However, some of them were willing to take risks," he says. "We decided to take them onboard."
Speaking about the model of teaching adopted at HU, Robin says the varsity offers an ‘elite education’ while operating on the basis of merit.
"This, like our curriculum, may seem unusual," he explains. "However, it is important to draw upon various sections of society to find people who are able to confront the requirements of a challenging curriculum."
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2015.
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