Zahid Irfan

@zahidirfan

Franchising Harvard: What US needs to learn from India & Pakistan

I recently learnt what Peter Thiel had to say years ago. Let me quote verbatim.

“If Harvard were really the best education, if it makes that much of a difference, why not franchise it so more people can attend? Why not create 100 Harvard affiliates?” he says. “It’s something about the scarcity and the status. In education your value depends on other people failing. Whenever Darwinism is invoked it’s usually a justification for doing something mean. It’s a way to ignore that people are falling through the cracks, because you pretend that if they could just go to Harvard, they’d be fine. Maybe that’s not true.” [1]

It looks as if what Theil is refering to is something new. Well its not completely new. Here are some of the examples I could find.

  1. IITs network in India : Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) need no introduction. They have provided one of the greatest talent pool in history of mankind. It would not have been possible had there been only one exclusive IIT. Currently after lots of additions recently there are 23 IITs. I believe this will only improve the talent pool and allow people of diverse regions get quality education.
  2. UETs network in Pakistan : On last count there were five major University of Engineering & Technology (UET)s in Pakistan and countless campuses. This has been the powerhouse of Pakistan’s engineering talent. If in doubt have a look at the list of alumni from prestigious American Universities and you will find that most talent was groomed in these universities. The recent upsurge in campuses has also given job opportunities in remote regions but also given fresh talent from those areas who were not able to get seats just because of limited seats not lack of talent by any means.
  3. COMSATs Campuses : Something great happened when COMSATS became the first university to make another campus in remote region Abbottabad. This started what people call ‘mushrooming’ of universities in Pakistan. I would rather say that these universities are in fact giving quality education to those who would not have been able to get any education at all. People point out the lack of teachers or quality education my response is something is definitely better than nothing at all. If something exists it can be improved. If there is nothing at all it will create a vacuum to be filed by whosoever is capable.

Now what about quality of education, each one of these networks has one or more institutes/ campuses which are considered to be very exclusive. This means that the exclusivity won’t simply vanish it would stay but not at the cost of denying others an option to pursue education. I have used only engineering institutions as an example here because I happen to be an engineer. We have our share of harvards in Pakistan.

  • Lahore University of Management Sciences
  • GIK Institute of Engineering Sciences & Technology

I am proud to have these two as my alma mater and really love them. However I still believe that the other institutions are having a much greater impact than these two because of their passion to replicate the success. IIT Kharagar would have been the most exclusive college of the world had there been no other IIT, similarly COMSATS Islamabad would have been great university without any other campuses but I am happy some people thought better and replicated the models for better future for lots of people.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2011/04/10/peter-thiel-were-in-a-bubble-and-its-not-the-internet-its-higher-education/

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