UNIVERSITIES and industries have been described as two sides of the same coin.
However, this observation has been greeted with some scepticism because linking the two has never been easy for some reason.
It was not until last week, after listening to an industry captain that I found out the reason why.
Here are some of the basic ideas viewed from the ‘lens’ of the industry that proved to be challenging.
FIRST:The customer is always right and the industries know who their ‘customers’ are.
They are the ones who pay to consume services or products and who call the shots.
It goes without saying then that ‘cash is king’!
In the academia, however the ‘customer’ status is more vague; regardless of whether they are paying or otherwise.
And the notion ‘cash is king’ is therefore dubious.
Otherwise, the academia can be reduced to no more than a fake degree-mill where academic credentials can be freely bought and sold.
This can only worsen if we apply the customer is always right mantra on the so-called student as the customer.
SECOND:It is all about vying for ‘market share’.
For example ‘petrol kiosks’ morphed into ‘retail outlets’ for the sake of garnering a bigger market share.
What this means is that ‘petrol’ is just another commodity to be ‘retailed’ in order to boost market share.
Unless education and knowledge are fashioned as a tradeable commodity, like petrol, the customer is always right analogy is a poor one.
This is because the cliché that ‘customer is right’ and ‘cash is king’ is totally irrelevant because ‘the academia is not just an assembly-line’ operation in a factory to roll out human capital.
If this concept is adhered to, the academia will automatically cease to be an intellectual beacon - one that is humanistic, socially engaged and culturally enterprising.
THIRD: Change is constant and it must be at the speed of light, so to speak, to beat the competition for an even bigger market share!
For starters, the academia is rooted in values and virtues to appropriately ‘shine’ as an intellectual beacon.
Devoid of these, knowledge can be vulnerable at the mercy of the unscrupulous thriving on the ‘cash is king’ paradigm.
After all, as change is the only constant, ethics and principles of morality are subject to manipulation. This remains a corrupt act to the academia from time immemorial. It is not subject to change!
FOURTH: The turnaround time must be fast. No time to waste on study after study.
We were informed, when the ‘business is right’,companies must strike. Do not wait.
For the academia, the time factor on its own is not sufficient to spring into action.
Virtues like ‘truth’ that it holds dearly is often the accompanying deciding factor.
Unlike the practice of ‘product recall’ undertaken by industries whenever an ‘error’ is detected, ‘error’ in the context of knowledge generation can cause a ‘monstrous’ outcome. For example, we are forced into the Anthropocene age due to ‘erroroneous’ knowledge that struck a deep discord, bringing down nations and even civilisations.
FIFTH:Industries engage in ‘real life’ problem-solving, again in the name of market share and competition.
While this may be true, for the academia, the real life issues are about human dignity and humanity. Today, learning and education is all about ‘having’ (read employability, marketability) and no longer about ‘being’ (happiness, disposition).
Income and material wealth are more valued than values and virtues which are inherent in the academia.
Much has eroded since then, paying a high price as experienced today.
There are many more, of course, but it is ample to demonstrate that the ‘true’ (not pseudo) academia has its own socio-cultural values and it does not need to pander to the industries.
Indeed, history has shown that it was the academia that gave rise to the creation of (modern) ‘industry’.
Perhaps the time has come for industries to listen to the academia for a change.
By now the academia must take the bull by the horns and realise that industries come and go but the academia in the large part remain steadfast and deeply rooted in its values and virtues which has kept it alive. This is indeed the crux of education!
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector