Education must be relevant, says Dr. Khator
By Manu Shah
“We cannot educate tomorrow’s students using yesterday’s tools”
Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awardee and Outstanding American by Choice, Dr. Renu Khator’s closing statement speaks volumes about her steely resolve to prepare every freshman entering the University of Houston to graduate not just with a degree but with skills and practical know how that will help the community.
The first guest in the series of Distinguished Lectures organized by IACCGH and sponsored by Shell, Dr. Khator is best known as “the Chancellor who made UH a Tier 1 university”. She’s pretty, charming and as IACCGH President Ramabhadran put it “a rock star on the campus and beyond”. It was no surprise that the event held on March 5th was filled to capacity. Executive Director of IACCGH, Jagdip Ahluwalia welcomed the gathering and recognized the luminaries of the afternoon – Consul General P. Harish, Founding President Durga Agarwal, members Gopal Savjani, Juuhi Ahuja and Dr. Stephen Klineberg. He also welcomed the media calling it the “force multiplier” and outlined the objectives of IACCGH – primary among them the networking opportunities it affords for entrepreneurs, professionals and businessmen. President Sanjay Ramabhadran recognized the growing trade between the Greater Houston region and India as well as the Chamber being the voice of the Indo American business community. Apart from several initiatives to encourage networking, he outlined IACCGH’s latest effort – a Power Breakfast Dialogue where a business leader would talk to a small group of people to facilitate better interaction within business sectors. The focus of the lecture on education, he highlighted, was recognition of the fact that Houston’s future is inextricably linked to the ability of the education system – early childhood to university education, to touch everyone in this diverse city. Dubbing Dr. Renu Khator as “Houston’s Global Ambassador”, he introduced her to the audience and invited her to address the gathering.
Dr. Khator asked the gathering to raise their hands if they were Cougars, have children who are Cougars and employ Cougars. She was delighted with the response. Her two and a half year old grandson got her thinking about what higher education will be like in 15 years. She believed there were three scenarios being played out in the present college education system:
One: Unaffordable tuition combined with budget cuts in University funding.
Two: Online courses will make universities which are “the creators, hoarders, distributors and facilitators of knowledge” relegated to being simply facilitators.
Three: Only those who reshape their agenda and offer a niche will survive.
According to Dr. Khator, the jury is still out on the efficacy of online courses as research showed that only 5% of the students ended up taking all the classes. She also cited Boeing’s policy of not hiring online graduates as they did not come with the required skills or knowledge. So what is UH doing to ensure that it won’t just survive but thrive? Dr. Khator’s mantra was clear. UH would offer programs that were relevant to the community and fulfill the needs of the energy, medical, science and arts industry which are the backbone of Houston’s economy. It would offer a beautiful campus, affordable education, residential quarters where “teenagers could have a meal at 2 am if they were hungry.” It would also encourage entrepreneurship and offer free education to deserving students who had a “fire in their belly” and hailed from households where the income was less than $45,000.
With justifiable pride Dr. Khator also mentioned the novel solution UH hit upon for revenue generation. The technical research carried out by the faculty over the years was dusted off the shelves and is being marketed. It netted a whopping $17 million from licenses just last year alone!
The talk concluded with one clear message. UH was gearing up to tackle the challenges the next decade would bring and with Dr. Khator at the helm, no one in the audience was left in any doubt of that! Dr. Klineberg took the podium briefly to state the seats of learning will witness a sea change in the next three decades not seen in the last 900 years. Shell is the sponsor of the Distinguished Lecture series and VP of Human Resources, Ken Coon was present to show his support. Shell has several financial, energy and resource interests in India and according to VP Coon, the wealth of technological capability that Indians possess is “truly phenomenal.” Continuing along the same lines, he quipped “Indian engineers maybe stereotypes but it fits.” A delicious lunch and shop talk among the members rounded off a wonderful afternoon.
Members can look forward to the next event to be held on March 27th on Alternative Investments by Jay Kabad of JayKay Wealth Advisors, Inc.