Selecting the Perfect University: Online Virtual Tours or Education Expos? (The University Bazaar Blog Series)

Selecting the Perfect University

Does selecting a university ever get easier? I remember being overwhelmed by all the decisions to make when the process began.  Where can I find a scholarship? How far away from home do I want to go? Can I afford this university? I can afford this one, but what to do if it does not have the degree program I want?

So.Many.Questions.

I have just made it back from The News Education Expo in Lahore and have more than a couple of observations to share. The crowds, mostly teenagers and twenty-somethings with their families, were busy browsing the stalls for the Perfect University. Theoretically, this sounds like a straight-forward affair; you walk up to the university representative, get all your questions answered and receive a complimentary pen, as well.

In reality, it was absolute chaos in the basement of Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel. If you haven’t been to the PC Hotel, the basement consists of a series of banquet halls opening into a narrow main hall.  Various universities and colleges had set up shop throughout and were closely packed together; differentiating between the representatives became a chore!  Trying to start a conversation or ask a question was challenging as the overworked representatives tried their hardest to answer serious queries from the impatient crowd.

What I witnessed today is a University Bazaar where competing educational institutions hawk degrees and dreams to uninformed students and their loved ones. There is little to be gained but a handful of shiny brochures.

Q. Is there any value in attending such Educational Expos? 

A.  Only if you know what kind of educational experience you are shopping for and are prepared to be patient. 

The truth is that these events are nothing more than easy revenue-makers for the organisers.  Once the stalls are booked, little else is taken care of; this is evident by the sloppy arrangements and the criss-cross of exposed wiring over the carpets.  Not only do the students suffer from the poor organisation,but so do the educational institutions who regularly spend their marketing budgets on them.

Online Virtual Tours or Education Expos?

So, if we strike off education expos from our list when searching for the perfect university, what is the next best option?

With social media platforms getting easier to navigate by the day, it makes sense to turn to the internet when conducting any kind of serious research. I would strongly suggest opting for online virtual tours of the universities and colleges you are considering at the moment.

Pre-recorded tours, complete with audio, guide website visitors through the campus; this is extremely important when the colleges you are considering are in far-off locations, like the United States or  the United Kingdom.   Rather than chatting it up with a disinterested staff member at an overcrowded expo, try your hand at a informational webinar. These web-based seminars allow prospective students from across the globe to log-on and take part in question-and-answer sessions with the university’s administration and admissions team – for free! What better way to understand the culture but by having a conversation?

Take my word – set aside some time for an old-fashioned Google search and a list of questions. You are bound to narrow down the options to find your Perfect University, with the help of simple technology at your fingertips! 

This is the first post in the The University Bazaar Blog Series by Catalyst Woman.

Cautionary Tale for Pakistan’s Tech Industry

These are exciting, heady times to be involved in Technology and Entrepreneurship in Pakistan. With many province-backed Technology boards kicking ‘start-up’ incubators and accelerators into high gear (namely Punjab and KPK), while both private and public universities are scrambling to join bandwagon to nurture the next Instagram or Uber, many young Pakistanis are being led to believe that all you require is a dream team consisting of a visionary, a content guru, a multi-tasking programmer/coder and the Fairy Godmother -equivalent of an angel investor to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.* 

After reading this article from Foreign Policy earlier today, I feel that there is much that Pakistan’s fledgling technology industry can learn from Russia’s mistakes.

It seems that our neighbors to the North-East have already been down this road of pre-mature zeal and it would serve us well to identify the red flags.

The political will and, more importantly, the financial capacity to encourage technological innovation are gone. Gone too is Medvedev himself, these days practically invisible outside Russia and eclipsed inside it, with President Vladimir Putin firmly back in the driver’s seat. Skolkovo was raided by anti-corruption agents in April 2013, after which several figureheads on the project were accused of misappropriation of funds. Although officials deny that the investigations were politically motivated, Skolkovo has tumbled down the government’s priority list: This year, the incubator was ordered to cut costs by 20 to 40 percent.

With the controversial Cyber Crime Bill 2015 threatening civil liberties on the web, Pakistanis should take a pro-active approach to securing digital rights by campaigning for their say in the content of the vaguely worded legislation.

Read below, this scenario is unfortunately quite familiar:

Putin’s slow squeeze on Internet freedoms since his return to the presidency puts him further at odds with the IT and web services industry. Legislation passed in 2014 that calls for all Russian Internet user data to be housed on servers on the territory of the Russian Federation paves the way, some argue, for the Kremlin’s control of the “Runet,” as the Russian-language Internet is commonly called. Bloggers with more than 3,000 daily visitors need to register with the country’s media regulator. Meanwhile, major online platforms, including software development network GitHub and video-hosting site Vimeo, have been blocked in Russia — in some cases for seemingly arbitrary reasons, for hosting what the government says is extremist or terrorist material. That security services are playing a larger role in deciding how the Internet functions in Russia isn’t exactly inviting for businesses.

The cautious optimism with which us Pakistanis are eyeing activity in the high-tech industry has been labeled as habitual pessimism, but I strongly disagree.  If we want Pakistan’s nascent tech scene to become a solid foundation upon which societal development  and regional peace can be based, then it is vital  we ensure that the technology industry’s growth is sustainable.  I suggest we, as citizens, be more active in technology scene, participate in the  events and the online discussions.  We can demand more transparency when foreign investors seek to support one start-up over another. If we do not understand the significance behind the promotion of a certain tech-based solution, when a non-technological solution already exists and it will just be a waste of taxpayer’s rupees, we should speak up!  Ask for the spreadsheets, the reasoning.  If we are satisfied with the answers, wonderful!  If we are not convinced, then keep asking questions.  Talk to your representatives in the provincial and federal governments.  Use social media to find clarity, be it Twitter or Facebook.  I implore you, do not let the glamour of gadgets and the sweet chatter of jargon seduce you! Pakistan’s future is at stake and a few hash-tagged buzzwords should not be enough to justify spending.

We can leverage technology to empower our young men and women to choose careers that are fulfilling, to educate the multitudes who live miles away from educational institutions, and to heal those without easy access to medical personnel.   The potential for gain via technological means is immense in Pakistan.  It’s a gamble we are willing to take – I hope we can convert this gamble into a solid investment. 

*insert Silicon Valley Founder-slash- CEO of your choice