Creating a knowledge hub

Wednesday, 5 March 2014 00:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The article is a continuation of the ‘Five hubs: Fiction or Reality’ forum organised by Daily FT and MBA Alumni Association of Colombo University. Part one which consisted of the opening session was published on Friday, while Part two, featuring two of the five hubs – maritime and aviation – was featured in Monday’s edition. Part three featuring the commercial hub was published yesterday.  By Cheranka Mendis Among the five hub concept presented by President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the knowledge hub, perhaps the most important of them all, as skills development is identified as a necessity for a country aspiring to be competitive world class. Higher Education Ministry Secretary Dr. Sunil Jayantha Navaratne speaking at the forum presented an outline of the work that is being done to facilitate this hub concept and the thinking behind Sri Lanka as a knowledge hub.  What is a knowledge hub? Knowledge hubs are institutions or networks that enable countries to learn systematically by sharing and exchanging development experiences with domestic and international partners in order to accelerate development   There are two types of knowledge hubs – national knowledge hubs and thematic knowledge hubs, Dr. Navaratne said, of which the former covers a certain range of, if not all, sectors and themes on which solutions can be exchanged and involve mostly governmental institutions of a country, such as line ministries, sector institutions or thematic centres of excellence. “These hubs stand for a broad effort to channel knowledge to and from partners abroad and among domestic players. As such, they are often coordinating with thematic knowledge hubs as implementing entities.” Thematic knowledge hubs focus on specific solutions in distinct sectors and areas, such as agriculture, climate change, public health or social protection. Institutional models are very diverse, depending on the specific national and sector context, and range from departments in line ministries, to cross-country communities of practice. Also in the picture are knowledge clusters – agglomerations (jumbled mass) of organisations that are production-oriented. Their production is primarily directed to knowledge as output or input and has the organisational capability to drive innovations and create new industries. “Knowledge hubs may exist in the same locations as knowledge clusters and may be nested within them. Knowledge hubs are local innovation systems that are nodes in networks of knowledge production and knowledge sharing,” Navaratne said. “They are characterised by high connectedness and high internal and external networking and knowledge sharing capabilities.” As meeting points of communities of knowledge and interest, knowledge hubs fulfil three major functions: to generate knowledge, to transfer knowledge to sites of application and to transmit knowledge to other people through education and training.  Not five, but nine hubs! He also added that in addition to the five hubs that everyone is aware of, there are four other hubs designed to blend well with the key five. These are tourism, which has been added as a plus one to the five since of late, heath, IT/BPO and new industries. “These must be included,” he said. “We must think differently. We must organise the knowledge hub to support the long term vision become Miracle of Asia by 2020. However, we cannot achieve this without human resources.”  Knowledge hub partners There are several partners, both from the State sector institutions and as enterprise structures backing the knowledge hub concept, Navaratne said. From the State sector are five ministries, 15 national universities, two Buddhist universities, 17 higher education institutes, 12 advance technological institutes, 10 degree granting institutes, 52 non-State affiliated Higher Education Institutes (HEIs), 42 professional institutes and 15 research labs and institutes. There are also 2,000 PHD holders and a budget for research and development and investment. Listed under enterprise structures are government corporations/authorities, over 200 listed companies, non-listed companies, SMEs and cluster leaders in aviation, naval, energy, commercial, tourism, health, IT/BPO and new businesses.  What can higher education do? Navaratne noted that developing the higher education of the country would lead to human capital development and increase in research thereby creating knowledge, gathering and adoption (acceptance) and adaption (alternation, change). The latter two must be done by private sector, he asserted. Innovation i.e. novelty, invention i.e. discovery and product creation and commercialisation also takes place as a result along with the creation of competitive and comparative advantages and marketing knowhow and networks and channels.  An international hub of excellence “Our vision is to make Sri Lanka an international hub of excellence in higher education by 2020,” he reiterated, adding: “Sri Lanka as a higher education hub will produce globally employable, enterprising graduates, and with the placement of world class universities, can be a major export for the country.” Locally, the country has recognised seven universities as world class universities and the need for university township project. The Ministry also hopes to have at least ten international universities setting up shop here. Currently University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) and Raffles are in Sri Lanka while Manipal University is expected to come in very soon. “SLT is also working with an Ireland university on the same regard. “We expect some 50,000 foreign students and over 500 foreign professors and researchers,” Navaratne said. “The intention is also to have a cost effective and quality education and research centre.” Seven knowledge cities are in the pipeline in Gampaha, Kandy, Hambantota, Puttalam, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi, and Deniyaya. 1,000 acres of land have been allocated for this and the Ministry is now looking at investors. Even private sector companies are invited to join in.”  Major initiatives to be implemented A number of major initiatives have been planned out, and some already underway to support the vision of education by upgrading and higher education facilities, Navaratne said. Three new Engineering faculties will come up and the work has already started in Jaffna and Sri Jayawardenepura while the Open University Engineering Faculty is to be expanded as well. “A new IT faculty will come up at the Kelaniya University, a Post Graduate Program in Medicine, Aviation, Petroleum and Space Engineering faculties at Moratuwa University.” A world class modern Medical Faculty will be established at Jayawardenepura University as well. New Tourism Degree Programs will be introduced at Sabaragamuwa, Rajarata and Colombo universities. Also in the pipeline are 25 university colleges. “We will measure and improve the employability of graduates with 10% of capital budget allocated for research and development. A university township program is also part of the plan along with 60 hostel project for all universities.” Meanwhile, 1,000 PHD programs of which 400 have been done, a SIIIP program, leadership development activities, the Kavitha Talent Show and a trilingual program is being looked at as well. He assured that the aim is create enterprising graduates and professional graduates, provide IT and English for all, internship programs for all, develop indigenous knowledge, promote ICT based management, put in place SLQF – Qualification Framework and Quality Assurance, and encourage more foreign students to pursue their education here. From the non-State sector, three new engineering faculties (SLIIT, SAITM, Northshore) are in place along with a medical faculty, and they provide new ICT, management, quantity survey, etc. CIMA, CA, law and CMA are some of the most popular non-State sector qualifications. A new Tourism Degree Program has been introduced by SLIIT as well.  Change in learning methods to fit vision Working under the tagline to become ‘world class universities’ and create ‘globally employable + enterprising graduates’ and ‘100% employable graduates,’ Navaratne noted that the learning methods have undergone change to fit in with the demands of the world. As a solution, Outcome Based Education (OBE) has been introduced from this year which looks at creating graduates targeted towards a certain market to improve the quality of education. It is a shift in the paradigm where, instead of core knowledge being the focal point of education; problems, issues, and challenges based as on future trends presented in the context of unit themes (also known as thematic units) becomes the focal point. Yet another new concept is the ‘exit outcome’ model. He stated that most of our universities are input oriented and as a change of pattern this was introduced to change the course of thinking of the students. This method will promote outcomes such as communication skills, teamwork, innovativeness, leadership, decision making, and problem solving.  K-SAM, what the market wants Based on the above, the Government has readjust its curricular and processes and is promoting ‘K-SAM,’ identified as a total human capital development model market is asking for Knowledge (K), Skills (S), Attitudes (A) and Mindset (M). Knowledge is divided in to technical knowledge and practical knowledge and under attitudes values and vision for life is taken in to account.  Change of teaching pattern The Ministry has also identified the need for a shift in teaching pattern, to promote a ‘culture of learning,’ he said. Navaratne listed this under five categories: Pedagogy: from lecture hall to environment for interactive, collaborative learning and from teacher to designer and coach Classroom: From handicraft to commodity, from solitary students to learning communities, and from campuses to virtual, distributed environments Open learning: From teacher-centred to learner-centred Passive student to active learner to demanding consumer: To unleash the power of the marketplace Skill development: Technical competence, lifelong learning, critical thinking, behavioural skills, communication, entrepreneurship, practical aptitude, solution synthesis ability, etc. In the changing world skills and attitude takes precedence and what is looked at or demanded for are those that are listed under skill development, design and innovation, ethics values and principles, etc. “The idea is that learning is like a utility – like water or electricity – that flows in a network or a grip that we tap into when we want,” Navaratne said. Pix by Upul Abayasekara and Lasantha Kumara


Ingredients for the best concoction of knowledge

Need for an apex body to pull things together Focusing on four key areas he posed as questions that need answers in order to move forward with a successful knowledge hub concept, Commercial Bank Chairman Dinesh Weerakkody noted that the country must concentrate on getting the key pillars of creating the hub right and then form an apex body that integrates all projects under one roof. His four focus areas or questions were: 1. What is a knowledge hub? (Because there is so much confusion about what it really means) 2. Do we have a goal of aspiration for this knowledge hub? What is our positioning? 3. What are the key pillars required to create the hub? 4. Finally how do you pull this together to create the hub? “A knowledge hub in my view is a location where you can source skills you need for the creation of products and services and for the creation of wealth,” Weerakkody said. In terms of a goal, the country must know what its positioning is for the future. “Like Bangladesh is aggressively luring global pharmaceutical manufacturers and their universities are also focusing on that or Philippines being very good at developing people for call centres, what is Sri Lanka’s positing?” he questioned. Dr. Navaratne replied that with good analytic graduates and CIMA graduates, the focus is on KPO development. On the key pillars needed to create the knowledge hub, Weerakkody mentioned skills and competencies the markets/investors require, the infrastructure necessary for this such as universities, the VTCs, facilities, networks, research labs, etc., and the right policy framework to attract knowledge hunters, manufacturers and developers. “My argument is that unless you get the three pillars right, there is no way you can create this hub.” The biggest challenge of them all is how we can pull all this together. Unless we get the primary, secondary education, universities and other educational institutes to work together towards one common goal, all other efforts will not make the necessary impact. “If you want to create a knowledge hub, we have to have the right skills. Private sector also needs to leverage on this talent,” he said. Time has now come to form an apex body that has the power to pull everything together and under one common goal. “Unless that happens it will be tough creating this knowledge hub and we will continue doing the same thing and not achieve much,” Weerakkody assured. The need for global branding SLASSCOM Chairman Madu Ratnayake noting that the past five years have been good for the IT and knowledge services, said that the country must internationally create a brand for itself, flaunting its capabilities to attract more attention on its knowledge-based services. In the past five years, from SLASCCOM’s point of view, in IT and knowledge services, revenue grew over 180%, with US$ 600 million coming in as exports. The employment base also grew over 100% from 32,000 to 62,000, along with the number of enterprises in Sri Lanka. “From an employment, revenue, and enterprise point of view we have made great progress over the last five years,” Ratnayake said. Globally, the country has been recognised for its excellence in IT and BPO. Among its accolades is the title of ‘Destination of the Year’ by National Outsourcing Association (NOA) UK last September. He noted that times are good for the development of financial services, especially in the KPO sector. Sri Lanka has the second largest school of UK qualified accountants after England and this could be pitched to the global multinationals coming here for talent. It is also an exciting time for product developers because the technology that is required to build software product is affordable. “Global companies such as Intel and Motorola are coming here for product development. Local companies have also been able to get into the global market with their products.” The industry is looking at 1,000 start-ups by 2022 on which to focus its development for the future. “To get there you need a few things,” Ratnayake said. Among them branding is key. “Sri Lanka has still not gone for knowledge services globally. We have to focus on elevating the brands globally.” World class education to ensure that the talent is continued is also imperative. Having the need to serve, leave ‘no debts to the country’ One of the biggest problems to date is the retention of knowledge, Codegen Ltd. CEO Harsha Subasinghe said. Noting that a large sum is invested by parents, Government and a considerable sum going from taxpayers’ money on creating knowledge and educating students, he assured that more often than not, those educated seek employment overseas. “Are we going to create knowledge for Singapore or for us? Retention is important,” he said. What must also be considered important is how we make money out of knowledge. “We must go back and think why we cannot make Apple or Google here. Is the knowledge we create suitable?” As an industry, the capacity available in the market at present is not enough, he expressed. Lack of capacity forces costs to increase – R&D will cost more, and along with that cost of development, cost of wages, manufacturing, etc. will also rise. “Are we going to be competitive is the next question.” What must be done? Changing the education system is imperative, Subasinghe assured. “Capacity must increase, this means increasing infrastructure and that means lecturers. How can we attract them?” Fundamentally, what is needed is a mindset change where people will start creating new products and brands. Government, he said has taken a lot of steps to improve education and industrial sector, even retaining efforts such as city beautification so that they could live in the city, just as comfortably as in Singapore. “If they want to give something back to the country they must. If you can say ‘ratata naya netha’ – no debt to the country, then that is when you have served your country well,” Subasinghe said.