‘World Best’ Practices and the Asian Academic Institution

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The term “World Class” is one which is being thrown around a lot to describe a perceived superiority above the average. We as Asians like to use this word quite frequently in every aspect of our marketing just to make a point that we are global players. Individuals too are guilty of this as we commonly use this term to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the flock. Although Asia is still stuck on world class, the rest of the world, especially the west, has moved on to a more profound state academically known as “Beyond World Class”.

I first came into contact with the whole ethos of beyond world class when I started working in the UK. Having worked in Asia prior to this and having heard the word “world class” so often being used to describe mediocrity, it was quite amusing at first to hear the word “world best” from the MD of the company who was quite a visionary. I often tried to convince him and myself that maybe he has got the term wrong but through practice he was able to convince me that “world best” was a philosophy which describes a completely different dimension to world class. It wasn’t until I attended a guest lecture by Prof Kai Cheng, then Dean of the School of Engineering and Design at Brunel University, that I understood the whole concept of world best as being “Beyond World Class”.

Okey… So what is this beyond world class?

Beyond world class stands for a business philosophy which is customer service centric and not profit centric. This phenomenon works on the basis that if you concentrate on providing the best customer service, profits would follow as a by-product of it. As such, business stops becoming a cut-throat battle of extracting every last penny out of the customer but an exercise where the customers willingly pay the maximum they can afford to benefit from the customer service you provide. Thus the level of customer satisfaction becomes the actual profit of the company and the monetary return a bonus.

Looking at the HE institutions in Asia, it is quite known that each and every one will call themselves “world class” institutions. This may be so but many of them are definitely not world best institutions. Due to the high demand for education in the region and the low supply, HE institutions have gotten into the habit of pushing students (their customers) around just because they can. Thus, the rights of the student as a student of the institution as well as a fee paying consumer are grossly violated especially by the private institutions which operate in the region. For example, some institutions will collect fees from students a few months ahead of a semester for an officially advertised course and then cancel the offering of that course on a whim. Given that the fees will be returned to the students, how can the institution justify earning interest on borrowed money? If money isn’t everything, then consider plight of the student as he/she now has to re-plan and make all the necessary alternative arrangements. How can institutions push students around like this? Yet there are no watchdogs, no consumer rights agencies and definitely no institutional administrators who really empathize with these poor students. The irony is that after all this, the institutions still grumble about their thin profit margins and low student retention rates.

Think… wouldn’t it be nice if HE institutions put the students first and profits second? Wouldn’t you pay extra for an institution which will provide you with the best customer service in all aspects? Maybe HE institutions should re-think their attitude towards students and try to adopt world best practices. Maybe then more students will join, stay on and leave completely satisfied.

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