Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Dr Wahab and IBA of 1980s and 1990s

Dr Abdul Wahab went to meet his creator on Sep 6, 2016 morning, inna lillah we wa inna ilaihi rajioon. The news brought flashbacks of several memories from my association with IBA; first as an MBA student from 1985 to 1987, and then during my stint as a faculty member from 1995 to Dec 2000, the last four years of which were spent as Deputy Director. I relate here the essence of Dr Ab Wahab's contribution to IBA from the period when he became director in 1978 till he retired in 1999. The contributions are pictorially represented in the graph below.

His fame is based primarily on his contribution to IBA education when the quality of public sector universities was going down during Gen Zia's tenure. Most of the public universities were suffering and their systems were deteriorating due to campus violence, loss of autonomy of vice chancellors,  government's encroachment on the independence of university, prevalence of cheating culture, administrative corruption, and the lack of HEC (UGC) funding despite tremendous increase in intake on political grounds which resulted in pernicious faculty politics relating to protection of departmental turfs and fights for meager privileges. All these factors were severely damaging the quality of education.  Dr Wahab's contribution was not to let IBA slide down the way  KU (of which IBA was a part) and other public universities were going down. It was the decline in the standards of other universities and the vicious protection of autonomy of IBA that provided Dr Ab Wahab the prominence for his stand against cheating, upholding of merit, meticulous implementation of semester system and smooth functioning of the academic schedule despite all external disturbances and politics. His major contribution was to keep intact the systems that were established in 1955 by USAID and the faculty of University of Pennsylvania and Wharton  during their physical presence at IBA. The functioning academic operational system left by him provided a reputable foundation from which the launch of projects such as those initiated by Dr Ishrat Husain became possible.

The government universities have always enjoyed the advantage of good quality intake because of their nominal fees that have been historically heavily subsidized. The low fees have historically assured the public universities of quality intake irrespective of whether their systems get better or worse. Individual brilliance of students assures quality output of graduates irrespective of the extent of value addition by faculty. [This advantage is now eroding with the steep rise of the fees: IBA's fees are now double that of many private chartered institutions. More on this later].

I had the opportunity to observe Dr Wahab and IBA first as a student and later as a faculty member. When I joined as student, Dr Matin A Khan was the acting Director and Dr Wahab was in Japan for his post doc. My first interaction with Dr Wahab was in our Marketing Management course in 1986 after his return from Japan. Later, when I joined IBA as a faculty member in 1995, Dr Hafiz Pasha was the director and Dr Wahab was VC of Karachi University. When Dr Pasha moved to Islamabad as Advisor to PM Benazir Bhutto in late 1996, Dr Wahab returned to IBA. [His adventurous and eventful stay as VC KU is also worth recording].  As a Deputy Director, I had the opportunity to have extensive and intensive interactions with him nearly every day. I closely observed his approach and his philosophy, which I will be posting later as it is beyond the scope of this post.

The graph above indicates that the rise of fame of IBA can be seen from the slide of the standards of the public universities during the 1980s. However, during the 1990s, private universities like LUMS started catching up and the strategies of 1980s were no longer sufficient to maintain IBA's advantage. The two eras correspond below to my relationship with IBA as a student during 1980s, and then my tenure as faculty member during the 1990s, and are accordingly being explained below.

As Student of IBA in 1980s

When I was admitted to IBA, I already had exposure of two public sector engineering institutions of Karachi: NED, where I had completed two semesters of Civil Engineering in 1980 and had thereafter moved to DCET (Dawood College of Engineering and Technology) for the love of Electronic Engineering in which discipline I graduated with BE in early 1985. Having experienced both NED and DCET, exposure to IBA's environment as a student in 1985 came to me as a huge cultural shock. The shock in retrospect was especially severe because IBA too was a public sector institution like NED and DCET:
  • IBA had implemented and perfected the semester system in its true spirit while the public sector universities were reeling in 1985 with the legacy of annual British System with its nationalized form of ZA Bhutto. NED and DCET had adopted the semester system but only halfheartedly, as they would later on do another flip flop between annual and the semester system. 
  • IBA had a fixed yearly schedule that was followed in letter and spirit: When the semester will start, when it will end, when there will be exams and all other important dates were announced much before the start of the semester and were also adhered to diligently. In government universities the yearly schedule was stretchable on the demands of students and administration. Dates of exams were stretched according to whims and fancies and pressures of the power structures. Examination schedules used to change overnight. Unannounced holidays were the norm. Last minute changes due to campus violence and other pressure tactics made it impractical  to prepare the schedule in advance and to adhere to it. 
  • IBA classes were held dot on time. There was no question of teacher entering the class after the bell had rung!  Even aged teachers like Mr Najmul Hasan or heavily built teachers like Mr Fazle Hasan and Mr Maqsood could be seen running a few seconds before the bell to catch up on this tradition. They had to run a long distance from the faculty block to the class room block. This was quite unlike the government universities of that time where it depended upon the mood of the teacher whether to take the class or not. For example, in the engineering college we often had to go to the teacher and wait for him for hours to invite him to class. There were teachers who took only a couple of classes during the entire semester. The class could be started or ended at the time of choosing of the teacher. Of course, there were some conscientious teachers also who would take the class on schedule and diligently, but they were a tiny minority and exception rather than the rule. Students like us coming from public universities where such a lenient environment prevailed got a huge shock at IBA to find a culture where it was inconceivable to see a teacher displaying such an irresponsible behavior.  
See Also: At What Cost: Fazle Hasan of IBA and Computation of Economic Costs
  • At IBA, any student entering the class after the bell had stopped ringing was marked absent. Once the roll had been called there was no way the student could be marked present. Imam-Din-System-of-Monitoring was much better implemented than any computerized attendance system that I had seen since and more effective [more on this in another post]. Students whose name fell in the latter half of the alphabets sequence initially derived a small window of advantage as they could be a few seconds late. However, some teachers took that away by flipping the order of roll call from ascending to descending order when they observed these students taking advantage of their name falling at the end of roll call. Others would take the roll call so quickly that it would end in a few seconds as there were only around 20-30 names to be called in most classes. 
  • At IBA, the course outline was diligently followed by the teacher. If the outline mentioned that a particular topic would be covered in a certain session than it was invariably covered in that session. It was inconceivable that stipulated book chapters were not covered. This was quite unlike many government institutions. There the teacher seemed to be not following any outline. No outline was given to students during the first day of the class. What chapters were covered from which book depended largely on the mood and interest of the teachers. 
  • Assignments were given and were checked. Exams were conducted and marked on time and were promptly graded and the student knew about his/her progress throughout the semester. Grading System, GPA and CGPA and the associated warning, probation, and dropout rules were not only well-known but were also followed diligently. 
See also: Can Grades and Degrees Measure the Success of Students?
  • Students were informed about the breakup of the sessional marks (60% of the total grade formed from hourlies, quizzes, assignments) a week before the final exam (40%) so that they can plan exactly what is in store for them. I have tried implementing this at various institutions since and have found it to be really hard implementation. 
  • The rule for excess absences in a course leading to failure in the course was not only known but also implemented at IBA. To avoid such failures I even saw a student with leg in plaster on stretcher being wheeled into the classroom. There are several other such stories that need to be related. I think the rule is no longer as stringently being followed at IBA. (?) This was and is unthinkable in most other institutions. 
  • At IBA, cheating was stringently under check. A person caught cheating was forced to leave. This was quite unlike the cheating culture in the government universities. 
  • IBA with its lush green lawn, water fountain in a huge pond in the middle and lined along the boundary with rows and rows of seasonal flowers was an oasis in the wilderness of KU of the early 1980s. With its attractive environment consisting of flowers, colors and fairer sex KU students would often throng the cafeteria. 
  • Repute of IBA's stringent systems ensured that the best of the best of students were admitted. Students were so smart that they were able to read the assigned text and come to the class next day and could not only answer the questions but could literally present it even better than many of the teachers! 
  • Ethical integrity of the students was exemplary at IBA. No one would touch anyone else's property where ever it was lying. One day I forgot my bag outside the library. I worried the entire weekend whether I would find it or not. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to find it where I had left. In the classroom block, I had seen on the ground floor hall (in front of the canteen)  girls' purses lying which they have left behind in hurry to run upstairs and catch the class in time. When they would come back they would find the purse where they had left! This was remarkable given the environment I had witnessed in my two previous institutions. 
  • IBA's system taught us how never to be late. There was no concept of grace time. I did not find students needing any grace time. They timed themselves so well with ample buffer to be in the class on time. 
  • There were no student political parties, but students were active in societies organizing seminars, events, sports, excursion trips and so on under the watchful sharp eyes of the Director. [More on the method he used and explained to me personally when I was a faculty member of how he curtailed the politicking and violence on IBA campuses].
  • [More points to be added here]

As Faculty Member of IBA during 1990s: Connecting the Dots

IBA used to be part of KU. My MBA degree of 1987 from IBA was issued by Karachi University. Dr A Wahab was instrumental in getting an independent HEI charter from the Sindh University for IBA. An HEI, Higher Education Institution is equivalent to a university in every manner except the number of faculties. Dr A Wahab was also instrumental in getting the ownership of the land of the main campus of IBA, land of city campus of IBA, faculty housing land and the hostel land transferred from KU to IBA and gave IBA its separate independence existence. Based on this charter, students getting degree from IBA now get an IBA degree. The grudge for this separation had left a bitter animosity that often defined the acrimonious conflicts of Dr A Wahab with KU faculty members, who always thought of IBA as a runaway offspring, and lost no opportunity to get back at him. The grudge is still visible in many of the senior faculty members of KU.

The luxury of being an independent chartered institute can only be understood by those who have experienced the painstaking bureaucratic procedures of a huge government university with its highly politicized faculty groups, that are often at logger heads with each other, archaic code book, inefficient procedures, bureaucratic processes of BASR, Academic Councils, syndicates and senates based on the assumption of guilty unless proven innocent. Getting approval of new programs, new courses, awards of degrees, completion of research requirements, promotions were and are painful processes for departments of a government university. Enabling each step of the process required political and diplomatic give and take of favors. I think it still does. When you look at the fast, quick and streamlined processes at IBA,  you should appreciate the value of the autonomy that IBA enjoys, and then you must give credit to Dr A Wahab. You must also recall that for enabling this autonomy Dr A Wahab had to to put up a tenacious fight that lasted all his life. It became especially ferocious when he overcame the resistance from KU and its bureaucracies, and wrested the control from KU. And it continued till the end, because this became a part of his behavioral instincts. This was a fight whose festering wounds are often seen in the severe criticism that he faced and which often erupted time and again, and could still be seen when few people came to attend his memorial service. 

Tenacious Fighter to Establish Change as Distinctive Culture

He had no match as a tenacious fighter for what he stood for and what he considered was was right. In such fights he was capable of replying in kind and also in measure that often exceeded the attack he faced. His fight for merit against cheating ruffled great number of feathers in high places. This merit came at the expense of rejecting and facing pressures for favor in admissions. His character as a tenacious fighter developed and consolidated during the 1980s and 1990s as he struggled to build an oasis in the wilderness of a government university. 

The amount of change management, strictness and ruthlessness that is required for ensuring the following rules can only be appreciated by those who had tried to implement even one of the following:
  1. All faculty members be present in the class when the bell rings,
  2. All faculty members to start calling the roll when bell rings
  3. Any student entering the class after the end of roll call be marked absent,
  4. Forcing all the teachers to cover the entire course, adhere to the assigned text book.
  5. Forcing the students to accept that all quizzes would be surprise tests.
  6. Ensuring that the student is dropped irrespective of the excuse when the absence limit is exceeded.
  7. Ensuring that all teachers are present on the campus

Doing the above can be easy if you allow for exceptions. But, doing the above without catering to any exception, any recommendation, any favor, any situation, any relation including one own's sons and love ones, and ensuring that the above rules are implemented uniformly for hundreds of course sections and for hundreds of teachers and ensuring that this happens repeatedly, day after day, month after month, semester after semester, year after year and for decades requires gigantic determination, perseverance and tenacity!

How difficult it is. Ask me. For the last 16 years, I am trying to implement a few of these rules at other institutions and have found it astronomically difficult to implement, and converting them into a living thriving culture is a much greater achievement of change management and development of culture. Remember these were unwritten rules at IBA during the 1980s. I am told that after his tenure, the above rules have become history or are becoming history.

Many of the rough edges of Dr A Wahab's personality can be appreciated as the defensive mechanisms that were installed in his behavior due to this tenacious and sustained fighting to implement the rules that he considered were important for IBA.  

In protecting his turf, he was ruthless, and his approach typically was that of "attack is the best defense". A person who lives continuously in such a defensive state often can not differentiate the well meaning constructive criticism from the negative criticism with negativity that is nefarious in design and was intended to harm him. This mode of defense through preemptive strike eventually became responsible for much of his latter reputation and criticism.

Source of Competitive Advantage

The meticulous running of the semester system at IBA provided an advantage over the other public universities whose systems were crumbling under the inefficiencies as mentioned above. The public universities then had the advantage of the intake but suffered on account of their faulty systems. Individual brilliance of the students who were actually so smart that they didn't even require any teaching and were largely self taught was responsible for the repute of many public universities in Pakistan as well as abroad in foreign countries. The students of government universities used to be the best of the best who didn't require much coaching or even teaching. They had the capacity to read hundreds of pages and absorb the material over night. The advantage of IBA's semester system and the intake of around 100 students in 1985 ensured that IBA got the cream of Karachi's intermediate graduates. The system ensured that they knew the subjects well. Their jobs were therefore assured. Alumni produced by IBA since 1955 had already captured the senior positions in almost all organizations and businesses of repute. This old boys network of IBA facilitated the absorption of the graduates and was a major competitive hurdle for the newly emerging private institutions in the mid 1980s.


Constraints of a Public University and Faculty Incentives 

IBA being a government entity of 1990s did not have the luxury to define its own employment conditions and set its own salaries. It was constrained by government grades and rules that did not allow till the 1990s to give any additional incentives from the government allocations. The starting salary for an Assistant Professor in 1995 was around Rs 13,000 with basic around Rs 8,000. Even salary of a grade 21 officer was around Rs 22,000. 

Dr Wahab's major contribution was to identify alternative sources of income for the faculty. The innovation he introduced had to overcome huge resistance and opposition. Although, later this would become a staple for public universities for incentivizing the faculty. One was to use the MBA evening program at the city campus to provide additional income to the faculty. The other one was to start self-financed programs such as the BBA Executive, MBA Finance and Banking, MBA Export Marketing program at the city campus. As Deputy Director CCS, I was given permission to start the self financed programs Bachelor of Computer Science (BCS Honors) and BBA MIS programs. To promote these programs we went to Lahore and Islamabad for promotional seminars. The start of evening and self financed programs was the strategy which he first used successfully at IBA and then replicated in Karachi University. During his tenure at KU, Dr Wahab started a huge number of programs, evening programs and the self financed programs. Both these measures provided extra income to the university and also provided the additional incentive to the faculty over and above the meagre income that they can draw through the government salary that was constrained. The third innovation was the creation of additional revenue stream for providing external testing service. In 1997, IBA was conducting nearly one test for an external organization every week. Each of this testing service required a huge logistical effort of transporting hundreds of faculty members and administrative staff from KU and IBA to Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, interior Sindh and other cities  through buses, airline,  housing them, preparing rooms for conducting the tests, checking the identity of candidates, invigilation in examination rooms and halls, collecting the scripts, manually checking the scripts, preparing the results and coming back. The entire operation had to be conducted during a single day because the very next day the classes were to start. 

Although the three sources of hefty incentives that were provided to faculty were a source of major additional income which used to be in some cases as much as their salary and for senior members could be twice or thrice of the official salaries. However, these additional reveneues for the university and the faculty came at a huge price as described below. 

It was Dr Wahab's sustained fight against the throttling rules for government faculty additional incentives that gave the realization to the decision makers who came latter to do something about salaries of faculty. I suspect it was the conflict of Director HEJ and Dr Wahab during his tenure in 1994-96 that must have highlighted the issues arising form the strategy of giving additional incentives to faculty through added teaching load, and at the expense of faculty's research time.  This conflict must have convinced Dr Ata ur Rehman to do something revolutionary about the faculty salaries when he came into a decision making rule as chairman HEC and as a close adviser to General Musharraf. The salaries during the 2000s were enhanced from ten to twenty times as compared to the meager salaries of the 1990s. 

Emergence of Competition

Around 1985, FAST (NU) and LUMS were established in Karachi and Lahore respectively. Both of them in a few years managed to replicate academics similar to IBA's semester system and were able to the run those systems as well. FAST and later Hamdard and SirSyed followed the traditional KU type of a model and started with the retirees from the government sector universities. On the other hand, LUMS acquired young ambitious PhD faculty from USA, and adopted the ivy league model where there is a special focus on faculty development, industry consultancy and relevance to the local problems.  

The advent of LUMS and the private universities on the education horizon soon changed the dynamics of the higher education. Unlike public universities, these private sector universities quickly implemented a system that was comparable in many ways to IBA's and in some cases like LUMS even better. Their major investment in faculty development, industry consultancy soon exposed the limitation of what can be achieved only through the rigid implementation of the academic semester system system. This story belongs to the realm of my faculty years at IBA and my experience of LUMS during the CBR (now FBR) project that we were trying to do for Benazir Bhutto's government. It was a joint project of IBA and LUMS and was being headed by the then Director of IBA, Dr Hafiz A Pasha and the team members from LUMS included Dr Javaid Ghani and Dr Zahoor.

The challenge thrown up by the emerging private sector competition had changed the education dynamics. When Dr Hafiz Pasha became the advisor to PM and moved to Islamabad, Dr Wahab again got the directorship of IBA. But, the times had now changed. Challenges that he faced at KU were very different from the competitive challenges that IBA was facing from the private sector universities. Dr Wahab's strengths which were so valuable in the previous decade and that had shot him to prominence during the 1980s started appearing to be a liability in the emerging competitive scenario. His erstwhile staunch supporters in BoG could sense that the competition was overtaking IBA, but did not find the acknowledgement of this threat in the policies at IBA. The BoG became increasingly discontented with lack of faculty development and lack of induction of high quality PhD faculty. By 1997, BoG members had realized that the basis of competition had changed. Competitive advantage of the meticulous semester system had been overshadowed by higher level quality concerns related to faculty development and consultancy.

Faculty Incentive Model of IBA vs LUMS

The new basis of competition posited by LUMS was the case-study method backed by well trained younger faculty with PhD qualifications from top schools of USA and an HR System that valued faculty development. The faculty incentive model at LUMS valued participation in conferences and industry consultancy assignments and encouraged the faculty to earn at least twice their salary pay check amount from the consultancy and executive training at Rausing Executive Center. This model contrasted with the faculty incentive model at IBA which was based on teaching of additional courses in self-financed programs and evening programs, and earning through invigilation in IBA's tests conducted for external organizations. Under the prodding by BoG a few PhD faculty members from KU and other public universities were hired who had played their innings and wanted a comfortable place to end their careers. They could also not add much value because of their unrelated fields to business and their exposure to only the government organizations with the throttling environment as explained above.

The major issue with the additional incentive model at IBA was that teaching of additional courses kept the faculty busy during the week days, afternoons and even evenings for teaching five, six or even seven courses, and even on weekends in invigilation and organization of admission and hiring tests. The frequency of these tests increased so much that by 1998 they were happening week after week, all year round. This left no time for the personal development of the faculty through research or interaction with the industry that can contribute to consultancy earnings.This also came at a tremendous cost of their family time and personal development time. A time came when even I had to withdrew myself from testing activities, and forego the associated additional incentives as it started taking a huge toll on my work-life balance.

This scenario may have been more visible from outside to the BoG members who were also interacting and visiting LUMS and other institutions and may not have been that visible to those were caught in the busy morning to evening routine of IBA throughout the year. This also became a serious source of conflict between BoG and Dr A Wahab. The retirement of Dr A Wahab was due in June of 1999, and a few months before that Mr Mamnoon Husain got appointed as the Governor of Sindh in place of General Moinuddin Haider. Governor of Sindh is also Chancellor of IBA with the authority of appointing Director IBA, Unlike Gen Moinuddin Haider with whom Dr A Wahab had cultivated good relations, Mr Mamnoon Husain, a senior leader of PML(N) and an alumni of IBA was also in BOG and part of the group that was trying to force IBA to change the faculty incentive model. Mr Fazle Hasan was appointed the Acting Director of IBA after Dr A Wahab's retirement for a short duration. The advent of General Musharraf threw IBA into another set of challenges as the VC of KU, Dr Zafar Zaidi was given the charge of Director IBA and he started mounting the effort to take back IBA. .......

[To be Continued and being enhanced]

See Also: 


  1. We, the MBA MIS class of 99 at IBA were indeed lucky to have one of those ambitious young PHDs from a top US university heading the CCS. We did not fully recognize the significance of it at that time but the overhaul of MIS curriculum in 97 at the brink of the information revolution gave us the critical skills necessary to succeed in the new knowledge economy.

    1. Thanks for the acknowledgement. Please do read some of my other posts on this blog. Will look forward to your input.

  2. Thank you Dr. Hyder for writing such an informative history of IBA and Dr. Wahab.