Universities must not ‘customise’ students to the jobs of today, but instead make sure that they equip them to succeed in the economies of the future, one of Qatar’s leading higher education figures told a US audience.

Dr Ahmad M Hasnah, President of Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) emphasised the continuing relevance of liberal arts education in a rapidly-changing, tech-driven world during a Harvard Business Review live event in New York City, and explained why the true measure of success is not money, but ‘what you have done for humanity’. HBKU is a member of Qatar Foundation (QF).

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The QF-sponsored discussion, titled ‘The Liberal Arts Imperative in the Digital Age’, saw Dr Hasnah and Lynn Pasquerella, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, tackle topics on how universities can strike a balance between meeting the current needs of employers while nurturing well-rounded, future-proofed graduates; why ethical decision-making is becoming more vital in the development and use of technology; and what skills are CEO around the world are really looking for.

Speaking at the Harvard Club, Dr Hasnah said that the global problems we are facing are complex and not only related to science and technology but also to policy, behaviour, and social aspects. To prepare students for the future, he said that we need to give them the ability to grasp the challenges we are facing from different perspectives.

Climate change, for example, is not just an engineering issue; it is a behavioral issue, a policy issue, a long-term economic issue. Graduating students who understand such problems from a well-rounded perspective is the key to success in the future.’

Explaining why a liberal arts education equips people to take different pathways in life rather than simply setting their sights on one career, Dr Hasnah said that the role of a university is to graduate learners, and when we discuss market needs, it can be forgotten that the aim is to graduate young people who can stay relevant to the market regardless of how it changes.

Our role is not to simply customise people for the market as it is today. We need to produce graduates who, moving forward, are capable of being adaptable.’

Asked for his views on what employers want to see in their workers, Dr Hasnah highlighted ‘critical thinking, teamwork, and communication’. He said that it’s not just about knowledge but about how you communicate that knowledge and work with others to achieve your goals.

A human decides where they are and what they achieve. You define what your role will be in life, irrespective of where you started from, and if you have this mindset, you will find a way of achieving your goal. But success should not always be equated to economic impact – instead, look at what you have done for humanity.’

Pasquerella said there had been ‘a long-term progression toward scepticism’ about liberal arts education.

What we are trying to do is create a narrative that contests the claims of irrelevancy and illegitimacy that are levelled at the liberal arts. We need to partner with business and industry to make sure the curricula we deliver prepare students for the unscripted problems of the future. The goal is to equip students for work, citizenship, and life.’

Visit hbku.edu.qa to learn more about the different colleges under HBKU. For more information about Qatar Foundation, visit qf.org.qa