05.27.08

Privatizing Kuwait University

Posted in Business, Kuwait at 6:15 pm by Haider

I was recently having a discussion with a colleague about the differences between public institutions and private companies. She was surprised that I was against free education, and how I opposed the recent cancellation of tuition fees in Kuwait University.

While the Student Union was happy with their efforts to have tuition fees cancelled, I believe that they are pushing the university in the wrong direction. In this post, I would like to explain why paying for education is a good thing.

Project Constraints

I remember having a discussion with my previous boss (yes, I do have many discussions!) and he pointed out that the reason why public institutions can’t seem to get projects moving effectively is because, in private companies, projects are conducted under the constraints of time and budget. Since the two are relatively absent in public institutions, projects aren’t carried out in the most efficient and effective ways.

In other words, time and budget constraints are needed for the project to be completed. Constraints do not necessarily mean that the quality of the project is compromised. Or, put in another way, the constraints are needed in order to make the most effective use of the resources available.

If you have a project that can be completed in one day, but the deadline for it is set for a year from now, you might postpone completing the project until you come closer to the deadline. If there is no deadline, you might not even complete the project at all!

When your budget is set to “unlimited,” how will you determine what resources to use to get the work done? How do you choose the specifications for the devices to purchase? A task that can be completed by a computer with minimal specifications can be done on a computer with the most advanced specifications in the market. There is no real reason why the institution should not opt for the best that’s available. There is no real need to reduce costs. Therefore, decisions aren’t made to make the most effective use of the resources available. When the budget is a blank cheque, a team can be assigned to do work that can easily be done in the spare time of a part-time secretary.

Cash Flow

Private companies are established in order to make money. Money is their lifeline. No money, no company (this rhymes so it must be true!).

Therefore, private companies seek to increase their customer base, and to increase their prices as much as they reasonably can. This will help them survive and expand. No money, no expansion (this doesn’t rhyme, so it’s partly true! Companies can expand first in order to make more money).

In order to have more money, companies need to satisfy their customers. Customer care is essential for the success of the company. This means that the company needs to increase the quality it provides and to make the customer’s experience as easy and enjoyable as possible.

A public institution that doesn’t wish to retain or gain customers isn’t interested in either offering quality, or improving the customer’s experience. If you don’t like what’s being offered by the institution, you are directed towards the door. Whether you are happy with the service you receive or not, the employee will still keep his job, and the institution will continue to exist. The customer isn’t involved in the cash flow. He is simply an annoyance the employees would like to ignore and avoid.

Setting Priorities

With the absence of time and budget constraints, who sets what the priorities of a public institution are? What services should be offered, and for what reason? What is a public institution’s measure of success? In a private company, the standard of measurement is clear: the customer, and the success of the company is demonstrated by the amount of profit it can make.

A private company has to take the customer’s interests and concerns into consideration. The customer gets to decide what the priorities are, and what the company needs to invest its resources in. Public institutions in Kuwait spend bucket loads of money on leaflets and public relations campaigns to show how great the institution is and what it has achieved. Money is wasted on amplifying the institution’s achievements, when neither the achievement nor the self-praise contributes anything to the “customers” (referring to their victims as customers is a stretch).

Providing Quality

A private company does not have as many resources, or as big a budget, as a public institution. In this respect, it may be said that its quality will be less than the quality that can be provided by a public institution. We have already mentioned why this is not necessarily the case. But an important point to note is how money is tied to the level of quality provided by a private company.

Customers (usually) pay for a product or a service, they believe, is worth the money they are willing to part with. If a product isn’t worth its big price tag, we either ask for a discount or choose not to buy. A private company takes this into consideration. It sets its prices according to how much its potential customers value the quality of service it provides. If it cannot offer quality service, it reduces its prices. If customers are willing to pay huge amounts of money for its services, it can increase its prices. In this case, it would not be exploiting the interest it has generated. People are getting the quality of service they are paying for.

A private university can attract a handful of customers by providing good education for a small fee. It can increase the services and facilities it provides, and charge a larger fee. The more students it attracts, the more money it can make, and the more quality it can provide. Quality is tied to the amount if interest there is, which is expressed in the amount of money the university has attracted.

The students that pay to enter a private company usually (though not always) appreciate what they are paying for, and make full use of the education they are provided with.

In Kuwait University, there is no connection between the student’s interest in getting into the university and the level of service the university provides.

If Kuwait University students ever complain about the standards of teaching at Kuwait University, or any other aspect of university life, my simple answer to them is: “You’re getting what you paid for.

23 Comments »

  1. Bashar said,

    May 27, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    As much as this is right in logic, in reality the result seems different. In general, I was against the 100 KD for each student at kuniv. The reason why is, already most students are taking way too much time in their college days than needed, and if you give them another reason to stay, why not? Tuition fees are so minimal, I am surprised they are creating big fuss out of it. Isn’t it like 10 KD or so? That’s what I remember.

    Some bachelors make 450 KD/month. Thats very normal. So if he is living his life as he likes, and getting 100 KD for it, it’s not a bad deal. Students are already taking 6 years or more to finish and they don’t seem to care. I know someone who was lacking in college, changed from one college to another, and yet got married, and through all different allowances was making around 600 KD! Thats full time job salary right? (He was religious person point I should make!)

    So anyways. I’m not so much impressed by Kuwait University outcome. Students and Profs both share the blame in that. However private universities in Kuwait and around are mostly for pure profit. Your point is absolutely correct, “companies need to satisfy their customers.” However I see the satisfactory point in most cases is THE DEGREE. I am paying you to get my degree. So stop annoying me or I’ll find another university that fulfills my needs. Sadly, this is what most people care for. If you have studied in Kuwait, you would already know that.

    A good professor is a one who gives easy A, not deserved A. He’s someone who doesn’t show up twice a week, not someone who would give extra lectures. I still remember an Image Recognition course that promised face recognition. I was over the edge of my seat. However one simple 2 hours max homework took over the period of a month! The course was a disaster, students loved it it was so easy.

    I personally tried to make my self feel the budget constraints, I was getting 30 KD/month for some period, and I had to chose once between exam fee based tutorial (3 KD), and filling my car with gas once. Wisely I chose the latter :) , and I know my parents would give me 100 KD if I needed it. Result? I am the only one who got full mark. This tough me a lesson, the outcome does not depend on how much I spend, but more on how I spend it.

    As I see it, it’s a matter of self-awareness first. If people demand high quality stuff, then yes, private universities would compete to meet the demand. But here in Kuwait, in general, it’s not the case.

  2. Bashar said,

    May 27, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Hey, I’m writing comments as long as your posts :)

  3. Haider said,

    May 27, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Being a private university isn’t a guarantee that it will provide a good education, but it will provide the customers (i.e. the students) with what they want.

    The fact that students go for easy courses just to get a degree isn’t the fault of the university, but the culture, which values a piece of paper more than learning. And this isn’t the fault of the students alone, but the whole society.

    We do not value competence as much as we value certificates.

    p.s. I’m proud that I’ve had an influence on you :D

  4. dishevelled said,

    May 27, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    I always shared your ideas about education and privatizing until I actually studied in Kuwait University while my friends all went to other private universities in Kuwait. No offense to them, but their classes, workload, and grades are a joke compared to what I’m doing. Also, another issue with privatizing education, which is happening in both schools and universities in Kuwait… you pay them you’re in and remain in. Ya3ni you’re buying yourself a degree, not necessarily an education. As much as I hate Kuwait University, I have to say, education-wise it’s not bad. It’s the people who go there that are crap, and the bureaucracy is a never-ending story. The “butter” in it’s education is fine, it’s the people who are running it and studying in it that are crap =) (Mo chiny wa7da min-hom:P)

  5. Haider said,

    May 28, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Dear Dishevelled, thanks for your feedback, and for sharing your own experience at KU.

    I’m sure there are many doctors in KU that provide quality education. But when we come to compare two systems, public and private, we have to pin-point the causal relationship between the system and the quality offered. That is, it is very possible that a doctor loves his subject and loves teaching that he makes every effort to provide the best he can.

    On the other hand, there are also doctors who don’t care for teaching and are happy with a good salary, regardless of their contribution to the university. Technically, such a doctor will be able to survive in a public university (because he won’t be fired for poor performance), whereas a private university would (and should) be concerned with the quality of its courses, and so may choose to fire the doctor if his standard is poor.

    Like I said in my previous comment, it’s very possible that private universities don’t offer quality education, even when the students are willing to pay tons of money. The problem, here, isn’t in the system. It’s not because it’s private that the education is poor. The problem here is cultural, in that the students are willing to pay just for a degree and not for an education.

  6. Bashar said,

    June 5, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    I think dishevelled is speaking what I was trying to convey. Private universities are not caring for level of education, they know what most people want, and they are supporting sadly lower level of outcome. When we finished high school, we had lots of 4.0s. When we went to college, even those 4.0 sometimes lacked.

    Do you remember last time a person failed in Kuwait private university? Even though big portion of those people are people who failed or couldn’t make it to Kuwait University. No offense, but it’s a fact.

    There are worldwide standards for enrollment, however in Kuwait I hear about 2.2 students getting the MBA. If you are below 2.67, you only get partial enrollment until you meet minimum requirements. Below 2.5? Forget it. So how do people make it so easy out of those universities, with a full time job in the morning, when they were struggling as full time students? OK, some of them work hard now and have learned their lesson, but it’s not the majority of people.

    MBA in Kuwait University for non business degree holders is 4 years easy! And you have to pass GMATand TOEFL. however with private universities, you don’t need all that. 2 years or 3 max, no GMAT. Blame the society alone? No I don’t think so. Blame commercialization of education.

    MBA is typical example of high degree, pretty much desired in the market. I would like to add it to my CV. Yet, they make it so easy to attract more people.

  7. Haider said,

    June 6, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Bashar, you raised a lot of points that deserve more posts to discuss fully, but I certainly wouldn’t blame commercialization of education.

    For a professor, or a teacher, to be able to dedicate all his resources and creativity to his profession means that he should be able to make money from his profession itself, and not another job that he depends on for living. Therefore, a teacher should get paid for teaching, and if that’s to happen beyond the realm of the government, it’s going to be through a private, commercial institution. Unless, of course, it’s a charity, but that introduces further problems that require another set of posts to deal with :)

  8. Mo said,

    June 6, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    I never knew you went to RBS, sweet lol.

    Interesting how you dont seem to be the quiet brother anymore of H:p

    lol.

    Salam :)

  9. G.E&B said,

    June 8, 2008 at 12:13 am

    I went to Kuwait University, as well as a public and a private university abroad. The thing that gets me with private schools here is that there’s this sense of entitlement students have that didnt exist abroad. You paid for the privilege of learning not for a degree. If you fail to learn, you get no degree. Easy peasy.

    I think KU needs to start charging students who stay longer than 4 years. Dropping the tuition is almost as ridiculous as giving students KD 100.

  10. Haider said,

    June 8, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Mo, I never physically attended RBS, but I’ve had telepathic signals coming to me from its general direction :P

    G.E&B, I don’t think charging students who’ve overstayed their welcome will solve the problem. Even the money the university will get from these students will be pocket change that won’t enter the customer/value equation.

    p.s. congrats on making it to London.. and my regards to the Queen, if you’re ever at her place for tea :)

  11. Ralf said,

    June 20, 2008 at 2:03 am

    I am too an advocate of private education. I prefer students to be treated and seen as customers, because I feel that’s what they are.
    As far as the discussion about quality and the common worries on quality, of course private education does not automatically grant quality.
    As you imply if the customer has low expectations the free market will align on that level. As customers learn to expect more and be more precise in their expectations inevitably most customers will go to the institution offering best education for money. Competition will be forced to follow to adapt etc.
    Be warned all: customer care is am art not mastered by many, as most of us who have experience in dealing with it in any company can testify. The same thing would count for education, there’s no reason why it should be easier in that field of business.
    Furthermore it is my belief that paying for services or products that you value is a very healthy principle. Education is a service and if it is of real value to you, why should it be free.

    I suppose the most common objection is that education must be accessible for ”rich and poor”. My answer to that would be that not everybody is able to buy a porsche either (I’m Not!!) but still I do have a car and am able to move freely. Also the whole issue of privatizing public services can only be useful on the condition that income taxes decrease accordingly, leaving us all with more money and the healthy responsibility to invest it wisely.

    Most typically I noticed a very negative view on the capacities of humans accompanying these arguments for welfare states or principles. Well I have a more positive view on this. I do think people can survive much better on their own then they believe. Surely, when the government pampers people they will never learn, its just with children you know.

    Welfare -fare well,and we fare much better in the end. (i’m still working on my ”one-liner” but its getting better..:-))

    Sorry for drifting of a little Haider..

  12. Ralf said,

    June 20, 2008 at 2:10 am

    PS.
    Ever thought of charging for your blog??

  13. Haider said,

    June 21, 2008 at 12:31 am

    Ralf, that’s a good one-liner, but the catchy part is at the beginning, so the strength of the line dwindles towards the end. How about: “Let’s be fair, and say farewell to welfare!” :)

    In the discussion with my colleague, she said: “I agree with you” on every point I raised, but she kept going back to the argument: “But what about the poor?”

    I think it’s important to simply acknowledge that the quality of public services is low because it’s not treated as a business, before we discuss the social ramifications of privatization.

    As for charging for the blog, I’ve considered monetizing the blog, but the traffic to my blog is too low at the moment to justify my efforts for monetizing it. I’m not thinking of charging for actual posts, but I’ve decided to sell the Understanding Islam book as a download (once it’s completed!).

  14. ralf said,

    June 21, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    great! I’m gonna put line that on a t shirt for summer..

  15. ralf said,

    June 22, 2008 at 1:56 am

    yep..got it now: t-shirt front side “be fair” (public looks and shakes head approvingly). Rear side:” say farewell to welfare” (public frowns disaprovingly). Man, this is going to be a bestseller.You get your royalties sent to Kuwait!

  16. Haider said,

    June 22, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Genius thinking!

    Let me know when it’s up for sale.. I love t-shirts, and the funnier they are, the more I love them :D

  17. Ralf said,

    July 18, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    http://betterfair.wordpress.com/

    Check it out :-)

    Cheers,
    Ralf

  18. Haider said,

    July 18, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Genius…

    I was wondering when you’ll launch your own blog.. :)

    I’m going to add a blogroll so I can add your site to it…

  19. ralf said,

    July 19, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for that! Well more than one of my favorite blogs seem to be suspended lately because the authors write books instead..so I figured out that before writing a book you must have a blog you see..:-)

  20. Haider said,

    July 20, 2008 at 8:59 am

    I think a blog is good for exposure, to structure your thinking and refine your writing.

    For me, the reason why I’m finding it difficult to update the blog is that many of my posts depend on presenting an alternative understanding to Islamic epistemology to the one accepted by the vast majority of Muslims. Therefore, to avoid being misunderstood, and to put my ideas in perspective, I have to deal with Islamic epistemology first, hence, writing “Understanding Islam.”

    But since I have a weakness for writing a lot, I think I’m going to try and discipline myself to write short blog posts that serve the purpose of having a blog.

  21. Ralf said,

    July 20, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    hey, don’t get me wrong please. I was kidding. Of course I understand that.
    Yes,Writing short posts is an art in its own way. It would be a challenge for you :-)

  22. Seth said,

    July 23, 2008 at 5:03 am

    Knowledge is not a commodity, and therefore should not be sold as such. The fact that both public, as well as your idea of private, education requires a TRANSFER of MONEY, degrades the most intimate possession of an individual to the status of a woolen blanket. ‘PRIVATIZING’ in the sense you seem to be advocating is not a solution to the problem you have diagnosed, it only multiplies it. There is no commercial value for understanding Platonic Philosophy, or for having a grasp on the evolution of the world’s power structure, and so these realms of knowledge will be willingly disregarded as ‘obsolete’ while ‘newer, more profit friendly’ subjects, such as pet psychology will be packed with moronic students whose parents are looking for a ’sound investment’ on their sons’ education.

    I understand that government ought not be in charge of education, but in order to combat this evil, must you advocate turning your university into an ‘education factory?’ I do not believe so. You must understand that the difference between Big Government and Big Business is incredibly vague, and the often work towards each other’s mutual benefit. In fact, they cannot exist without one another. You are stealing from the right hand to give to the left hand of the same entity.

    I would think you would be a proponent of de-centralized education. This also includes ‘privatizing’ education to an extent, without granting certain corporations a monopoly on the education process, which would be the case if Kuwait U were changed, via legislation, from a public institution into a private one.

    —The dismay of not seeing your usual rate of articles is only lightened by my hopes that your ‘Understanding Islam’ project is devouring all of your free time (light joke). Honestly, though, churn that thing out, the world needs it.

  23. Haider said,

    July 23, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    Hi Seth,

    First of all, I’m afraid the Understanding Islam project is too huge to write as a book, and especially in isolation. I will be posting snippets of the book(s) on the blog to get feedback from readers, so that I can improve its structure and argument.

    I haven’t been solely occupied with the book, but with making a living :)

    And much to your dismay, but I will be cutting down on the size of my posts in order to be able to update my blog on a more frequent basis (and, yes, in order to make it more accessible to lazy people :P )

    As for private education: I don’t think a transfer of money degrades the value of knowledge. At the end of the day, when you receive an education, you are receiving a value from a teacher, and that teacher should be compensated for his efforts (unless he chooses not to be paid).

    Many academic fields do not receive the attention they deserve because people do not appreciate their value. Rather than pay for the classes to continue, you should educate people on their value. Otherwise, no matter how much money you spend in maintaining the classes, society will not reap their benefits.

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