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“Gap Analysis”​ and the Spell that Was Cast on Academia

Professor Samar Ahmed

By Professor Samar Ahmed

Professor Ahmed is an MD, JMHPE, FAIMER Fellow and faculty. She is the Director at Ain Shams Middle East North Africa FAIMER Regional Institute for Health Professions Education (menafri.faimefri.org).

All of a sudden our universities switched mode. We officially stopped dreaming and started struggling to achieve what we were adapted to believe was excellence.

In a matter of 10 years we woke up to find ourselves stuck on a ranking scale and a rating system that had us focusing on narrow angle issue like “How many Nobel Prize winners do we have” and “what is the research ratio per faculty” and the funniest of all “how many international faculty do we host on our campus”. What a challenge!

The funny thing is that no matter how many times we are told that we have to create our competitive advantage we CANNOT ever see it as a priority. And how could we… it is NOT in the standards. Now let us reflect on where we were not so far back when university professors were leaders of innovation and had student followers who looked up to them as they would with heroes of the Game of Thrones.

Only back then, universities had not yet met the Wicked Witch of the West with her business oriented wand. It was only years later that we could look in the mirror to see the spell she cast on us. Although the claim was that this spell would make us unique and probably marry the prince, but one look in the mirror was enough to see… we were all turned to the same size green frog that is just like any other frog in any other pond.

Being a consumer as we all are at the moment puts some degree of responsibility on us to choose properly what we consume. But in this “deal” unfortunately we were not given a choice. I wonder where all the values of “autonomy” and “Human Rights” went when we this happened. I also wonder where the values of individuality and the right to be who you want to be disappeared. But then as universities we are asked to compete and run a race that we did not choose on a path that does not even suit us and at the finish line give all the winnings to “non profit” bodies like THE, QS, Prometrics and so many others who are thriving on “standards” that we were led to believe represent “Excellence”.

We teach people the value of diversity but then we try to adapt ourselves to non diverse metrics. So instead of continuing to grow into a unique model, we started shifting course and focusing on filling the imaginary gap that we were shown. Instead of focusing on an outstanding student experience and human values that come with it, we started adapting ways to “cheat” the system that cheated us and doing amazing things like self citation and looking for expats of our own country and give them one month contracts during their summer vacation when they are back home and then list them among international faculty. Cheating right? Can you even blame universities? It is a war and a race and an unhealthy competition and the opposite of everything we try to teach our students.

If we truly believe in globalization then it is time to stop trying to adapt everything to your own beliefs. Every situation is different and every zone has different needs and priorities. Isn’t that what we were taught? The problem is that even those who set those standards can see this problem and instead of taking a step back, they spend more resources on “adapting” the standards. What a joke! Reminds me of the famous Alice when in wonderland discovered that her size was not “standard” and started adapting and we end up with the famous picture of a beautiful giant caged in a “standard” size house and the only remedy is to drink the magic potion and shrink as we have been doing for years. We were just cheated into believing that this will get us recognized. It is just another bad product commercial that we fell for. And although we all know that the energy we are spending in trying to fit for the standards is energy we are wasting and that could have been used to create exponential growth into possibility, yet we cannot blame anyone. We are part of this fiasco and we contributed the moment we agreed that education is a business.

Time to reflect and ask ourselves what true excellence means to us and to our students and to the market they will work in and what is more to the patients they serve. It is time to start thinking value and impact and stop trying to make these terms fit the already existing dysfunctional model.