Future-focused Education – Bradley Emerson, Executive Director/ CEO of IIHE

A former Banker, Financial expert, Keynote Speaker, Podcaster and an Author – Bradley Emerson is the Executive Director/ Chief Executive Officer of Imperial Institute of Higher Education (IIHE) and Founder of The Business Athletes. He strongly believes that education in the present day needs to provide skills and develop attitudes as knowledge is readily available at our fingertips.

Narrating his fascinating career journey, Bradley stated, “I was a career Banker having worked in three local private banks and an indigenous bank in Oman. Prior to joining CIMA UK as the Regional Director, I was the Deputy CEO of Pan Asia Bank. As the Regional Director from 2007 to 2015, I was responsible for the growth in markets in South Asia, the Middle East and North African countries from Nepal to Egypt. Following my tenure at CIMA, I was appointed by the Cabinet as the Chief Operating Officer of the Public Private Partnership Unit under the Ministry of Finance. At the time, the unit was dissolved due to ministerial changes although we had US$ 5.6Bn investment projects in progress. I then set up an Executive development company called ‘The Business Athletes’. In mid-2017, I was invited to join the Board of IIHE as the Executive Director/ CEO. Moreover, I’m a Keynote Speaker who has presented papers in Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Egypt, a Podcaster and an Author.”

IIHE is a higher educational institute with 24 years of providing business relevant graduates and MBAs in the national corporate arena. As an educational institute that is conscious of the future trends, IIHE had made a swift move to the virtual learning environment before the pandemic, and hence the lock downs haven’t affected the institute or its students.

Speaking of the Sri Lankan educational system, Bradley emphasised the need for a change in the traditional knowledge filling educational system as knowledge is now readily available due to the easy and fast access to the internet. “Decades ago, before the advent and access to the internet, education was to provide knowledge. Hence, we had a system where we filled the minds and checked if what was taught was remembered and to some extent able to apply – this is currently happening up to the Advanced Level exam. Except for Engineering and Medicine, other faculties too filled the minds. This is what the British did across all Commonwealth nations, and many are still following the same model.

“In this day and age, education needs to provide skills and develop attitudes as knowledge is available at our fingertips. Even reputed and leading organisations like Google hires employees based on skills and attitudes as knowledge can be found. In that context, our education needs to leap to change what we teach, how we teach and how we assess.  Until we change, we will continue to produce people irrelevant to businesses and probably run the institutions in the antique manner to fit in what the education system is producing. For instance, Germany, Finland and Singapore have done away with exams up to Advanced Level by moving to experiential learning, enhancing skills such as problem solving, design thinking and collaborative skills. People who go through such a process will be agile and adaptive and relevant to the future. Education must be ‘future-focused’.”

Expounding the importance of selecting the correct path and the right institute to pursue one’s higher education, the CEO stated five fundamental questions one must ask himself/ herself as it’s an investment of money and time. They are:

1) Why do I need this?

2) Who is the awarding body?

3) What is the profile of the faculty who delivers the lecture?

4) How relevant is the module structure and content?

5) How is the learning outcome assessed?

He continued: “We at the time of recruitment, consciously try to find out why the prospect is looking for wider education. IIHE has partnered with a Royal Chartered University – the University of Wales Trinity St. David (UWTSD) which is the third oldest university after Oxford and Cambridge. UWTSD will celebrate 200 years in education in 2022. The curriculum is validated, which means it is structured to suit the global business and not UK centric. The faculty members we have chosen are from the industry, who have excelled in their chosen fields. UWTSD assesses applied knowledge through assignments which are current in context and not memory through exams. We understand that knowledge gained through wider education is only as good as its application. Our students transform in their thinking and approach during the course.”

The establishment of private universities for Medicine in Sri Lanka has been a topic of discussion. According to Bradley, private investment into education should be allowed as the state isn’t able to provide an opportunity to everybody. “Sri Lanka’s national contribution to education is around 2% of the GDP of US$ 89Bn. This has been the contribution for the past 40 years or so, while what is demanded from education has leaped. Countries like Cuba and Chile contribute around 6% of much bigger GDP to education. Let’s look at the number here. Out of the 600,000 children who sit for the Ordinary Level exam, only 30,000, which is 5%, get an opportunity to enter universities. This is because of the limitation of capacity. The solution I see is to allow private investment into education. Even powerful agencies like NASA are partnering with TESLA to pursue its agenda.

“As per data in 2018, there’s a ratio of one physician per 1,000 people in Sri Lanka. This could be acceptable at the moment. I’m for the view that this ought to improve simply for social and economic welfare purposes. Sri Lanka should have more universities not only for Medicine but also for Nursing and Health Care, and open it to the region. More opportunities we create for wider learning is better for the economic health of our country. The West is aging, so is Sri Lanka. There will be a short supply of Health Care officials. We can witness the demand the COVID-19 has suddenly created for Health Care workers. Sri Lanka can export this category of skill.”

Expressing his views on the contribution of the Higher Education industry to the Sri Lankan economy, the industry expert said, “Nearly 60% of our GDP is contributed by the Service sector. The Industrial sector contributes around 28%, Agriculture contributes about 8%, and Fisheries contributes about 1% despite us being an island nation. We need to look at the main contributors to the economy and ensure higher education is designed to improve the Service, Industrial, Agriculture and Fisheries sectors. I’m not confident if our education is focused on the economic drivers. Education is not about passing out graduates, it needs to be connected to the economic potential of a nation. Otherwise what is the return on the investment made in free education?”

Furthermore, Bradley stated that employability is the proof of any education system and the time spent in education and knowledge imparted need not be thought as it is openly available, therefore, what needs to be thought is the cognitive ability – the ability to draw insights and apply the same. If knowledge is information, wisdom is the understanding and application of that knowledge, and insight is the awareness of the underlying essence of wider learning today.

“Sri Lanka is the centre point to three highly populated countries (total of nearly 2Bn) where nearly 50% of the population is below the age of 25. This gives an opportunity not only to IIHE but to all educational institutes in Sri Lanka to make Sri Lanka a hub for wider education,” Bradley concluded confidently.

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