A few months ago I visited a prestigious university in Islamabad. As someone who has not studied at a Pakistani university, I wanted to explore what students really got out of their undergraduate experiences in Pakistan. I talked to about a dozen students and asked each of them a simple question, “what is the last book you have read?”The reason for this was to understand what truly intrigues these students. Not what they are studying in school, but how they are developing their worldview.The problem with Pakistan’s education system goes far beyond the monetary. It has to do with a culture of learning that we have spectacularly failed to developEvery one of them initially answered with a name of a curriculum related textbook. When I clarified that I was asking about anything other than a textbook, the blank looks on their faces showed they had not read anything outside of the curriculum. In the race for numbers, we have lost what education really means for university students.Since the creation of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan has seen an undeniable rise in university graduates and university campuses nationwide. There is little doubt that there has been a quantitative improvement in access to high education in Pakistan. However, global rankings, employee surveys and youth unemployment depict a grim picture of the graduates of these universities. For Pakistan’s elite, the solution has been simple, to send their children to foreign universities. The less privileged have had to rely on extremely competitive foreign-funded scholarships or make the best out of substandard local universities.Universities, like most things, cannot be separated from the economy. The majority of the resources Pakistan spends on education is channelled through the HEC?—?about Rs.71 billion ($700 million) in 2016. For comparison, that is less than half the budget of Lahore’s new orange train. The problem goes far beyond money. It has to do with the culture of learning Pakistan has spectacularly failed to develop. This is not about creating some liberal utopia in Pakistan, it is about giving them the right skills they need to compete in an increasingly globalised world.For this, universities in Pakistan need to build a broad liberal arts-based and knowledge driven learning experience.Most employers complain of the inability of new graduates to write and speak properly, let alone manage complex projects which go beyond the inquiry of their university textbooks. In most cases, the methods these graduates learned inclassrooms will become out-dated within a few years.The American liberal arts education model can serve as the solution. This model has for generations developed leaders with critical thinking, and even today, most of the world’s top universities follow this model to some extent.In his 2015 book In Defence of a Liberal Education journalist Fareed Zakaria perfectly writes;“the central virtue of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to write, and writing makes you think. Whatever you do in life, the ability to write clearly, cleanly, and reasonably quickly will prove to be an invaluable skill.”Pakistan has unfortunately not focused on knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Wasif Rizvi, the president of Pakistan’s first liberal arts college—Habib University, blames the “vocational roots”of most Pakistani universities as the source of this limited outlook.Habib University, which will graduate its first class next year, is attempting to bring the American liberal arts model to Pakistan which will focus on the process of “structured intellectual reflection” as Wasif puts it.This kind of engagement with one’s environment is a critical feature of a liberal arts education, and this engagement will go a long way in creating the “culture of learning “Pakistan needs to develop to progress. This culture needs to go beyond universities, but universities need to lead from the front in developing this culture.In the larger scheme of things, today’s students will become tomorrow’s parents. It will be their prerogative to decide what kind of learning their children are exposed to. If the parents themselves don’t have the skills to think for themselves, it will be unlikely that they will expose their kids to such broad and critical knowledge.On the economic front, technological innovation will make many of the jobs they train for in universities today redundant in the next decade.Universities are meant to be the engines of social progress. We need to think carefully about the fate of half a million graduates these universities pump into the labour force every year. Just imagine, a student decides at 16 that he wants to become an engineer, studies those subjects, appears in an entrance test, and spends the next four years studying (often rote learning) an engineering discipline.But when he graduates, he will not only be just an engineer. He will also be a citizen, a voter, a parent, and an observer of current affairs. His inability to understand all of this will be a liability. A liability which society will have to pay for. The writer is a policy blogger who runs millennial.pk. He tweets @ShahrukhWani Published in Daily Times, July 19th , 2017.