IACCGH Shell Distinguished Lecture Series – UH Under Khator: Securing a Niche in Present and Future


From left: Dacun Li, Ken Coon, Mubarik Choudry, Dr. Renu Khator, Joya Shukla, and Sudini Padmasiri. Photo: Bijay Dixit

By Pramod Kulkarni
HOUSTON: The higher education sector, in general, and the University of Houston, in particular, is undergoing a tremendous tranformation lately through the influence of the Internet and ethnic diversity of urban centers.
University of Houston Chancellor and President Renu Khator examined how the university system is coping with changes by creating a value niche in the present as well as the future at the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH) Shell Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, March 4.
IACCGH Executive Director Jagdeep Ahluwalia welcomed the audience and distinguished guests, which included representatives of the American Leadership Forum (ALF) and the Colombian Chamber of Commerce.
Newly installed IACCGH President Sanjay Rambhadran introduced Dr. Khator as a leading member of the IACCGH board of advisors, first Indian American to lead a major research university in the United States, and member of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Global Advisory Council.
After she was appointed as UH Chancellor, Dr. Khator’s first goal was to create a niche for the university in the present tense. She was surprised to find that despite Houston being the energy capital of the world, UH did not have a petroleum enginnering curriculum.
“We now have 600 students in the petroleum engineering program and we’ve started the first subsea engineering degree program that has 200 students taking courses online,” Dr. Khator proclaimed with pride.
The second problem that Khator surmounted was that of a low graduation rate. “I told the UH faculty that I was ashamed to be the chancellor of a university that had a graduation rate of only 39%. Now ,the graduation rate has reached 50%, but we can have no excuses until the graduation rate reaches 60%,” Dr. Khator affirmed.
In view of the world class medical center in Houston, Dr. Khator established two new dual-degree programs that will put UH undergraduates on a fast track to becoming physicians. Partnering with The UT and UTMB will allow entering students to earn credit hours toward both a BS degree from UH and an MD in seven years instead of the usual eight.
Dr. Khator’s other value-adding achievements include creating the leading America’s entrepreneurship program and establishing an Office of Technology Transfer to increase earnings from technology licenses from $600K seven years ago to $17 million in 2013
In terms of the future, Dr. Khator talked about making the university relevant to her 2.5-year-old grandson, Kai, who has learned, on his own, to call her on Facetime. “We cannot educate tomorrow’s students with yesterday’s technology,” she asserted. “How can we capture Kai’s attention and cultivate his imagination?”
Dr. Khator mentioned three transformative trends in higher education:
1. The current financial model is not sustainable because state funding is diminishing. “We have to accomplish a public mission with restricted public funding in a publicly accountable manner,” she lamented.
2. Disruptive technologies such as Wikipedia, Google search and free online courses. She said, however, that it is universities that are providing credentials and creating a collaborative environment for young people to experiment with their life.
3. Survival of the fittest. For 800 years, universities have survived by reshaping their agenda. Of the 4,600 universities, only half will survive. “UH will survive only if we can create a niche, something of value that the students cannot get online.”
Dr. Khator thought it may be possible that in the future, the professors could be retail providers of education, just as you can now buy songs on iTunes.
“There will be tremendous opportunities for Kai, but I’m worried about myself,” Dr. Khator admitted.
With such actute awareness of the present and the future, there’s no doubt that both Dr. Khator and UH will carve out a niche at the top of the educational arena of the future, whatever that might be.