12 December 2018
Students should have always an open mind and be willing to take risks when they pursue higher education, says Waterloo University's Feridun Hamdullahpur. Photo: EJ Insight
Students should have always an open mind and be willing to take risks when they pursue higher education, says Waterloo University's Feridun Hamdullahpur. Photo: EJ Insight

What a Canadian university looks for in its students

University students should learn to think out of the box and also draw quick lessons from failure as the world is changing fast and opening up new opportunities for creative talents, a Canadian university chief says.

“We want students to be able to take risks, challenge their professors and question the answers on textbooks,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo.

“If you are going to take a risk of failing an examination because you are challenging the well-known status quo on textbooks and you fail, it is perfectly alright,” Hamdullahpur told EJ Insight.

“We want students to learn from their failure. If there is no risk, there is no reward.”

Students should be well-connected to the world and have the ability to adapt to the changes outside, said the boss of the Ontario-based university.

The world is facing many different challenges, and it’s difficult to envisage what it will look like 50 years from now, Hamdullahpur said.

He said he is glad that he had chosen to leave Turkey, his home country, and opted to study overseas — in Canada.

When he was in Turkey, all his needs were taken care of by others, Hamdullahpur said, noting that he didn’t even know how to iron a shirt until he went to college.

“If students want to live in a comfort zone, just stay home,” says the university chief, who believes he has been able to contribute to his home country better by studying abroad.

Parents’ expectations

Many parents believe nowadays that if their children have to get a university degree and a well-paid job, they should first get the kids enrolled in a well-known kindergarten or primary school. Hamdullahpur says such thinking doesn’t work any more as the world keeps changing.

“Many parents are expecting their children to follow a certain pathway,” he notes. “It is not for the children but for making the parents feel more comfortable.”

Children can make different choices if they have the necessary freedom, Hamdullahpur says, pointing out that academic pursuits are all about life, happiness and achievement.

The University of Waterloo, for instance, has seen many year-one students drop out from finance and accounting courses after earlier being forced into the streams by their parents, he said.

“I have a son who studied law and said ‘I hate law’,” said Hamdullahpur. 

The university chief pointed out that Pebble Technology Corp. founder Eric Migicovsky, a graduate of the University of Waterloo, did not attend any well-known kindergarten while he was a toddler.

“Eric had no money when he came to the college but he invented a smartwatch earlier than Apple.”

He said students who have a mindset of “study a book and get pass marks” are not encouraged to enter the University of Waterloo, which has been offering co-operative (Co-op) education programs to students since its establishment in 1957.

Co-op programs

The University of Waterloo operates the largest post secondary Co-op program of its kind in the world. More than 19,800 Co-op students enrolled over three semesters in over 120 programs. About 6,700 employers hire Waterloo co-op students, according to the university.

Shabnam Ivkovic, manager, international employment, Co-operative Education & Career Action, University of Waterloo, said Co-Op students could work in up to five to six companies during their college period.

The program is different from an internship program as employers are required to treat the students as full-time employees, she points out.

Students may have to forego summer holidays but they will gain a lot due to the work experience. When they graduate, they become outstanding candidates in the job market, Hamdullahpur says.

Graduates will also have the ability to start their own businesses as they have worked in different companies. Another positive is that the pupils can clear student loans with the money they make while working with firms during the Co-op program.

International students

Hamdullahpur, who visited Hong Kong this week, said the university welcomes more mainland Chinese pupils as employers who have business dealings with Chinese firms may prefer such students.

However, the University of Waterloo would prefer to be selective when granting admission to mainland Chinese students.

“We want them to come with better language skills and truly integrate into the university environment,” Hamdullahpur says.

He said he has noticed that mainland Chinese students often tend to live, work and play together, moving within their own community.

The Canadian university provides a special English course for students who are academically very strong but lack sufficient English-language competency.

Hong Kong students are different as they have no language issue and can integrate into the university community, Hamdullahpur says.

In other remarks, he said that he’s found that many Hong Kong and mainland Chinese students participate in symphony orchestra activities and that they perform very well.

It is a good sign as it shows that the students do not want to confine themselves to mere academic work, the university chief noted.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Chief reporter at EJ Insight

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe