Brilliant Basics Edition Podcasts
Dr. Harin Sellahewa on the Future of Education
Dr. Harin Sellahewa, Dean of School of Computing, Reader in Computer Science at the University of Buckingham, discusses education and its future. The discussion covers the impact of COVID-19 on universities, the need for reskilling, and collaboration between enterprises and universities.
Hosted by Anand Verma, European Head of Digital Services for Infosys and Founder & CEO of Brilliant Basics, Infosys’ Design Studios.
“Universities have this fantastic repository, an ocean-worth of expertize. Enterprises, they don't necessarily have that level of expertize but they know what needs to be done. And that's where I believe that marriage needs to happen, so that you tap into that vast knowledge of universities, made the transfer, wire the enterprises, and you jointly come up with solutions to some of the biggest problems that we have.”
- Dr. Harin Sellahewa
Harin shares his thoughts on what's Covid-19 is doing in the world of education.
Harin shares his background.
How have things changed in last seven, eight weeks?
Students today ask: "Why would I pay the money to go into university and not have the student experience?" What’s Harin’s guidance to the students listening to this podcast about what they should be thinking about and doing?
Harin shares his thoughts on whether traditional universities and higher education institutions will have to evolve to operate in more of a hybrid model, digital and physical.
Harin shares his thoughts on what higher education will be actually doing going forward. He shares his thoughts on the type of stuff that will be teaching - will it be different to the type of stuff that was teaching before?
Anand and Harin talk about enterprise and university partnership and entrepreneurship.
Education 4.0. Has Harin seen this change happening in his own role and within university already?
Harin talks about the misconceptions that he sees and opportunities that this misconception, or lack of, provides professors to also grow in their own learning journey.
With regards to the enterprise and university partnership, what does Harin think that both enterprise and a university need to do to inculcate more of that? Because that can only create more opportunities, both for enterprises and of course for universities to extract good learning.
Anand and Harin talk about global problems and how universities, and for that matter, technology, can solve some of the basic problems, and how to inculcate that into the academic programs.
Harin shares his favourite book.
How can people find Harin online?
Music by Ruhan Verma, 13-year-old upcoming Drummer and Producer
Anand Verma: This is a time of intense change. The world has turned upside down. And the world has learned to live with the new reality, the new normal, but the life must go on in all sectors and all fields. In addition, human beings are incredibly adaptable, as we all know, and we have faced this challenge in last 70, 80 days, and we have adapted to it. We have shown this in all kinds of fields, including education, for all kinds of age groups.
Anand Verma: We are defining new ways of providing and consuming education. Covid-19 is pushing the digital agenda for education faster than ever before. That's exactly what we're going to be talking about today. Harin, welcome to the podcast. Any thoughts on what's Covid-19 is doing in the world of education from your perspective?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Hi, Anand. First of all, it's a real pleasure to join you today. Covid-19 has done a lot to the world of education. It has accelerated some of the changes that we thought we need to make, and it also has demonstrated that actually we can make those changes as well.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Education, and particularly high education, is very traditional. Not many organizations like change, particularly the well-established, big universities. But Covid has brought us this change, and whether we like it or not, we have to change, and I think this will change the course of future as well. Not necessarily everything. There are lots of good things that we are doing right now. And I think during the course of this discussion, we'll be exploring some of these changes.
Anand Verma: Welcome to the Knowledge Institute podcast, the Brilliant Basics Edition, where we talk about digital disruption, design and future work. The topic today is an exciting one. We're going to talk about the future of education. I'm Anand Verma, European head of digital services at Infosys and founder and CEO of Brilliant Basics. We're here with Dr. Harin Sellahewa, dean of School of Computing at University of Buckingham, and he's also a reader in computer science at the university. Harin, thanks for joining us today.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Anand, it's my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on this podcast.
Anand Verma: You're most welcome. Before we talk about the two big topics, right, which is ... one is the education generally and your journey has been pretty phenomenal from a student at the university and becoming a dean at the same university, which I'm absolutely delighted about and proud of as well. We're going to talk about two topics. One is education and the future of education, and especially with the Covid-19 situation, how that's changing the role of education and the way education is getting delivered to all kinds of age group and people.
Anand Verma: And the second topic, which is very close my heart and our hearts, I would say, and we've talked a lot in the past, is this entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship with a lens of education on it, right? How does enterprise and university collaborate together and create new things that was impossible before?
Anand Verma: But before we do so, Harin, the listeners would love to hear more about you, where are you from, what's your background, a little bit of backstory about you?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: I'm from Sri Lanka. I grew up in Sri Lanka, did my tertiary education there up to my Advanced Levels. I studied maths, physics, chemistry. I always loved computing. I think from a teenager I always wanted to be a software engineer. I believe one of my uncles who lives in UK had huge influence on me. When he used to come to Sri Lanka on holidays, he would bring computers. I forget the name, but they had a little tape. You had to put the tape in, take a book, write your basic codes and so on, and you'd get a game. So that's where I started.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And after my A Levels, I always wanted to go abroad to do my higher studies and I thought I would come to UK, finish my degree, work a couple of years and return to Sri Lanka, be a software engineer. But as it always does, life has a different path.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: I came to Buckingham, did my two year degree, and when I was coming towards the end of my degree, my project supervisor, Professor Sabah Jassim, he offered me a full scholarship to do a PhD, and I very happily took on that offer. And my PhD was in biometrics, face biometrics on mobile devices. Finished that. I got a chance to work on an EU-funded project. Just over 10 ... Well, now 13 years ago, I came back to Buckingham, initially as a researcher, then lecturer and various roles, and now I'm the dean of the School. So that's the journey.
Anand Verma: That's absolutely phenomenal. And congratulations for achieving everything that you've achieved. And we met a few months ago, talking about a collaboration. And before we do so about that part, Harin, we are facing ... like I started the whole podcast with, we're facing unprecedented challenges. At the same time, opportunities as well. With regards to Covid-19, how have the things changed from your perspective, being an academic, being somebody who was also a student back in the day? You can understand from both perspectives, so the audience will love to hear about how have things changed in last seven, eight weeks?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So at Buckingham, we are really about small group teaching and having that personal one-to-one conversation. So when Covid-19 happened, mid-March when we were told, "Well, that's it." We had to all stay at home. Essentially we had two weeks to transform our normal face-to-face teaching model to online. And not just online, all staff members, everybody has to be working from home as well.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Luckily those two weeks were right in the middle of our two weeks break, so no teaching, so we had time to prepare ourselves. And also quite luckily we had some of the tools already in place. So we were using Microsoft Teams within the university. So it was a case of learning all the features and how do we make sure that we continue to offer the same small group, that close one-to-one support and engagement with our students?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So those two week period was really interesting. We had regular meetings with my team. And also at the senior exec level, we discussed how we planned for this remote learning. We had flexibility in different schools in terms of what tools, technologies to use. It was a trial period for all of us. Yeah, and we managed to get through.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: It created some opportunities as well, things we couldn't do before. So interestingly, for example, all of our online, live, synchronous lecture, we are able to record them. In our normal way, it's a face-to-face delivery. We don't get a chance to record lectures. And being able to record a lecture means our students can go back and watch them in their own convenient time.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: We were able to use online quizzes to regularly quiz students and make sure that they understand the work that they have been doing. And also from a staff perspective, I found that we got together more often than when we were in the physical building. So we have virtual tea, virtual coffee. We still have a Friday, our virtual get together at the virtual bar. And now everybody comes, whereas before not everybody could join these sessions. They had to go home, their families and whatnot.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So yeah. It was exciting times. Many, many challenges as well, and I'm happy to look at some of those things as well.
Anand Verma: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we are seeing the same in our studios and offices as well. There's much more frequent camaraderie to come together as a team over both formal and informal setting like you're describing, and it's good to hear that team of teachers also have fun when students are not looking.
Anand Verma: Now talking about an important aspect, I was watching the BBC News last night and they were interviewing some students from an university about some students are deferring their program to next year. They're saying, "Why would I pay the money to go into university and not have the student experience?" So especially because Buckingham runs in a slightly different way than some of the other universities, what do you think will happen? And also, what's your guidance to the students listening to this podcast about what they should be thinking about and doing?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: First of all, I have to declare my conflict of interest just in case, if anybody missed the start, I'm a dean of a school, and for us it's important that students do start the programs whether in our coming September start, or Buckingham has a January start as well. So there's a conflict of interests I must declare.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: This is something I've given a lot of thought, and it's important for students to look at the broader picture. It's not about, should we go to university in September and maybe do some courses online, or should we defer next year? The broader picture is that thousands have lost jobs already, so they are likely to be in the front of the queue when recruitment picks up again, whether it is later in the year or next year, or even year after. And then there is the group of graduates, hundreds of thousand of graduates who are finishing about now or in a couple of months. They will be looking for jobs, and they have to compete with those who have sadly lost their jobs. It's a difficult time for those graduating.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And same way, we have 2021 graduates entering the job market next year. So in other words, those who are looking to start in September, they are going to be in a situation where, when they enter the job market, there will be a big competition, and those who already have experience as well. So that's the kind of thing they have to think about.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And also, if somebody deferred, what are the option? It's unlikely that you could travel the world in the current circumstances. Normally you could take a gap year, travel and that's sometimes is a really good thing. But in today's environment, those opportunities are unlikely to be available. And not just travel abroad but also look job opportunities abroad, because every country has the same problem.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So again, I'm not going to say straight away, "Take up the opportunity to upskill, reskill, at a time when it's going to be very difficult to secure a job." And my advice in general, upskill and reskill. Whether you go to university to do that or do that in other ways, this is a time that you should think about. And be prepared, so when the job market picks up again, you are in front of the queue.
Anand Verma: That's really well described. And I think what is really interesting, and at least at Brilliant Basics Infosys, we always talk about lifelong learning. We talk about learn to learn, learn to unlearn and learn to relearn. And I think what you're describing is really an important lesson actually, because you can't go anywhere. Everything is locked down. So why not take the opportunity to use this time to learn?
Anand Verma: And that brings me to the next point. In terms of the traditional higher educational institution, and I know that you're representing the University of Buckingham as a dean, so I understand the conflict of interest part, but I'm also keen to hear your views as an individual. Do you think that traditional universities and higher education institutions will survive to be in the bricks and mortar world, or they have to evolve to operate in more of a hybrid model, if I may, digital and physical? I'm sure this is a topic that you're discussing internally with your teams, but love to hear your thoughts on how you're thinking about the future.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So if you look at the context before Covid, HE sector has been under huge pressure, whether it is on VC pay, value for money, student satisfaction and so on. So therefore universities have had to change before Covid. What Covid has done is it has accelerated the need for change. It has also shown that technology is capable and ready to make that change. You know when nearly 10 years ago when the first MOOC was introduced on AI by the team at Stanford, there's a big thing about MOOCs and everybody thought that's going to be the end of brick and mortar university.
Anand Verma: Sorry to interject, describe MOOCs for our audience, please? What is-
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Yeah, MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. They're kind of bite-sized courses, but they've now expanded into Nanodegrees. You have a collection of MOOCs together, you get a small degree. Of course, that really hasn't put any universities out of business or nobody has closed down because of MOOCs. But it's not about closing down. It's about a new business model for universities. And I think the hybrid approach where you continue your face-to-face delivery, plus adding the online approach.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So Covid has shown all staff members ... And I know some staff are, for a variety of reasons, are not necessarily keen on the use of technology, online learning. Maybe because we felt it's not possible, it's not effective, but Covid has shown that yes, you can do it. So I do feel that the universities have an opportunity to expand their face-to-face offering.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And I see what I would call like a cloud type of a university offering where it's flexible, it's elastic in the sense if I start a course with a small number of students, I don't have to recruit lots of staff. I can recruit staff from anywhere in the world as a visiting lecturer and they can deliver a module. It is almost like a pay-as-you-go type thing.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: At the moment, if I need a visiting lecturer, I have to rely on somebody from UK and even nearby to Buckingham to come and deliver. I don't have to do that anymore if I have an online. My students are online. My lecturers can be online. And when I want to expand, I get more. If I want to shrink, I don't have to worry about having large pool of permanent staff.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So again, in short, we are seeing a move towards the hybrid model. Keep the best of face-to-face, because I don't think you can remove the face-to-face element. Because there's so much more that we learn from each other just by having a chat over a coffee, or even after we finished the lecture, we are going out and stopping and have a conversation, and you can't do that remotely.
Anand Verma: I love the word "elastic", and I think the whole flexibility part becomes easier. I think people who gave up learning because they had to be at a university, they all start to come into be the new consumers of learning as well. So this should only create more opportunities. I like this whole concept of hybrid model as well. And I guess Buckingham, given its size and strength, this should only provide more opportunity to use the flexibility of Buckingham to tap into the new horizons.
Anand Verma: I also like this quote from Jeff Weiner, who's the CEO of LinkedIn, and he said that, "Talent is distributed equally while the opportunities are not," right? And what I really like about that is what you're saying. The next professors, the next academics, can come from various places that wasn't possible before, they'll come into a university as well. So that is really well said, Harin, and thank you for sharing that.
Anand Verma: And it brings me to next point which is, do you think the role of higher education will change? I know talked about MOOCs, you talked about nano components of the degree. What do you think higher education will be actually doing going forward? Do you think the type of stuff that will be taught will be different to the type of stuff that were taught before?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So earlier I mentioned that higher education was under pressure in terms of finances, value for money. But Covid has also shown that higher education has a big role to play in society. Whether it is about the research that we do in finding vaccines or understanding social lives and people behavior and so on.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So my hope is that [inaudible 00:17:40] will focus on doing things that are beneficial for the society. It's not just about the education, but how could this education transform society? If you look at what's happening today, if you take fake news, for an example, how do people know that what's fake and what's not? Education is so important today to make sure that we understand, we are able to distinguish between the right and wrong.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So universities should focus a lot more than just teaching and offering degrees, but say, "How can our society become better? How could we liberate society so that everybody is achieving their full potential and they understand what's going around in the world?"
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So yes, of course providing education, doing research is important, but I think impact of that should be far greater than what it is now.
Anand Verma: 100%. And the other thing that we'll talk a little bit more about is how education is this driving force between countries' economies, countries' socioeconomic fabric, the culture, the modernization of education. We'll talk more about that in a second. It's not about solving problems and creating advanced skills. It's about entrepreneurship. It's about capacity to create things that was impossible before.
Anand Verma: Stay with us. Once again, you're listening to the Knowledge Institute, the Brilliant Basics Edition where we talked about the future of education. We are here with Harin, dean of School of Computing, reader in computer science at the University of Buckingham. Harin, thanks for being with us today.
Anand Verma: Let's kind of shift gear and talk about an exciting topic that I'm really passionate about and so are you, which is enterprise and university partnership, entrepreneurship, and the changing impact of technology into education, which is an area that you covered quite well. And one of those areas is what you call is education 4.0, right? And we have heard about Industry 4.0 from World Economic Forum. We've heard about how entrepreneurship education aids student with a different kind of skillset that wasn't possible before. At least when I was at University of Buckingham, I didn't get what the students can get today, for example, so I'm excited about arming them with that. But let's hear from you, what do you mean by education 4.0?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Of course I have to mention our vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon who's a thought leader in this area on education 4.0. If you look at the current model, we are essentially pretty much like a factory type model, whether it is higher education or school education. Large classes, all students are learning at the same pace in the same way. You're manufacturing students and graduate. That's kind of where it is.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: But the reality is that we enter education system at different levels. We learn things in different ways, and our interests are different. So education 4.0 is about ensuring that each learner has their own personalized learning journey, recognizing that we are different. So how can we make sure that there's a different way of learning based on your preferences, based on the way you understand? Some understand something faster than others and so on.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: It's also about how can we free up the teachers, the lecturers, their time from doing things that are not directly contributing to the students' learning, so that they can spend more time with the individual student? So that's really about education 4.0. So it's about the use of immersive technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality. It's about the use of artificial intelligence for adaptive learning. It's about the use of data science for predicting students' outcomes and so on. Yeah.
Anand Verma: World is becoming really a database of searchable knowledge, right, at our fingertips? What used to be reams and [inaudible 00:22:12] books that we used to read and write about. In terms of things like handwriting, the rules of spelling and grammar, foreign languages, almost everything that could be automated with technology has been automated and will be automated, right? So the skills that you teach in future, your point about education 4.0, is about very different kind of things that you teach, right? And like you said, your teachers and professors becoming free to teach other kind of stuff.
Anand Verma: Also I think university's role in defining the learning journey to be useful when the students join their first job, which you and I have talked a lot about, in terms of, do they have the ability to operate in a productive way on day one? Universities have a role to play in that journey as well. So my question to you is, have you seen this change happening in your own role and within university already?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Yeah. So we try to embed those employability skills and work-ready skills. It's a difficult balance for the university to make sure that they have all the academic knowledge and those competencies. And at the same time, ensure that day one, they are ready for the work environment. There's no doubt that the work environment changes at a much faster pace, particularly in computing technology, than it is at a university level.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So what we do is we try to provide students with work experience opportunities, ensure that our curriculum receives expertize and guidance from industry experts through industry advice or reports. And we make sure our students get to solve real-life problems through hackathons and so on. These are coming from [inaudible 00:24:06], solving challenging problems.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And just in a more broader sense, we're talking about the technology, what we need to learn today are different than what we used to learn 10, 20, 30 years ago. Those days, we had to learn everything and the machines did some of the physical work. But nowadays, machines can do a lot of knowledge-related things. You can ask Google or Alexa, ask the question, they answer. So we are coming together now, our capabilities, human and the machine.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And you can see that the humans will move ahead of us in terms of knowledge and some of the physical things that they can do. They will do better than us. So then the question is, in the future, what do we have to teach our students?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And I think here the more human quality, human attributes, are going to be more important. So things like emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, kindness. These are the things that will differentiate humans versus the machines that we'll have in the future. Because there'll come a point that we won't be able to compete with machines in certain aspects, but machines will not be able to understand your client, your customer the way a human being can understand. Understand your customers, what do they like, what sports teams do they like, what is their family like, their son and daughter? Do they play cricket or the daughter likes football? And it's important to have that understanding when we're dealing with people, and machines are not going to be there for quite a long time.
Anand Verma: That's a fantastic way of wrapping that point because I also think, to just paraphrase what you said, it's not just about remembering a lesson, it's about learning how to solve problems. And I think because one is getting from A to B, other one is transferrable skill, A to B to C to D. And I think that's what the bigger change that education 4.0 and the vice-chancellor is also promoting that in a big way. Which means that the role of teachers and professors and academics will also evolve. They need to learn themselves about new things that they're not used to, and we have seen that evolving as well.
Anand Verma: What are some of the misconceptions or opportunities that university like yours, first of all, have, because students are still trying to relate to a university in the choice process, right? I really enjoyed University of Buckingham experience. A small, tight course, I was on a scholarship just like you and I was very lucky to be part of that journey. But with regards to the professors, thinking about their own growth, it's an important area. It's not just about students learning, it's about professors and academics learning as well.
Anand Verma: So let's talk about two parts. One is the misconceptions that you see and the second is opportunities that this misconception, or lack of, provides professors to also grow in their own learning journey?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So first of all, there's a misconception that the students, or the younger generation, is well ahead of technology than the lecturers, the professors and so on. So we always say, "Well, students will know everything so why are we worried about ..." But that's not the case, because students are not just a particular generation, and students don't necessarily come from one particular country or in one particular city.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So in some cases, they may have their own laptop, their PC, tablet, smartphone. But in other cases, they may not necessarily have all of those things. Different countries, their education system is different. So even students at the same young age, their skillset, their exposure to technology is different.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And more broadly, you mentioned lifelong learners, that means we are all students no matter which age we are. And at this particular time, we are expecting mature students who return to university to upskill, reskill, and their background is different. So that's one mis-notion, to assume that every student will come to the university at the same level of use of technology and so on.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Now, then you have academics. Generally known to be not so good with technology or keeping up with technology. And you saw earlier how my younger brother sorted out my headphone and everything and I had to wait for him to do the stuff for me.
Anand Verma: That's called active surrendering.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: But I was so amazed and really proud of my team for the way we all supported each other and how we learn to use this technology to do remote learning, online teaching, in just two weeks. I know some of my colleagues, they get scared in having to operate a smartphone or some new software. But we all got together, supported each other and learned some of these new things. So sometimes circumstances make us do things that normally we wouldn't want to do. And I think if there's a will and if there's a recognition that we have to adapt and we have to adapt fast, or basically we can perish, people will make those changes.
Anand Verma: Yeah. And I think you're right. I think with the necessity comes innovation as well, right? And I think that also creates opportunities for all kinds of things. And with regards to talking about the future, and you're in a very exciting field with computer science and you're ahead of technology and the areas like you said around computer vision, immersive learning and things like that, it's a really bleeding edge areas. With regards to the enterprise and university partnership, Harin, and I know that you're already kind of driving that forward with a number of enterprise partners, what do you think that both enterprise and a university need to do to inculcate more of that? Because that can only create more opportunities, both for enterprises and of course for universities to extract good learning.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: First I want to mention something I forgot earlier when we talked about should students go to university now or defer. Another thing they might want to consider is about being innovative and entrepreneurial, because this is a time there are so many opportunities. If you want to start up something, fantastic. There are so many problems out there that need solutions. So if you are taking a break or if you're one of those thousands of people who unfortunately lost your job, you could come up with innovative solutions and transform society. So that's just something I wanted to mention.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Now, universities are fantastic a knowledge base. There's so much expertize within universities. However, what we tend to lack is a good understanding of some of the opportunities or the real-life problems that are out there, and that's where the enterprises come in. Because enterprises always think about, what's the next big challenge that we need to solve in real-life? Not theory, not on paper, not write a research paper. And what are the new opportunities? Where is the next market opportunity? So that's the difference.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Universities have this fantastic repository, an ocean-worth of expertize. Enterprises, they don't necessarily have that level of expertize but they know what needs to be done. And that's where I believe that marriage needs to happen, so that you tap into that vast knowledge of universities, made the transfer, wire the enterprises, and you jointly come up with solutions to some of the biggest problems that we have. So that's something that we can done individually.
Anand Verma: And do you think the curriculums will live on because of that?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Definitely. So we are already embedding entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking within our curriculum. Even within computing, which is why I've dedicated modules on entrepreneurship. Or we have start-up weekends where students have to come with a solution to a real-life problem. And not just a solution, but to talk about or think about how are they going to actually commercialize this? So they have to think about that, have the start-up mentality. And even if they don't start up something of their own, they need to have a good commercial awareness.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Because tech companies of decades ago are no longer there. They're not thinking the same way. Every tech company is being entrepreneurial all the time. So when graduates go join such a company, they have to think about, how could I contribute to the commercial side of the organization?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Today's software developers are not going to be sitting in a basement or an attic and just write code. Their role is very different. So we embed entrepreneurship by having guest speakers from industry, having industry-sponsored hackathons where you have to even work with students in the Business School, in a team, and think about your technical solution, how am I going to take this into a market? How do I commercialize this thing? How do I grow this as a company?
Anand Verma: Absolutely. And I think what is really exciting is that it feels like a partnership, right? And I think that's a key word. I think it's also the opportunity to be fast in approaches, try new things. I love this concept of a hackathon with the enterprise partnership. You're solving real, practical problems.
Anand Verma: I also think that the curriculum that I had at university, without giving away my age, 24, 25 years ago, and the curriculum that we are seeing now, even core curriculums, is just incredibly diverse. I like this word that you used, "commercial awareness" or commercial maturity in doing something technical is so important in making it viable, making it visible, making it desirable. So I think that's a really exciting progress with regards to that partnership.
Anand Verma: Which brings me to the point that we were discussing yesterday, which is, some of those technologies also should some of the human's basic problems in the world that we might face or we're facing right now, be it finding a vaccine for Covid-19 to solving some of the healthcare challenges in Africa, to some issues with water. As a population grows, like you were saying yesterday, the problems also grow with that.
Anand Verma: So what do you think universities, and for that matter, technology, can do to solve some of these basic problems, and how to inculcate in that into the academic programs, Harin?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Yes. We talked about how we're back to solving or looking at our basic needs in terms of food, water, shelter. It's amazing that with all the progress that we have right now, we've seen commercial space flights going on, NASA using commercial flights, and yet so many parts of the world people just don't have clean water, a meal a day.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: I think technology will have a huge role to play. For an example, we are working with industry partners on smart agritech. How can we use pesticides in a very targeted manner instead of spraying all these sometimes unhealthy chemicals all over a farm? Because not every part of a farm is affected by pests. Could we use technology to capture which part of a farm is affected by pests and then make sure we spray any kind of pesticide only in those areas? And also about the use of resources, use of water in farming. At the moment we just water every day, if plants need the water or not. But we can do it in a much smarter way as well.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Then look at the distribution of all the food, the wastage. How can we use technology, AI, data science to get more accurate predictions of what is needed well in advance, so when we grow things, we grow only what we need? And we then combine our storage requirements based on that need in the future. We combine our transportation based on that need, so we don't have so many trucks and ships going around in the world. So I think AI data analytics et cetera has a big role to play in terms of being very smart, being very efficient in the way we do things so there's less wastage.
Anand Verma: I completely agree, and I didn't look at it from that perspective, Harin, but what you're saying is solving some of the real problems with the lens of technology. And with Covid-19, what we have seen is people only buying necessary items, which has led to people starting to operate in a very different world than they've operated in the past. You're not wasting as much food, for example. And things like that. And also that Mother Nature is getting a time to heal, but I think what you're saying is, with technology, it can continue to heal if we use technology in advantage of the basic needs that you're describing earlier as well, which is really exciting.
Anand Verma: And by the way, I'm super excited about from Brilliant Basics Infosys and University of Buckingham partnership as well that we are talking about, so I'm hoping that we can build on the work that University of Buckingham already done and we are operating as a joint team to solve some of these problems, but also some of the commercial opportunities we are seeing with our clients new and existing as well. So thanks for being a champion of that at the university.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And thank you, Anand. I mean, we are really, really excited about working with you and the team at Brilliant Basics, and hopefully with the wider Infosys team as well. Because you have a wealth of expertize and experience that we would like to bring into the university, embedding more entrepreneurial thinking within our curriculum, embedding design thinking within our curriculum. We tend to be very good at some of the technical side of things and the coding but not so good in the design thing and looking at the user perspective. So I'm really excited about that where we are entering into a partnership and working together.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: And I mentioned earlier, universities making an impact on society. It's not just about students coming with degrees, but the bigger impact, and I think that's what we are looking at with this partnership, making a real impact on the world.
Anand Verma: Amazing. What a way to have this conversation. It's timely, it's topical, it's exciting. Thank you so much, Harin, for your time and contribution, and thanks for persevering with me as well throughout this remote podcast that we were recording. You're in Buckingham, we're in London in our different homes, and we're recording it remotely and that's the magic of technology as well. So thank you for that. Thank you for talking so eloquently about the academia and the enterprise partnership.
Anand Verma: I'm going to just shift gear to something personal. It's about favorite book that you're reading or you've read. We have a tradition on our podcast to talk about that, and also why that book is your favorite?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: Well, it's a bit difficult to pick one book as my favorite book. I think I'm going to go back to my childhood. One of the books that I really enjoyed reading, it's a Sinhalese book from a Sri Lankan author called Martin Wickramasinghe, probably one of the best author Sri Lanka has produced, called Gamperaliya. It came out some time in, I think, 1944.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: It's a story about a family, quite a high caste family, well-to-do family, but it was a time that Sri Lanka was going through a change where the well-established families who had a lot of wealth, but they weren't really keeping up with change and that causes this whole downfall of that family.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: So it talks about the caste system that we had, and unfortunately to an extent is still there. But it also talks about family, the parents and children, the love parents have for their children and the respect and loyalty, dedication, that children have towards their parents, even sometimes they're not happy with what parents are thinking about.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: It's also about the romantic engagement between a teacher who's coming from a lower caste family and the daughter of this family, and they like each other but the parents won't let them do anything. But then, towards the end, this teacher who gets a good education goes to the city and start to do really well, whereas the family, year on year, they unfortunately, they go down.
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: It also brings back to the things we talked about education, how education can be liberating, how it gives us opportunities. It also talks about the need to change, need to adapt with the times or you will struggle to survive. And for those reasons, I really like that book called Gamperaliya by Martin Wickramasinghe.
Anand Verma: That's amazing. That's really well described and very timely because the role of education in liberation itself. Harin, how can people find you online or via email, would you mind sharing that?
Dr. Harin Sellahewa: I think the only social media platform I'm in is on LinkedIn. So it's Harin Sellahewa. And my work email address is online at the university, firstname.lastname@example.org. Easiest way is probably search Harin and the University of Buckingham and you can find me.
Anand Verma: That's brilliant. Thanks, Harin, for your time. Thanks for your contribution. Like we started this whole podcast with the time of intense change, and after speaking with you, I feel and I believe that there is a lot of hope and a lot of excitement, not just for students but also enterprises as well. And it's a really exciting times for University of Buckingham itself in terms of its own evolution, so I'm excited to keep a keen eye on that.
Anand Verma: Thank you so much for a very highly interesting discussion. Everyone, you've been listening to the Knowledge Institute, the Brilliant Basics Edition, where we talk about digital disruption, design and future work. Today we talked about the future of education with Harin. Thanks to our producer Yulia De Bari and the entire Knowledge Institute and the Brilliant Basics team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing, and also keep safe in these unprecedented situation we are in.
About Dr. Harin Sellahewa
Dr. Harin Sellahewa holds a BSc in Information Systems and a DPhil in Computing, both from the University of Buckingham. During the latter stages of his DPhil, he worked as a Research Associate on the EU-funded FP6 project, SecurePhone, led by Professor Sabah Jassim. He then joined the Gray Cancer Institute (now the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology & Biology, University of Oxford), as a post-doctoral scientist to work with Professor Boris Vojnovic on the award winning CyMap project. Harin’s role was to develop algorithms to automatically detect, count and track cells.
He rejoined Buckingham in 2008 as a researcher, became a Senior Lecturer in July 2012 and a Reader in January 2018. He was appointed Head of Applied Computing Department (in School of Science) in November 2014, Interim Dean of School of Computing from 1st September 2018, and Dean of Computing from 1st September 2019. Since joining Buckingham, Harin has held the roles of Programme Director, Admissions Tutor, Research Officer and Link Tutor.