Universities and Higher Education: Problems of writing history of higher education in India

The trouble with writing the history of modern Higher Education in India is its non-autonomous nature. The first Indian universities were set up more as government departments rather than academic institutions. In fact, the first such university, in Calcutta, did no teaching itself for the first half-century of its existence and its functions were limited to conducting examinations and awarding degrees. And, this is not a dead legacy which Independent India has done away with: There was no cultural revolution in India after the independence (though one may argue that one is underway now) and the institutional ideas of the British-Indian higher education were preserved, rather than discarded, in the brown Raj. That education system has, as I have argued elsewhere, failed both the Indian nationhood and limited the country's economic potential and it should be easy to appreciate the need of a complete rethinking of educational forms and priorities without necessarily agreeing with t…

To the land of Serendip

I always knew - I am one of those three princes of Serendip. Amnesiac, or perhaps lost in reincarnation, but in a perpetual journey to I-don't-know-what. Because like those princes, once I left the port, I never knew where I would be going, or if I would ever come back.
Just transpose this strange feeling onto a somewhat idyllic, somewhat forced, and unprecedented holiday at home - in Calcutta - for 28 days! I have never had a holiday that long since I started working, that was a quarter of a century ago, and never stayed in Kolkata at a stretch for such a long time. Halfway through it, I counted the days and the penny dropped! I was obviously trying to dodge the Christmas-induced astronomical airfares more intently than I was thinking about anything else.
But then this holiday was anything but monotonous. The first half of it was a big family gathering, a four-day event around the Hindu celebration of coming of age of my son. Some of my friends indeed saw the 'threading cere…

Is 'Brain-drain' dead?

'Brain-drain' used to be big: Textbooks had sections on it, conferences bemoaned it and it was seen as a serious problem holding back the 'Third World'. 
But, that was then: Suddenly it went out of fashion.
As I grew up under its shadow - I studied Development Economics for my first degree - I am always very curious to know when exactly it died. It was already terribly out of fashion in the 1990s, the age of 'liberalization' and 'Globalization' and as the 'Third World' ceased to be the 'Third' and became 'developing' countries instead. But I have a hunch that 'brain-drain' limped on for a while, at least until 2008. As the lights went out in the West and many skilled migrants started returning to their home countries (which somehow withered the storm, at least at that point), 'Brain-drain' became an utterly useless concept.

However, what killed 'Brain-drain' is not 'reverse migration' but globaliz…

Online Higher Education and Cultural Invasion

Once upon a time, I was a believer. I believed that the wonderful possibility of online higher education will make available affordable, high quality higher education for the aspiring middle-class students everywhere. Of all the vistas opened up by the Internet, this was the most transformative. This would have made a truly flat world; this would have resulted in a convergence of values and ideas, desires and languages. 
That was then, the late nineties. Before the dot-com bust, before 9/11, before Facebook conquered the world. Most importantly, before I did a day's work for the online universities and met the first students who enrolled in them. Before the wonderful rhetoric met the real world and billions of dollars of venture capital was poured into online universities! And, before various failed schemes to improve higher education in the 'third world' came full-circle.
In between, I was in the frontline. I have this odd enthusiasm about what I do. Though I have not be…

On the politics of offence

Brexit-busy Britain is due for an election. Amid the clamour, it’s quite difficult to bring up something other than the big BoJo-Jezza battle. However, the noise obscures the rapid and fundamental changes in British public life of a transformational sort. Long after Brexit is forgotten and today’s debates turn into stale pub-jokes, these changes will continue to shape British politics, life and ideas, and serve as raw materials for the future theorist.
One such trend is the increasing marginalisation of female MPs, 18 of whom decided not to run again. Just when it seemed that political participation of women is irreversible – Britain had a female Prime Minister only until a few months ago and two of the three shadow ‘great offices’ are held by women – history seems to be going back again. The women MPs stepping down cited the climate of harassment and intimidation, often unleashed very publicly on social media. Those who remained in the fray say that they feel afraid to knock the doors…

What does Liberal Education mean in the Digital Age?

Liberal Education had a particular meaning at its origin. Or, rather, it had two or more different meanings at the origin: the 'liberal' in English-Scottish sense, an education to be critical and to seek the truth and the German idea of 'Bildung', of continuous self-cultivation. This is a self-consciously gross generalisation, but I think those two ideas should remain at the heart of modern liberal education. It should both be sceptical and hopeful, never a slave of received wisdom and forever in the faith of cooperation and progress. And, this is exactly the same core values modern, secular, democratic societies need: The belief that we can work with one another, better our lives and can make decisions without being told - by some divine or dictator - what we should do, is essential to its existence.
The above is rather obvious and well-trodden ground, but importantly, these ideas are historically defined. Some of these ideas, of questioning, of progress, of cooperat…

'Extensions of self': Indian organisation theory and its limitation

I watched a popular Indian mythologist expound on an Indian Business TV channel that Indian organisations are essentially different from Western ones. His reasoning is that the Western organisations are supposed to be separate, stand on its own, entities, Indian organisations are extensions of its owners, and hence, not just culturally different but organically distinct too. 
I am sure this is an attractive opinion. In this season of celebration of Indian exceptionalism, what's better to think of a culturally exclusive form of business? Also, one that makes all the idiosyncrasies of Indian businesses look explicable and even desirable! I am sure a lot of this Business Sutra will be sold - I can see many presentations blooming around this central thesis.
Except that, leaving out the soundbites and mythologies, it reflects a profound misunderstanding of both Western businesses and Indian business culture. In fact, the whole premise is based on a false dichotomy, or, to put it more …

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