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Higher Ed and Digital Economy: 1

Higher ed needs a refresh. 
One may love how it once was, but we live in a different world. Enlightenment university may be described in glowing terms, but this belonged to a world in which millions of people were sold into slavery every year and Colonial masters imposed their rule on much of the non-European world. A return to that pristine ideal as an escape from our broken times is no less indulgent nostalgia than Brexit, the collective calamity that Britain's closet colonialists imposed on the country.
In this brave new world world where the Indian, the Chinese and the African dreams have to be taken account, when democracy demands a fair opportunity to be offered to even the non-posh citizens, and when new technologies of production and of communication make obsolete the twin realities of big factories and unionised labour, higher education needs a model other than nostalgia. And, it may be, like the world of today, different from the stable, rear-mirror-fixatated, perpetual…

The Impossibility of India

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India is an impossible nation.
In fact, that's exactly what the British colonialists used to say: India is no more a country than the Equator, Churchill quipped. A geographical expression, but no nation! The region east of Indus, as the Greeks knew it, was fragmented, by language, religion and customs, when ideas of nation and nationhood arrived from Europe. Churchill was only half wrong: India was never a nation like the European ones.
But he is half-wrong because India existed. India may not be a nation, but the implicit assumption that a country has to be one 'pure' nation is apparently wrong. That Scots voted to stay in Union did not mean that they had given up their national identity; nor did a thousand years cured the Welsh of their Welshness. Nation and its territoriality are neat concepts on paper but hardly exist in its imagined form anywhere. Believe it too much and you get Brexit.
Besides, such territorial ideas are European. Asia long existed as congruent landm…

The case for hiring failed entrepreneurs

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Before I make the case for hiring failed entrepreneurs, I must state that I have heard this - for the first time - from someone else.
Sure, I can passionately argue about the failed entrepreneurs, having been an entrepreneur and having failed a few times. But that I heard this first from Jim Sphor, Global Head of IBM's University Partnership Programme makes it more than my own idle chatter. When Jim Spohr said that, in a workshop about Higher Education's future where I was present, there was a visible excitement in the room, hashtags rippling into Twitter with surprise and deja-vu feeling in equal measure.
That very cold morning in Utah, Jim's main point was about T-Skills, how the ideal employee for IBM should possess one or two deep expertise and a lot of different abilities and interests at the same time. He would go on to arrange the annual T-Skills summit at Michigan State soon after. But it's really when he made the comment about failed entrepreneurs being bette…

Designing Education for Competence: An update from front-line

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Last year, I went in search of serendipity. It was part recovery - my previous stab at entrepreneurship not having worked out - and part exploration - of living unexpectedly. So, I took on something quite contrary to my nature: I bottled my natural inclinations to experiment and took on a process-oriented role. I decided to live on the other side of the fence, right in the middle of employer-land.
As I gradually near the end of this year-long 'experiment', I am, perhaps quite naturally, in a reflective mood. The experience has been very rewarding in more than one way. 
The project I ran was successful, achieving its mandate in time and within budget, and I am sure I shall look back at this year with some satisfaction. My role was to introduce a completely new way of doing things within the bounds of a conservative organisation in a conservative and risk-averse sector. Therefore, the appreciation that the work received is really remarkable. It is truly gratifying to see that t…

British Universities in the Post-global World

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International education provides the angle of vision to understand how higher education has changed over the last few decades: It neatly layers the usual academic rhetoric - that of research, widening participation and equity - behind the commercial realities of higher education, of money, ranking and legitimised migration. Discussion of the Higher Education 'business' may be blasphemy within the faculty common rooms, but it's the mantra of the field: It is indeed just another global business which has grown rapidly in the WTO world. 
And, because it is so, it is now changing. The prospects of International Education has been intricately linked with the fortunes of the 'global middle class'. That specific expression stands for a new middle class in Asia and Africa (and to a smaller extent, in Latin America) which came into existence because of post-nineties globalisation. Their existence is crucially dependent on global trade and global capital, and their aspirati…

Making sense of the Age of Technology

There is something deeply dysfunctional about living in an age of ideas when all ideas look the same. 
To understand this, one needs to stand outside the bubble that we all live in. Yes, it does seem that there are a lot of new things happening around us - the wonder-device of a smart-phone transforming our world by hailing taxis and ordering take-aways - and yet, everything seems to be an app, every politician seems to be the same, the media is either starkly left or starkly right, all companies seem to live in a make-believe world of valuation - and very little of what matters seem to change around us.
I have been navigating this world for a long time with a deep confusion. The trouble really is that the technologists usually talk things up. The approach of science - that one arrives at a conclusion through falsification, by trying to prove why it is not the case - is not the approach of the modern technologists. Rather, superlatives abound and claims precede capabilities; the prom…

A very democratic decline: troubles of liberalism and end of times

Democracy is being contested. It didn't take too long for history not to end. Thirty years tops and the democratic euphoria is all gone. It's no longer an export product - Chinese made authoritarianism trumped it completely! It's even having trouble on its home turf, in Britain, United States and, in its promissory version, in India.Theories abound where it went wrong, blaming bad men and globalization in equal measure. There is a cutely optimistic streak in some of this analysis, a kind of nostalgia for the lost times and a loveable leap of faith that the pretenders will all be exposed and democracy will triumph. Everything will be alright at the end; if it's not alright, it's not the end - as they say in Marigold Hotel!Indeed, that's cute and loveable and entirely wrong. Democracy ascended not as a gradual revelation of any ultimate truth nor as gift of the benevolent, but rather as a compromise between those who had too much vested in the disappearing absolu…

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