The tragedy of Indian Education

As India's universities fail to cling to their already precarious positions on global league tables, old concerns about Indian higher education have been newly voiced.
There is much to be unhappy about, not just the position on the league tables. The skewed structure of Indian higher education means the significant number of bright graduates, educated at great expense by the Indian state, leave India every year for fortunes abroad. Despite the overt focus on technology education in India, the technology gap with its neighbour and competitor for global influence, China, is alarmingly wide. And, for the all their swagger, Indian business schools have languished at the bottom of global league tables and their graduates still struggle to find good jobs in India.
But I don't want to lament here about the obvious. In fact, I wish to make a point which is its opposite: The obsessions about global league tables, technology lead or employability, the three key factors driving Indian …

Universities and Nations

Universities today are as national as the Flag or the Anthem. They are expressions of the national idea, carriers of national message and embodiment of national achievement. Their places in international league tables make headlines in newspapers and politicians speeches, they form a key part of the national strategy and when they attract students from afar, it's counted as an export. 
This is perhaps all too obvious from the outside, but not so much from the inside. One may see, in the university's diverse student bodies, some kind of microcosm of humanity; the faculty may, in keeping with the enlightenment spirit, think they belong to a republic of letters. The international conferences, part of an academic's cycle of life, are portals of those wonderful communities of interest, where a shared disciplinary language - at least temporarily - reconfigure the ingroups and outgroups. 
This is all very ephemeral though, a cultivated feeling than a persistent reality. That tra…

Beyond Employability

It's time for educators to acknowledge what even a first-time recruiter knows - that Purple Squirrels do not exist.
Employability has become a buzzword in education for several reasons. Governments want to measure and employability - both how many students are getting jobs and at what starting salary - is a neat metric to present to the taxpayers. Private investors in education know that employability - private benefits from education - is the raison d'etre for private education to exist. Whether the faculty, or for that matter, the students, at least most of them until the final weeks of their final year, care about employability is a matter up for debate, but this is definitely the big topic in the Education Conference circuits.
But, sadly, purple squirrels are not real. Employability is an empty goal.
Part of the reason for this is the same as we can't always find the right people for the right job. That gap is both spatial and temporal: As we would say colloquially, o…

Global higher ed, anyone?

Sometime in 2011, the conversation about Higher Education changed.
It may have been 2009, or it may even be that no one noticed until 2012. But there was a transformation, even if it may have appeared on different horizons at different times. This is the time when 'Global' higher education became global. 
More specifically, this is a time when private equity, flush with cash with all those easy QE money in the middle of the ruin of most asset classes in the wake of 2008 recession, discovered Higher Ed. That's the time when education conferences started everywhere and Gurus burst into the world stage. Suddenly, entrepreneurs, who would have made a dating site or an e-commerce app at another time, were discovering the global allure of education.
To track this transformation (and to put a date, if one likes), it is worth listing the key changes in the conversation, such as:
We had the MOOC word. These Massive Open Online Courses were supposed to transform education globally.e…

The trouble with Skills

The big idea in private higher education is Skills.
With a big S. 
The argument goes that the traditional Higher Ed spends too much time disseminating Knowledge, and does not focus adequately on Skills. This is why we have an 'employability' problem today - too many graduates in non-graduate jobs with stagnating wages and no prospects of progression - and by putting skills at the heart of education, this can all be magically transformed.
This argument may sound superficial and one can justifiably argue that the distinction between skills and education is an artificial one. Besides, one may also contend that the employability problem is more a labour market problem than an education problem: The structure of the economy is rapidly changing and that, rather than any educational deficiency, has caused the jammed elevator of middle-class life. And, finally, it can further be argued that at the heart of the problem is antiquated - though not unjustified - expectation about middle-…

Empire in the mind

It only came to me slowly, through a confusing mist of ideas: That I really never escaped the empire.
I live in history. My mind is trained to see things with its submerged past, with its layered stories. The blue plaques of London - like the one on the flat near St Pancras where Shelley lived with Mary when she ran away with him - take me back in time often. But I missed the most obvious place where I should have looked for history - my mind in itself.
It's hard to explain why I came to London. I did not exactly come looking for money: I left a great job and prospects of a career rather. I had no job offers in hand. I came to learn but didn't enrol in a university until several years later. I dearly loved my life in India and never gave up the plan to return. And, yet, I came. It may seem unsound but I came to see, not as a modern tourist who moves sight to sight and takes a country as a package, but rather as an ancient one who comes to wonder, to observe and to return. The…

A liberal education for India

The surprising popularity of Liberal Education
Just as Liberal Arts colleges are closing in the United States, in Asia, Liberal Education is the new hot thing. 
Most surprisingly, in India, a country where university education was created as a gateway to government jobs and where students, especially male students, pursue formal education for the sole purpose of employment, Liberal Education is suddenly very popular. Private universities, whose fortunes are closely tied to their students' earning potential, are surprisingly keen on liberal education, as they seek to follow the example set up by Ashoka (and a few others), an US-style High-End liberal arts college set up at great expense by a group of Indian entrepreneurs.
One could say that this is not surprising and India is following a path China has followed for some time. Or, for that, even Japan. It may be a common trend that (as in Japan), Engineering and other disciplines draw most high calibre students in a poor country wit…

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