Showing posts from September, 2011

Six Killer Apps of Prosperity: Niall Ferguson on TED

Capitalism's Latest Crisis

Crisis is inherent in Capitalism. In fact, the only good thing about capitalism is the ability to create such crisis and wash away the old and the inefficient, some people will say. This is indeed cruel system, which runs counter to natural human instinct of sympathy for the weak and the old and the like, but it is its self-healing nature, rather than its ability to create a better way of life, has kept it going when other competing systems have failed.
As we are in the middle of another, worldwide, crisis, such thoughts are indeed reassuring. Many people may yet again jump out to pronounce capitalism dead, but we have been there before. Every crisis over last 150 years have been seen as Capitalism's final crisis, and every time it has emerged relatively unscathed, and looked like a stronger system, only to absolve in another crisis in a few years time. 
Indeed, just like the doomsday preachers, there are others who saw the end of history at the upturns that ended recessions. Thi…

TED Talk: What One Can Learn From 5 Million Books

India: Is The Growth Story Intact? A Seminar

Today I attended a seminar at Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment on India. The panel, which included Lord Meghnad Desai, the famous Economist from LSE, alongside Ian Gomes, Chairman of High Growth Markets division of KPMG, Ian McEvatt, Chairman of the Himalayan Fund and Eoin Treacy, Global Strategist from, was discussing whether the Indian growth story, faced with high inflation, slowing growth and political scandals, is more or less over.  This was a room full of bond traders and existing and potential investors, and the subject was whether investment in India is good value for money.

The members of the panel were in agreement on certain issues. First, they all agreed that the Indian government's forecast of 8.4% GDP growth rate for next year is too optimistic, and it is likely to be in the range of 7 to 7.5%. Second, they were in agreement that India remains a good investment for the long term investor because of its strong domestic demand, and ad…

Hypocrisy United: The Palestinian Nationhood

Palestinians want to be recognized as a State, what's wrong with that? Israel was curved out of Palestine in one of the first acts of the rubber-stamp imperialism era. That was a different age. That was a time when the retreating British empire wanted to leave small pockets of direct influence and weaken the incumbent states. So, we had Pakistan, which was meant to be a client state of the Empire overlooking its oil interests in Persia; So was Israel, another protege, another victim, tasked with the job of holding Middle East on balance. But, Israel was being curved out of Palestine, a state which existed then, which the Palestinians objected to. They ended up being gobbled up, exactly as they would have feared, in the end.
For someone watching the drama, this would have been amusing if not for all the bloodshed. Palestinians objected to Israel then not because they were nationally minded, but it made no sense curving out some land to a nation of immigrants. It was…

Broken Republic: Narendra Modi and India's Future

Will he, won't he? Narendra Modi is suddenly back in the reckoning as a future Indian Prime Minister. Incredibly, the aspirations of his admirers in Hindu Nationalist camps are inflamed because an US report, a rather routine one done by the Congressional Research Office, praised him, in one paragraph of a 95 page report for effective governance of Gujrat. Indeed, it is a bit ironic to me, having observed the noise the BJP leaders made about a sell-out of Indian dreams when the then Indian government signed a treaty on nuclear energy with United States in 2008: They claim now that they are fit to govern because even the US officials say so.
But the irony aside, one may have to start to reconcile with the possibility that such a calamity may actually happen. A Hindu Nationalist rule now, in the context of a deep corruption and completely rudderless governance by the current coalition, is within the realm of the possible. John Elliott, in his fairly balanced post today, certainly th…

IIPM and New India: Interrogating Aspirations

I have just read the Siddhartha Deb's Sweet Smell of Success: How Arindam Chaudhuri made a fortune off the aspirations - and insecurities - of Indian Middle Classes. I had to read it from a blog, as the original article had to be taken down by the Caravan magazine which published it first after Arindam Chaudhuri sued them, and other miscellaneous companies, for publishing it.
It is somewhat ironic that the article has been taken down, because it is beautifully written. Mr Chaudhuri may not see this, but the article is as fair and as balanced one could be under the circumstances. Mr Chaudhuri is surely not an one-off: Arvind Adiga has already written about his kind of White Tigers. Mr Deb alludes to this, in a short reflective section somewhat buried under the burden of the fascinating narrative of Chaudhuri and his IIPM, and writes about the tension between the new, aspirational India and India of the old, as symbolized by the IIM kinds. This is possibly the key message of this e…

Meritocracy and Its Limits

Tests, of various kinds, assure us that we have a way of sorting wheat from chaff, only the fittest are permitted into our best schools and universities, and the ablest run our institutions. These tests are designed by honest psychologists and educational experts, and takes years and millions of pounds of investment to build and refine. If we only look at the credentials of people who develop them, and the effort that goes in, it is easy to think that they are an effective ticketing mechanism to keep our societies in safe hands.

But, at times like this, when our institutions prove less than efficient, and people who run them, clueless, there should be a crack of a doubt whether we are doing things right. Are we measuring the right abilities, would be the first question. Beyond this, there will be the question about whether these tests are worth anything at all, or are they just designed to justify the social stratification which exists anyway.
The literature on whether we are measuri…

On Not Going to University

Universities in the UK face a number of different challenges, but none more serious than from a growing coalition of professional and vocational training providers, which are questioning the value of going to the university. Somewhat paradoxically, at the surface at least, these efforts are driven by the two-plank strategy of the government - of cutting university funding which will hit the middle tier universities hard, and on the other hand, putting money on Apprenticeship programmes and projecting these as the panacea of all the social ills in Britain - while the Government ministers, as their lives and discourses show, are deeply reverential of the Oxbridge model, of the great education that the top-tier British universities provide. The growing traction of this opinion stream, that a student loses nothing but his indebtedness by not going to the university, is evident in the number of mentions websites like gets in various news forums. This is joined by t…

Are The Banks Bankrupting UK?

The report on Banking is due, and the bankers are trying to do what they do best: Use the back-channel to flout the rules. In a sense, the only timely thing Alistair Darling has done in his entire career seemed to be the publication of his memoir, where he reminded people how fascinatingly arrogant the banking bosses are, and how they effectively demanded a bail-out and held the British government at ransom. They are indeed at it again, and there are various conciliatory signals coming from the Downing Street. 
The key issue is whether the retail banks can be separated from the investment banking operations of these huge banks, whose combined balance sheets are five times the size of UK's GDP, and therefore, they can be stopped from gambling with Jo Public's money. During the last crisis, the bankers took their 'too big to fail' position as granted and did whatever they want to do, and governments across the world, fearing a meltdown of the system, simply handed them …

Reputation in Education

Shall we call it the brand? But reputation is slightly different from a brand. Brand is like personality, what one's known for. It can include the likeable and not so likeable traits, sometimes intentionally. Reputation is somewhat of a subset, what's good of the institution in question, word of which spreads far and wide. Reputation is also more than word of mouth, because it is not just what my friend said, but this is supposed to be - what everyone knows. 
I am interested in reputation as I think this is the only way way an education business can generate a surplus. In the strict economic sense, this surplus isn't profit: This will be more like rent. Profits are generated for taking risks, rent is for having created a privileged position. Reputation is all about creating a privileged position which students want to gain access to. What price is the access to the class of 2015 of Harvard: Priceless, I would assume.
The analogy to rent is useful because it seems educatio…

How Does For-Profit Higher Ed Turn A Profit?

The more I look at the For-Profit Education industry's business model, it seems that the industry is only profitable within a narrow band of course offerings, notably in Accountancy, Law, Business Administration, Hospitality, Computing and Fashion, but not in much else. I would have loved to add design or Engineering, but numbers don't seem to add up there. Besides, in most cases, For-Profit Education's profits have come from regulatory lapses, as the recent experiences in United States show, and are bound to fall once the regulators tighten their act. In a way, For-Profit Education sector has been innovative and ahead of the industry, but mostly in an unsavory way, which gives the sector as a whole quite a bad name. In Britain, for example, For Profit Education has been taken over by operators running fraudulent immigration schemes, so much so that the Government has imposed harsh legislation particularly for the sector. 
With all this, the obvious question that needs t…

Searching for A Business Model

If I have spent last 18 months working in designing, developing and delivering business degree courses in Britain, I wish to spend the next 18, or 36, or longer, to build the capability to deliver such British Education programmes worldwide. I think this is only the logical next step for me, and in line with what I have done before, during my time in International Franchising and e-Learning companies. Whether or not I can achieve this within the context of my current client project is not certain: Often, companies which are successful in one way of doing business are terribly difficult to adapt to another business model, even if the next business model is only the logical next step.
However, that battle aside, I am not sure about the shape of the business model yet. I, and the people I have discussed this with, are all guessing that this is a good opportunity, because it appeals to common sense. A global education for a globalized world, sounds like a cheesy headline of a morning pap…

Come September

So this is September and at one point of my life, back in India, this used to be the month when we prepared for change. One ritual in NIIT life used to be a complete reorganization of all functions on the 1st of October, and everyone almost surely knew that they would have a role change on that day. So, as September came, which also happened to be the busiest time of the company's yearly calendar, the last month of the financial year, everyone was busy but secretly preparing, lobbying and positioning themselves for various coveted roles. I was never much of an insider, so the best I could do is to guess what would happen, and the only certainty I lived with was that of change itself. Given that I spent seven years working in NIIT, and at least other seven working closely with ex-colleagues steeped deeply in that culture, I am used to September as the month of the beginning of the end. 1st October, in my mind, is always deliverance.

Since I think that way, my life also shapes up th…

Searching For A Domain

Domain as in an area of deep expertise - not the web variety - as I am trying to discover my T-skill. This has become an article of faith for me that to be successful, everyone, me included, will need T-shaped skills - a lot of different interest areas, but one deep skill, as in the letter T. I have lots of different interest areas - history, photography, writing, literature, education, marketing and advertising, travelling - but to be honest, I am not entirely certain about the T-skill. I did say I shall spend six years studying and learning about Higher Education worldwide, and I have now spent two of those six. I surely feel confident to talk about it, and I am increasingly fascinated by the politics of Higher Education. I do think that this will be one thing I shall stick around with, study more, research, work within the sector - this may indeed grow to become my T-skill someday.

In fact, I may have said I found it already, but as they say, spending time with people smarter than …

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