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Taking Stock: 2012

New Year is nothing but another morning, but it is the opportunity to start anew that we really cherish. The Year-end, in contrast, is quite under-rated - the crowds on New Years Eve seem to want to let it go as soon as they can - but this allows the time to pause and reflect, a luxuriant activity unaffordable for most of the year. But, without this pause, there is no new start in the New Year, no opportunity to do anything new, no breaking free - since we won't discover what kept us back. 
So, this is to 2012: The year that is on its way to history. At this point, this year is like any other: Fading rather than exiting, not with a bang but a whimper. But, may be, this will have a special place, as events in 2012 may change things in many places, which may have broader impact. When recounting the year, one may talk about less about celebrities who appeared and disappeared, or politicians who made it (Obama, Hollande, Xi Jinping, Mohd Morsi) and those who didn't (most spectacu…

Indian Education, Foreign Investment and The Search for Change

Finally, the debate everyone wanted to have, has kicked off: Deloitte, a consultancy, has started this round with a new report, India's Higher Education Sector: Opportunities Unlimited, Growth Aplenty, recently, and called for increased foreign investment in the sector. This reflects a shift of emphasis from 2010, when Grant Thornton, another consultancy, was talking about opportunities in Indian Education (Education in India: Securing the Demographic Dividend) and highlighted vocational training, backed by increased government spending on skills training, as the growth sector. Grant Thornton report was then predicting a 25% CAGR in the vocational training sector, reaching US $3.6 billion in 2012, which is most likely to be surpassed. Given the high school drop out rates in India, vocational training surely deserves the attention and can potentially

Discernibly, the government's focus is shifting, perhaps as the urban middle classes, squeezed by inflation, goaded by 24x7 new…

The Coming Transformation of India

I feel optimistic about India just when others are feeling despondent, growth seems to be stalling and the media, with the daily diet of horror stories, is proclaiming the end of the world everyday. The Commonwealth Games fiasco, the corruption scandals, the crimes against women, the lethargy in decision making, have all painted a picture of drift and confusion, lack of leadership and a deep crisis in governance; but the fact that all these seem to be a crisis, that people are marching on the streets, the state seems perilously fragile, should be a symptom of a much more forceful, positive, change that would remake India.
India's chief problem has so far been that the state is so dangerously distant from the affairs of the street. This distance is about disconnection, of an unaccountable existence, of its functionaries and officials. This is inherited, in many ways, from the British colonial administration, whose mechanisms Independent India took over and kept intact. Primarily, …

What Makes A Global Manager?

I am writing a course on International Management and that allows me to research and reflect on who a global manager is (and, indeed, how to prepare one). I think many people embark on global assignments with little preparation, which happened to me in the past, and only learn as they go along. Reflecting on my own experience, I think companies can get a lot more out of their staff if they prepare them ahead for such assignments: The problem indeed remains that this is still a fuzzy field and it is hard to agree what one needs to prepare on.
The most usual preparation is indeed to talk to someone who had a similar posting before. So, if you are being posted to China, you talk to an old China hand, soaking up as much as you can. This is useful, but if this is the only thing you do, which often is the case, such preparation can be counter-productive. Usually, this means that the presumptions of that mentor gets passed on to you, and unless you are lucky to have a mentor who learnt and …

Making Global Education

This is a bad time for globalism. The recession has renewed the fear of the others, and various politicians, from Japan to Italy to United States, are inventing foreign bogeymen to obscure their own failures. Companies, while desperate for ideas and for growth, are receding to respective homelands for safety: The only international bit they would still like to do is to keep their cashes stashed in tax havens. In fact, by doing so, they have given global business more bad press - Starbucks dodging taxes, Wal-Mart paying bribes and various banks, almost all of them, defrauding customers and governments alike.
Critics can say that this was bound to happen and globalisation is a sham: But when it comes to climate change, nuclear disarmament, human rights, the issues that the same critics love, they concede that there is no alternative to concerted global action. I shall contend that global connections (or disconnections) are a function of technology and due to progress in transportation …

The Future Literacy

A little survey on my favourite research cohort - students - and everyone tells me that they don't read books anymore. I am not delusional - I already expected that - but I am still sad: It is as if no one cared about the death of my old friend. But there is more than that: I am also puzzled how to teach a Postgraduate qualification without books interfering. Some younger friends tell me that this is a Generation X problem though, something like dementia, people successfully complete research degrees without reading books, which may very well be true. However, this is a personal problem: I live surrounded by books, I spend most of my money on them and my greatest regret in life is about being separated from the collection I built up over the years but had to leave behind in India when I migrated. So, I talk in books - my teaching is often walking through the ideas etched on paper, and my efforts in the classroom are mostly focused on making students discover the joy of that secre…

The Point of Higher Education

Higher Education is in crisis, it was proclaimed. MOOCs and various other avatars, depending on who you ask, either cause the crisis or present a solution. The government is in full retreat, after making access to Higher Education central to democratic legitimacy, and indeed, various interest groups are up in arms. Central to this debate, various debates as we should see it, is the question what Higher Education is for: It is on this question, rather than any other, where the battle lines are drawn most clearly.
Like any other public policy debates, there are lots of rhetoric and lots of fudge on this: Terms such as 'Opportunity Society' has won votes and lost meaning many times over. The scarecrow of loss of competitiveness (to South Korea, mostly, these days) and the teardrops shed on 'lost soul of Higher Education' compete for influence and column-inch. But all these various shades of grey can eventually be put in two boxes - the 'Power' argument and the &#…

Education to Employment: A Flawed Prescription

McKinsey published a report on 'Education to Employment: Designing A System that works' in an attempt to draw attention to an urgent issue: With 75 million young people unemployed around the world, and twice that number unemployed, this is becoming one burning issue and indisputable proof that the current system does not work. Mckinsey argues that educators and employers seem to live in parallel universe, and this causes the problem. Their solution is to bring the two together: To make more employers educators, and educators employers, which roughly translates into more vocational education. However, I shall argue, that the problem runs deeper.
First, educators and employers indeed reside in parallel universe and would always will. Educators' job is, or at least should be, to enhance the capability of the learner, so that, if employment is the goal, their earning potential could increase. However, the employer, usually a business, wants just the opposite: His profits are …

Breakpoint: Another Pivot

Start-up life is exciting: Disappointments and rejections come thick and fast. Just when one thinks that there is light at the end of tunnel, another endless tunnel starts. In what could be the reverse of bungee-jumping, indeed one would imagine the sky having gravity after talking to any aspiring entrepreneur, one lives the life in spurts of joy and endless despair thereafter; indeed, it is this experience that is thrilling, indeed only after all of it is over, and would be material for heroic stories for telling one's grandchildren, minus the silly bits. 
There are lots of silly bits, unavoidably perhaps. At this time, slightly sulking from the latest disappointments, I am onto this what's-going-wrong quandary, and the thinking whether the whole project is quixotic, only to realize quickly that the main problem Quixote had was of not accepting the world as it was. The mantra of what I am doing now is to be able to pivot, to change and to adapt; and my solace should come fro…

Books Become Social: An Idea For the Future

I am already a fan of Open Utopia, an experiment in social reading. I met this with a pure deja vu feeling: First, an article by Jennifer Howard on the project, and then, coincidentally, an email from a Linkedin contact complaining about how rough Amazon and the various self-publishing organisations treat the authors, set me up for this. If I was feeling despondent about books and more so, about creativity, here is the answer.
Indeed, I am talking about the idea rather than the specific project. Open Utopia is an experiment, carefully crafted, though I think Utopia is rather an unfortunate choice. This experiment could have been easily crafted on some other book, one, I may hope, that had a world-changing impact, and by implication, showed a deeper confidence in the way the future will indeed play out. Open Utopia, I would like to believe, is not an utopia, but more a precursor of an excitingly creative future.

Printed books have to change. Those of us in love with paper, with that i…

The 'Inside Economy': Recovering From Rhetoric

Joshua Cooper Ramo somewhat spills the beans in his latest article in Fortune (read here) and says a thing that everyone knew but was afraid of saying: That, to quote Ramo, "globalisation has a reverse gear". Citing arguments that would be familiar to those who followed Pankaj Ghemawat's work (see his TED presentation here), Ramo makes the case for the "inside economy", one made of local consumers and producers, that is fast filling the gap left by the receding global trade.
The point is - we know this already. India, as I have argued before, rode through the tides of global recession looking inward: While its outwardly-orientated industries, IT and Aviation for example, took a beating, the ones serving domestic demand, manufacturing, retail and financial services delivered steady growth and jobs. China turned its economy slowly from an export-driven one to one aligned to local consumption - the slowing of Chinese growth, in my view, is an indicator of this ch…

India at Crossroads: Waiting for Mr Modi?

India faces a momentous election in approximately 18 months time, but next week, its first battles will be fought. Gujrat's enigmatic Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, will face elections in his own state, and most probably win. A big win, as predicted, will set him on course to be the Prime Ministerial candidate for the Hindu Chauvinist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which will, given the woes of the current ruling coalition, put him in a pole position to win the premiership.
This will be a tragedy for three reasons. 
First, this will turn the debate about India's future into a debate about its past: Mr Modi, despite his new development-friendly avatar, represent a Hindu supremacist view of India. His track record, which he is desperate to leave behind, irreversibly features the pogrom he organized or encouraged or tolerated (depending on what one believes), which killed more than 2000 muslims and displaced ten times that number, making Gujrat a more homogeneous state than it wa…

Counting Down to Christmas

Finally, it feels that I am in the home stretch to end what has been a freaky year. In a way, I am exactly where I was a year back - not a good thing - in the middle of raising money for a start-up business and completing various personal commitments; seen another way, I am far down the line, not just a year older, but much wiser, having gone through a real double loop learning with business, and having connected with a number of very interesting people along the way. I feel confident and happy, and looking into 2013 to be the year when all this must deliver.
Standing still isn't any good, and I regret that the fact that we haven't moved much forward in real terms. For this, I blame the middle months and a diversion, a period when we abandoned the start-up proposition and tried a MBO of a much bigger entity. There was an enormous learning, but we failed - in my estimate - to consider the human factor at play, a mistake I regret personally. One of the things I consider my stre…

The Commonwealth Dream: Why Britain should move on

There is talk of reviving the commonwealth, particularly among the British Tories, as they drift away from Europe. William Hague talks about putting the C back in FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and various advantages of doing business with commonwealth countries are mused about. There are sceptics, such as The Economist, who highlights the various roadblocks, and particularly laments that various commonwealth members are not compliant followers of the British, or Western, view of the world. [Read the article here]
The point, however, is not whether commonwealth is relevant from the point of view of Britain, but from its other members, particularly the old colonies. Unlike what the modern British citizens would like to believe (and a comment to that effect was made on The Economist article), Commonwealth was set up much before the liquidation of colonies, and not to assuage the post-colonial 'guilt'. Commonwealth was extended, after India's independence, with modifi…

The For-Profit Debate: An Essay in Progress

While the public policy shifts to encourage the growth of For-Profit Higher Education Institutions in the UK are discernible, relatively little is known about how these institutions operate. The policy makers, driven by the agenda of cutting public spending, have significantly altered the way Higher Education is funded in the UK, and at the same time, allowed significant concessions to private for-profit Higher Education institutions in the hope that this will attract private capital to the sector. Apart from recently lowering of the bar on how many students an institution requires to qualify for degree-granting powers, and the proposed extension of VAT exemption to For-Profit institutions, the government has even allowed For-Profit companies to take over and convert Not-for-Profit degree granting institutions into one of its own, in a significant departure from how Higher Education institutions have been formed in the past. (THE, No. 2078, 29th Nov 2012, PP 6-7)
The main body of liter…

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