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Showing posts from March, 2012

India 2020: Education, Education, Education

The Economist says it succinctly - India is losing its magic. Trapped by a petty political class who has no imagination or integrity, the country's progress is stuttering, and may come to an abrupt halt or even reverse, as in the form of a full-blown economic crisis, in the next few years. There is no leadership at sight: A leader that never arrived, as I wrote about in an earlier post. The big problem indeed is that at this time in its history, India simply can't sleep: Declining peacefully into geriatrics is not an option for a country where millions of young people are just looking to move from their villages to the cities and aspiring for a better life than their parents. End of hope will mean as a deep and bloody social upheaval, and even the break-up of the country. We are staring at the face of a disaster.
At the risk of oversimplifying the problem, I feel that today's problems stem from the same causation which has helped to keep India democratic. I am indeed allu…

Ideas For A Global College

If I am working for one thing, it is to create a truly global college, which prepares the students to take advantage of the global opportunities that are in front of us. I am conscious that there are many generalisations in that goal: The globalisation that we see is at best semi-globalisation, and the world is still a very divided space; the opportunities are still very skewed, and biased in favour of a few; and the model, education for profit, may have its own inherent biases that may change how and what the students can be prepared for. 
However, it must be said, my approach is informed by my background, and therefore, despite these apparently insurmountable challenges, I remain optimistic. I come from a suburb near Calcutta, a metropolitan city in India, but growing up in the suburb, it seemed a million miles away. I had not been out and about on my own in the big city, which was only few miles away from where I lived, till I was almost 18. Indeed, I had a fairly protected childh…

Guest Post: "What a Snob": Is Santorum Right about Higher Education?

Rick Santorum's now infamous comment in which he called Obama a snob for wanting everyone to go to college was widely criticized and ridiculed. Santorum, obviously, chose some extreme words to voice the discontents of his culturally conservative supporters—those who are likely without a college degree and are struggling to make ends meet. This is blatant pandering at its cheapest, but as someone who attended a private, top twenty university, I wonder if Santorum, in his own simple-minded way, may be onto something that makes at least a smidgeon of sense.

A recent New York Times article cut through the rhetoric to point to an indisputable truth using facts and statistics—if you are already from an affluent family, you will do well in college; if you aren't from an affluent family, you are much less likely to enroll, and even if you do, you are much less likely to graduate. The reasons for this are various, and much of it has to do with the astronomically rising cost of college …

Students As Consumers

We have lately discovered that the students want to be consumers. In Britain, where the Government is trying to put the students at the heart of the system by raising, in some cases three-fold, the fees they pay for higher education, the pitch is rather acute. Everyone concerned, including the universities, seem to believe that by this strange play of fate, where the students have to assume the costs of their own education, they will suddenly become consumers; ironically, this means they will turn rather passive - as the consumers do - and disengaged, and expecting the education services to be delivered to them. The manifestation of this belief is plastered everywhere, from what the government counts as the most important aspects of education (contact time, graduate employment rate etc), to what the bureaucrats mandate as the measures of quality of education (adequate and accurate information, communicating what is to be delivered and ensuring the delivery of what is expected), and t…

A Note on Independent Colleges in Britain

In a sense, the independent higher education sector in Britain is incapable of thinking. Having spent some time in the sector, talking to and pleading with various entrepreneurs, I have come to the sad conclusion that this very entrepreneurial sector may be too opportunistic. I have no issues with opportunism, and understand that this is a necessary trait for entrepreneurs: But, there are times, and we are at such a juncture right now, when strategic thinking and that 'vision' thing is somewhat needed. Plain opportunism, at times like this, creates a sort of thought paralysis.
To be fair, most of the colleges in the sector are owned and run by owner-operators. Professional management is quite rare, and the businesses are quite small compared to their impact. This is the key reason why the capacity to think big and bold is rare, and strategy mostly means tinkering around the edges rather than any meaningful approach to the future. However, at this juncture, strategy is no long…

Marching To The Past: Idle Reflections In Recessionary Times

Dreaming can be helpful: It keeps one awake.
Particularly when life gets too dark, the possibilities dim, the opportunities obscure, the only thing left for us is a Halogen dream, which lights up everything, just like a sole lighting stand in the middle of barren fields.
Jobless numbers go up and down. Greeks never really rescue themselves. People always kill people in Afghanistan. The Iranians don't tweet anymore. India loses way in corruption. Japan is still radioactive. Americans confused, busy to burn books. The leaders seem to be using up all their vocabulary, the politicians running low on charm. But life still goes on.
Dreaming is the only time one can think time moves linearly, ahead. That is swiftly dispelled by morning newspapers, which seem to recycle headlines from their archives. If Fashion comes back every twenty years, the news reappears every fifty days perhaps. We still make same mistakes. We still moan the same way. We still get slaughtered, swindled, sinned aga…

From Agents to Brands: Changing the Marketing for Independent Higher Education in UK

Traditionally, UK universities and colleges, alongside their counterparts from Australia and elsewhere, depended on agents, or education advisers, to recruit students in the international markets. This model works beautifully: The agent brings the local knowledge and personal touch students need while making the big, transformational decision in their lives. It also works well commercially: The institutions pay a commission, usually 10% to 20% of the first payment the student makes, to the agent, a good sum of money in many countries, and being paid after the registration is secured, is good in cash flow terms too.
However, while the benefits are obvious, the problems of this model are increasingly becoming apparent. Over-dependence on the agents usually results in the institution becoming distant, not closer, from their target markets. The agents often work for a number of institutions, and auction off applicants to the highest bidder, which may not be the most appropriate instituti…

Defining Standards in Independent Higher Ed Sector: 1

This is the best and the worst of time for Independent colleges in the UK. Never before the sector has seen so much investor interest, given its long term potential. At the same time, it has never been subject to such harsh regulation, and a complete transformation of the marketplace in such a short span of time. Many independent colleges closed down since October 2011; some others were forced to close by UK Border Agency. Some others are still going on in the hope that their Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status with UK Border Agency will help them garner a price in the ongoing M&A activities in the sector. Once this illusion is dispelled, which it will be in a few months time, there will be even more closures.
At this time, pretending that everything is just the same is an act of madness. While the shape of change is somewhat unclear and emergent at this moment, it is certain that things are going to change, and the sector needs to prepare for it. Some of these changes are relati…

Day 1/100: My Adventures in the Margins of Higher Ed

Four events marked my rather remarkable day. 
First, a colleague pointed out that Professor Malcolm Gillies, the Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University, mentioned this blog in his opinion piece in Times Higher Education. I am indeed a huge fan of Professor Gillies, and see him as a transformational leader leading what used to be a troubled university to excellence. Him mentioning this blog, particularly what was a particularly impulsively written post is both exhilarating and unnerving for me.
Second, it seemed that I am winning the argument in favour of 'big strategy' at work. Independent Higher Education in Britain is at a crossroad, and there are a million reason why a private college should downsize, or shut shop. However, it is also clear to see the big opportunity beyond the horizons. One can see the clampdown on student visas can't last forever, and once the government has cleared out the majority of 'bogus' colleges, which they must do and have…

Day 0/100: Ideas of Progress

When one thinks about progress, the images that come to mind may be of moving forward on a straight road, or moving up a flight of stairs, or a level on the elevator. But, with experience, it really feels like a subtle dance sequence, which may mean only going around in the same confined space, but with a set of nuanced steps, forward and sideways, performed with purpose. It is not the distance covered but the impact created that seems to matter, and often, the movements seem less relevant to the message left behind.
It may be that I think this way because of my training in humanities rather than science, my native space being in libraries rather than laboratories. Stefan Collini makes an interesting point about how they represent different ideas of progress. In the laboratory, the past is behind us and a search for the future is all that matters. In the library, and equally in the museums, the past is in front of us and preparing the minds with the past, for an unknown and unknowab…

Evaluating Opportunities in For-Profit Education

I attended a seminar, hosted by EducationInvestor, a trade journal specialising in For-Profit Education investing, yesterday. The diversity of attendees was interesting: There were people from Private Equity, education providers looking for capital injection, few potential trade buyers and even David Hughes, the Chief Executive of NIACE, the charity doing pioneering research in various areas of education and learning. 
Overall, a very interesting afternoon, which reconfirmed my views about the excitement around the For-Profit education. However, there were also some new insights to be taken away. 
I felt the investor community isn't still sure about the For-Profit Higher Education opportunity. There is huge premium being paid for degree granting institutions, and as a happy coincidence, it was announced at the event, Montague Capital closed the deal for College of Law, a Not For Profit degree granting institution, on the day. The strategy generally seemed to be to create a cluste…

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