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Showing posts from June, 2012

India At the Faultline

India is facing a crisis in credibility. Right at the time when the world economy turns south, the Indian leadership continues to fiddle and confuse, and is allowing the country to drift aimlessly. After years of abundant jobs, swelling salaries and cheap credit, suddenly the Indian middle class arrives in the age of redundancies, penny pinching and ever-rising rates of interest: The end of dream may have arrived, so it feels.

This may be the time we all feared: This is like putting a car on reverse while zooming ahead at 100mph. Much of the prosperity in India was only the feel-good kind, only a few people did really well. The others read about them and had a feeling of progress. Suddenly, all of that disappointment may all surface, tearing the country apart. Unless, indeed, everyone's attention could be diverted with something compelling.

Like a war, perhaps. This is a classic setting for jingoist, misanthropic leader who can find someone to blame. This is not a time for reasone…

Among the Believers: My Adventures in For-Profit Higher Ed

I wrote about arriving at a break point a couple of weeks ago, and I intend to follow it up with more concrete plans now. I am fast arriving at a point of crisis, when I have started questioning the worth of my day-to-day activities, even if they are financially rewarding. The desire to do something meaningful gets me out of the bed every morning, and after spending twenty years in For-Profit education companies in various sizes and forms, I have started questioning whether I have always been barking up the wrong tree. I have a theory about commercial enterprises - that companies can only make money serving a socially useful purpose - and I shall claim that my early career spent in IT education proved that this was indeed the case. However, as I traveled, I have started discovering the other side of the coin, progressively, encountering in various opportunistic enterprises with business models founded on exploiting arbitrage and extracting the advantages of regulatory failure. I have…

Does For Profit Higher Education Institutions Have A Role?

There is an easy way to look at For Profit Higher Education - a huge conspiracy by global capitalists to bring down the last vestiges of the Welfare State. It is a way to make money, as a colleague and a Higher Education Researcher puts it, out of people's aspirations; he implies, but does not say, that this is achieved through selling them unattainable dreams. All profits of private education sector comes from public subsidies, a noted commentator claimed, and projected the public subsidies going to For Profit education sector in the UK as one of the biggest swindles of modern times. The furore in America, about the high default rates of student loan repayments by the students attending For Profit schools, has created a sub-genre of journalism of its own. The critical question then, does For Profit Higher Education play a socially useful role?
It may seem idealistic and mundane, but this is important: An industry (the hated word) or the sector (amen!) must have a socially useful…

Bill Gates on Higher Ed

Building A Private Higher Ed Sector in India That Works

India needs 1500 universities, Kapil Sibal, its Human Resources Minister, muses, and follows it up with some complicated statistical comparison with the United States. This is still a long way to go from its current 564 degree granting institutions. He is obviously making a subtle argument in favour of more private participation, even investments from foreign companies. However, his problem lies elsewhere: The challenge that lies ahead relates to quality, not quantity. None of the Indian universities feature in the global lists, whichever list one may refer to, including even the lists that get published for young universities. Private sector investment isn't going to solve that problem. Not even getting some of world's top universities into India will help: That, if it ever happens, will only create the additional problem that some of India's best institutions, chronically underfunded, will end up losing their star talents, making the problem of quality even worse. 
As M…

Reverse Migration: A Personal Note

I have written about this before, once rather optimistically (see here) and then, after couple of years of emails and dialogues with people who could or could not return, with more caution (the second article here). Since then, a number of things have changed, including an worsening of the economic climate worldwide and slowing of growth and employment opportunities in India. In fact, the conversations about India has become significantly downbeat, even despondent these days, and the enthusiasm about return among Indian expats, if the microcosm of a community that I live inside is any reflection, has somewhat waned. Hence, it seemed appropriate to return to the conversation one more time.
Admittedly, there is a personal story here. I personally maintain deep links with India and would want to return. My story is somewhat typical: My father lives alone in India, and my brother, who used to live with him allowing me the independence to travel, passed away. I feel worried, guilty and si…

'Corporate' Higher Education in India: Panacea or Problem?

A new trend in Indian Higher Education is that the big business houses are entering Higher Education sector by setting up schools themselves. Usually, this is to be expected: India's thriving industry requires people, and the Higher Education sector can't provide it, not with the right skill level or in adequate numbers, hence one would expect investments from large employers in propping up higher education. However, as things stand now, the corporate involvement in Higher Ed is driven by commercial considerations and bandwagon effect, everyone thinks it is a good business, rather than skills requirement or philanthropy. While this means shiny new schools and increased private investment in Higher Education, this also brings education within control of India's 'tycoon economy', and may be detrimental to education innovation in the country.
It is usual for big employers to support Higher Education: Some of the best universities in the world have been set up with su…

Being Global

It is always fascinating to talk about globalisation, because it is never real or sincere. Embedded in popular imagination with metaphors of a flat world, it only represents an ideal few bankers would like to believe in.
There was a time when the poor was global, and the rich was local. Global was called International then, as the nations, aligned with their landowning rich, were still at large. The changes in the last thirty years, as the Western nations claimed an irreversible victory in the battle of ideas, and we allegedly arrived at an 'unipolar' world, happened primarily through the rise of global money and global media, undermining the nations as they had to queue up for financiers' money. In this new world, Rupert Murdoch could tell a British Prime Minister to go to war in Iraq, or George Soros could bankrupt a nation overnight. In a strange reversal, suddenly the poor is local and the rich is global, and international became a somewhat out-of-use concept.
However…

A Return to Faith

As we collectively stare into the abyss, but are saved, maybe just, the grand narratives make a comeback. Last twenty years, which seems to have lasted forever, wiped out any memories of the past, and we have lived in the twilight of history. The fragmentation of the world was complete, and we were reduced to ourselves - just us as individuals - atomised, without beginning or end, and absorbed in various middle class pursuits of mortgages and video games. The destruction of credit - of trust in the invincibility of the system we live inside - symbolised in the mad panic of those Greeks and Spaniards withdrawing money all day from the ATMs, leaves us with the end of end of history; a new beginning of some kind.
Let's face it: We have a problem. We built a money economy which has assumed a life of its own and got ahead of itself. It is not that we have run out of money; it is just that some of us have too much of it. Not everyone, indeed; in fact, not even the nation states we buil…

The End of Incredible India?

This is exactly how The Economist puts it (See article). The significance of this is immense: First time a major international publication is writing off India and blaming it squarely, and rightly, on its leadership. The everyday despondence of the aspirational Indian middle class is now official. 
Indian leaders, as The Economist puts it, continues to show 'Brezhnev grade' complacency. There is something in the Indian psyche, which always believes in eventual rise of India as a major world power. This is not about an Indian version of exceptionalism, but more of a manifest destiny, a deeply irrational expectation that this would happen regardless of any efforts as this is 'written'. Deep down, India's leaders seem to believe in this too, and they are blaming everyone else but themselves for the recent slow down.
However, a country's economic future, and indeed its global power, is crucially dependent on its leadership. Alan Beattie recounts the story of Argen…

Going Forward, Going Backward: My Next Life

Two years into a career in Higher Education, it is time for me to take stock.
I have been working in education for last twenty years, starting with computer education in India, but also spending time in e-learning, management training, vocational education and finally, English language learning. It is in the course of my previous job, which involved setting up English Training and Vocational Education outfits in different countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, I became convinced that Higher Education is the next 'killer app', the 'thing' that can improve lives of people and create prosperity and progress. It was simple demography plus productivity kind of realisation, and travelling around Asia is the best way to see the scale of the opportunity and the scale of the challenge: That's exactly what I did.
It was a no-brainer that I left my job to take the circuitous way into Higher Education. Britain, with its predominantly publicly funded higher education and a dist…

The Fear of the Foreign: Indian Higher Education and Policy Paralysis

India's higher education is fast approaching an inflection point, as demographic changes and increasing affluence alter the nature of demand for higher education. The 'new' students will be more discerning, demanding higher quality of educational experience, meaningful knowledge and not just a certificate, and global careers not just employability. The current structure of the sector, failing general education structure, narrow private sector offering and a few world class institutions, is not fit for purpose to handle this demand. New thinking is indeed needed to bring about the changes and create educational opportunities that this new, dynamic, global middle class needs.
The Indian policy-makers, mostly products of elite institutions themselves (in many respect, India's ruling classes resemble France's), can anticipate the problems but are clueless about how to solve it. They are acutely aware that India must open its doors to foreign education institutions, li…

The Inflection Point in Indian Higher Education

2015 will be something of a watershed year in Indian Higher Education. This is the year when the children from new middle class families, as opposed to India's predominant 'government' families (meaning where the primary breadwinner worked for the government or a government supported entity), starts getting to college age. This is exactly a decade and half after the great expansion of English medium schools, call centre jobs and a sudden mobility in population enabled by the rise of Hinglish, the mixed dialect Indians invented and made their own. With China's college age population falling, India's will grow by 5 million in five years. The trouble is - their expectations of higher education will be entirely different from their predecessors.
This is the third wave of modern Indian Higher Education, if we count the nationalist expansion of higher education after the Independence as the first, and the expansion of corporate higher education in the nineties as the se…

UK Border Agency and The Search for Genuine Students

The Cameron government denied that the current immigration policies are hurting the UK Higher Education sector. Despite the precipitous fall in the applications to British universities, particularly from South Asia, and the near-total extinction of the private education sector which used to provide feeder routes to the universities, the government claims that their policies will encourage 'genuine' students to come to the UK, and therefore help protect the brand and the excellence of the British Higher Education. Like so many other things, they are wrong on this count too.
But, then, it is difficult to expect anything from this government anyway. Apart from protecting the banks and hobnobbing inappropriately with Murdochs, the government ministers seem incapable of getting anything done. The problem, indeed, is their world view, one so antiquated that they fail to understand or anticipate the aspirations or requirements of a modern society. With their Lib Dem stooges frozen i…

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