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2013: My Year in Review

I feel the lightness of a crazy year that must be enjoyed once it has passed. This was my year of changing the course of my life myself. Like 2004, when I chose to become an immigrant, this was my year of living outside my comfort zone.
Living like this has benefits: One discovers one's friends. Once the privileges of being endowed is stripped away, what's left is truly us: Whoever loves us at our barest are those who stays with us forever. It is worth living like this at times just to figure out who these people might be.
So, a toast to those, who do not measure, who do not categorise, who do not seek reciprocity, but just remain human: The most pleasant thing to find is that this is not a rare type, but this is most people.
Also, being on the fault line, some of the dearly held myths disappear. Such as, entrepreneurship is a magical thing: Once lived through the blood, sweat and tears, one gets the real deal, the disappointments, the mistakes and the like. However, it is on…

End of Indian IT Industry?

Vivek Wadhwa is pessimistic about the future of Indian IT because of its inability to change (See here). He makes the point that the CEOs see that the ground realities are changing but are unwilling to do anything about it, with the daily imperative of closing Outsourcing orders dominating their agenda. In short, the sector has become a prisoner of its own success and there is a lack of strategic thinking.
While I share Professor Wadhwa's sense of foreboding (that Indian IT industry isn't changing with time) and his prognosis (the lack of strategic culture), I would think that it is more of a case of an industry that can't change itself rather than industry leaders not wanting to change. Indeed, this makes things worse: Global IT services is an extremely competitive industry, and one thing that works for Indian companies here is the ability to scale, to line up thousands of workers which companies from other competitive countries can't easily do (with the exception of…

Arvind Kejriwal Must Fail

Arvind Kejriwal asks for ten days to solve the problems of Delhi! 
He is a novice in politics: One never says when one will do something one does not intend to do. But what if he really wants to solve the problems?
Problems such as corruption, VIPs cornering everything, police standing by as women are harassed, rising water and electricity charges while convenient arrangements ensure unlimited and free provisions for rich men's farmhouses. 
But we have always been told that these problems can not be solved. We just have too many people. And, it is people who don't want to follow the rules. It is their fault: What can the government do?
We have been told, for last sixty years and more, that it is best to have democracy for a day. You vote and you go home. You leave governance to those who can. You vote again in five years. We have got used to being governed: We are too messy, too incompetent, too poor - besides, we are just too many!
The only way out is a strong leader: Someon…

Education for Employment: Finding the T-Skills

I was recently at a seminar where IBM's Global Head of University Partnerships were speaking. In an insightful talk, he outlined the profile of an ideal candidate that IBM wants to recruit: This is a person with T-Skills, one deep skill but a broad range of interests, he said. This is quite common among employers, hence worth exploring. However, whether or not an employer defines this in such precise terms as IBM, this is still worth looking at, because the break between education and employment may be seen as a T-skills conundrum.
The desire for T-Skills can be somewhat obvious: Work in business organisations today are defined by an unquenchable thirst for greater efficiency and to infinite flexibility to ward off uncertainty. To achieve efficiency, they are increasingly specific, demanding in their job adverts an absolutely ready candidate who can add value right from day one. This is more true because most jobs are created today by start-ups and SMEs, which are under even grea…

Education for Employment: A New Paradigm for Engagement

As the economies around the world starts to recover, our worst suspicion will be confirmed: This is likely to be a jobless recovery. Employers, living through austere times, have not just squeezed out every bit of efficiency they could by use of machinery and stretching their staff, but also are scarred psychologically: It would take a long time for them to expand their workforces imagining a rosy future again. Yet, the numbers at Education institutions are higher than ever before: As I write this post, the British universities are celebrating an ever higher intake, despite a three fold rise in tuition fees, while moaning, as usual, the loss of 'standards', indicating that people who wouldn't have previously gone to universities are now going there.
This setting makes it 'the best of the times and the worst of the times' for Higher Education. Never before more people wanted it, and never before its value was so disputed and its practitioners so undermined. The sec…

Can Private Colleges in UK Survive?

The private colleges in the UK, and I am talking about the ones which are small, mostly run by owner-operators, and privately funded, have taken a terrible beating in the last couple of years. The British Government's across the board clamp down on student migration, the burden of which fell disproportionately on private colleges, made their business model disappear overnight. Some enterprising ones survived the onslaught by adapting quickly to the new student finance regime established in 2012, where the government made money follow the student and opened it up for private sector, even For-Profit, institutions. 
This strategy has had some stunning successes, as the quick climb of numbers of students opting for private institutions, as opposed to a Public University, show. The success was primarily because the private colleges, leaner institutions without a mandate for public duty or unionised staff, could afford to charge the students lower fees compared to the universities. The…

Is Education for Employment a bad thing?

The link between education and employment appear broken and educators usually get blamed for it. This is somewhat paradoxical: At a time when graduate salaries are holding up despite the global recession and more people than ever go to College, their work should be celebrated. The corollary fact that too many people also remain unemployed after getting a college education can equally be blamed on rapidly shifting job market, something outside the educators' direct control. The employers, sitting cozy in these debates, have some blame to shoulder too: Over time, they have become very specific about who they employ, and adapted the mantra of 'hire slowly, fire fast'. The national governments love heaping the blame of unemployment on the educators' door, with the political objective of deflecting the blame from themselves as well as to craft a justification for reducing the budgetary allocation for Higher Education.
One would think that the educators usually do themselv…

India 2014: The Possibility of Hope

Post by Karnika Kahen.



The Indian Politics has reached a fever pitch, the final stretch leading up to the General Election in May 2014, an election, I believe and hope, that will mark a point of departure in India's history, perhaps the most significant since its Independence in 1947. The outcome of this election is far from certain, but whatever the outcome is, a break from the past is clearly foretold. And, while many things can go wrong, Indians like me must remain optimistic and keep their faith in the resilience of the Indian electorate. 
It does seem that the Indian politics have finally reached the twilight zone of Gandhi family politics. The regal show that dominated Indian political agenda throughout its post-independence period, first by leadership and then by reflected glory, appears to be a spent force, out of step with the young, ambitious country. The traditional mechanisation of vote bank politics, populism and wilful policy ambivalence that marked Indian politics s…

The Shape of Global Education: Searching for An Alternative Model

The current model of Higher Education is inherently local. 
Indeed, the credentialing system, the degrees, are conferred under authority from national or regional authorities, and are primarily set in context of the local schooling system. The sensibilities are rooted in the local connections, interests and priorities of the faculty. 
The growth of Global Higher Education, both of mobile students and virtual instruction, is a narrative of exporting one country's, or region's, knowledge, values and ideas to another. This indeed is problematic if the nature of work for the learner is local. This is the cautionary tale of the Foreign Educated who works in the inside economies of the countries, FMCG, Retail, Insurance, Logistics, Banking sectors etc., but are dismissive or contemptuous of the norms and practices and live in a futile pursuit of doing things in a 'better' way. But it is equally problematic for those whose work is global, in the trades and practices of servi…

Student Loans and Private Colleges in the UK: The New Controversy

Times Higher Education reports that the Student Loan Access for 23 Private Colleges have been suspended (See story). This means that these private colleges will not be able to recruit any more students for the current academic year. Presumably, they would be able to recruit again for the 2014-15 Academic Year, when their numbers will be capped (they have been uncapped so far). Indeed, this should not amount to much as the main recruiting season, Autumn 2013, is already over, and some of these private colleges have recruited more students than they can possibly service. However, this tale of expansion leading to knee jerk reaction from the Government is yet another illustration how little the Policy Makers understand the Private Providers in Education.
To be clear, private providers have not over-recruited. This is because there was never a limit set on how many students they can actually recruit, and hence the Government's decision, prompted by 'expansion', may appear str…

Waiting for a Future in Kolkata

It's a slow city. One can notice this as they watch the taxis mill around, somewhat slowly pulling over when waved at, declining a fare if that would make them late for lunch; one can hear that in the art of making conversations, bringing up things which may not be of any immediate or practical interest, but would just fill an empty time; and indeed, feel this when one goes around the city, as if it is frozen in time, in its degenerating buildings, unkempt roads, lazy policemen, people loafing around endlessly. 
One can see that Kolkata's attempts to catch up with the modern and the fast is somewhat out of sync, somewhat comical, in fact, if one cares, mostly tragic: One could take personal stance about how to view the Office Secretary spending a day at South City Mall peering into the branded clothing all day, but, unlike as her counterpart would do in Oxford Circus, never really having the courage to buy anything that would max her credit card out. It is melodramatically sw…

The New Humanities Education

Humanities education needs to be reinvented.

Most of the conversation about humanities education today, led on by the Professors of Humanities, is defensive: It is about the value of humanities and why it needs to be protected for the sake of a democratic society. While the proposition is possibly correct, the style of reasoning creates three problems: One, it denies the obvious need that we must interrogate humanities education as it is done today; two, it somewhat projects that humanities subjects are somewhat superior than other subjects in fostering democratic values, which makes the argument elitist; and three, it overlooks the needs of the individual middle class students, of the kind of flocking to the universities today, and forgets to establish the link between humanities studies and jobs and careers.

The flaws mentioned above makes the case for humanities elitist and fails to appeal to people thinking about university. That it is important for democratic society will be app…

The Limits of Jugaad

We have duly celebrated Jugaad and made it part of the management canon: It has now come to be seen as the ethic of Indian business, perhaps Indian life, where one has to make do with less. What seemed once an awkward thing - visitors to India would often wonder about the Bamboo scaffolding used in the construction sites, for example - has now been accepted as evidence of Indian ingenuity.

We should celebrate Jugaad, and even see it as a precursor to things to come. The life of abundance, afforded by the industrial revolution, may soon face significant constraints as natural boundaries of our civilisation get exposed. And, even if this is an unreal fear, there may not be enough for the middle class millions in Asia and Africa as they aspire for good life. Improvisations, with a scene of constraint, the spirit of Jugaad, may indeed define the ethic of modern living at the periphery.

However, at the same time, we must be cognizant of the effects Jugaad ethics may have on India and Indi…

Building An Alternative to University

It has always been difficult to build an alternative to the universities in the modern times. Even if any innovation in learning happened outside the universities, the system expanded to absorb the new areas: Medical Schools, Business Schools, IT Schools, all started outside universities and prospered for a while as private initiatives, but then the moment university system expanded to absorb the new areas, the challengers withered. 
However, at this time, we are approaching a point where these venerable institutions look increasingly open to challenges from outside, and look vulnerable. There are several reasons for this: The universities have less resources to keep expanding, for a start. And, new global possibilities are emerging which publicly funded universities can't do very well. Technologies, not just of learning delivery, but of community building, of measurement and management, are emerging, making 'open source learning' possible. And, besides, universities them…

An Argument about Public Higher Education

During my current tour of India, I got involved, somewhat against my will, in a long discussion - argument is a better word perhaps - about the necessity of public funding of Higher Education. This is one debate I usually seek to avoid, because, on this issue, there is little opportunity to have a nuanced position, and I do have a nuanced position. In this particular case, my correspondents were committed defenders of Public Higher Education with a 'you are either with us or against us' stance, and indeed, my reservations about the bureaucratisation of Higher Education (combined with my background in For-Profit education) immediately made me a target of vociferous attacks and compelled me to defend my views. This post is a short summary of the arguments that I made.
My first problem with the high pitch defense of public funding of Higher Education is that this is hardly an honest stance. Most of the advocates of public funding represent themselves to be in opposition of marke…

An Education for Indians: An Alternative Narrative

While I have been studying and thinking about the political dynamic of the Foreign Education in India, I wrote about the past of English Education in India, which helped to create a new professional elite, the vanguards of the eventually independent Indian state. I have been somewhat critical of this development because consolidation and continuation of the privileges for English educated in Independent India has been one of the stumbling blocks for the country's development, vested interests pooling subsidies and resources towards itself and away from development efforts. Besides, in a subsequent post, I also questioned the rhetoric emanating from foreign providers, as they rest their great hope for access to the Indian market on the dissatisfaction of the Indian employers with current graduates: While this dissatisfaction is certainly real, it is situated very much within India's labour market context, I argued, and simply having a foreign education provision wouldn't g…

Politics of Foreign Education: An Education for Indians

In the debate about Foreign Education in India, one question is left unmentioned: Why does India need foreign Higher Education? There is an educational response, or several possible different responses, ranging from it is desirable to have a global view of education (or that one can't have a modern education system without a global perspective) to various specific responses, such as the rote learning currently practised in the Indian system isn't good enough, and more must be done, arguably through foreign collaborations, to enhance skills such as critical thinking etc.
However, whichever end of the argument one starts with, there is a political case to be answered. Globalisation is a contested field, and its benefits may be more obvious to the readers of The Economist (and other Western periodicals) than those living in villages and small towns of India. Besides, the question of globalisation - and globalisation of education - is intertwined with the colonial memory in India…

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