An university is a learning community, and should be founded as such. Starting any other way will set the university onto a wrong trajectory, I contend. The new breed of Indian universities, which start with fancy buildings and even big budget advertising campaigns, are, therefore, doomed to fail. And, this failure is not going to be a sudden demise, a financial bankruptcy, which may indeed come later, but a slow decline over a period of time, ruining the careers of generations of students and destroying their lives. This is the inherent tragedy of bad Higher Education, and this will spell the doom, in time, for the Indian experiment.
One can't really build a modern democracy without a functioning Higher Education system. I say this because democracy is about hope and about participation; one can not achieve either of this without a system of higher education doing its bit. India's systematic neglect of its Higher Education system, partially to preserve the privileges bestowed on certain classes during the colonial era, and on account of its inability to come to terms with its deep-seated social divisions, have significantly affected its economic development, but also its progress as a democracy. And, now, it is at the precipice, with its young population peaking - the wasted generation that the bad education is going to create is possibly going to be India's most numerous generation, which will dominate its society and polity for years to come.
This is the responsibility new university makers have. Many of them are oblivious to it, and are contend to take the opportunity as it comes. However, one would hope that the initial surge of university building has now been stopped, as the numerous Business Schools and Engineering Colleges in the country have started failing and the banks have grown nervous about giving out large loans. And, this pause, confusion, the littered carcasses of failed colleges, force a welcome reflection and soul searching, at least among a select section of the business owners and academicians, though it is yet to penetrate the armour of the politicians.
A new university, therefore, must attempt to be different. I have written about the three essential dimensions, diversity, Indianness and modern business context, previously (see the post here): I sincerely believe that a fusion of these three aspects will create an unique view of the modern Indian university, which is mostly missing from the discussion. In fact, almost all discussions about values is missing, which reflect the general dysfunction of the sector, and a serious discussion about the values, and the construction of an academic community around the same, sets a different path for an university which does it.
But one needs to do more than just defining the values: One must also differentiate on the structure and the presentation of the university experience. The Indian colleges usually offer timetabled classes 6 days a week, 7 hours a day - a total of 42 hours of instruction every week, for at least 30 weeks a year. That is indeed a lot of managed instruction, and does not leave much for the students to develop their own initiative. Not surprisingly, most of these college owners treat the library as a waste of money, citing that the students don't use it at all: However, the truth is that they are programmed not to use it.
This industrial paradigm of education is out of date and out of context in modern India. Even the Indian software companies, those which run 24x7 sweatshops handling back office operations of European banks and companies, are now demanding self-awareness, initiative and critical thinking from their employees as they try to move up the value chain. Besides, as Vineet Nayaar, the CEO of HCL Technologies, put it, the greatest change in Indian workplaces is the induction of Generation Y (though it is a deeply American concept), people who have a different sense of community, collaboration and conformity. The current education system is woefully out of sync with the aspirations of this generation: The methods of education, such as the days packed inside the classroom, is also certainly so.
So, flipping the paradigm of education, with more field-based engagements, activities, project work, visits to different parts of India and elsewhere in the world, would make the university experience far more conducive to the Gen Y students. And, surely, the idea of collaboration, between the students, should be central to the educational design: We now know that this enables a different kind of knowledge creation, and we also know that this is what employers desperately wants. But, apart from a few slides on 'teamwork' in the employability lecture, the idea of collaboration with others is usually frowned upon. A new university must embrace collaboration and this will essentially make it different.
Also, the conversations I have had so far with the people trying to set up universities involve the announcements about a vast array of 'schools' in diverse disciplines. Justifiably, the idea of an university rests upon the proposition of a richly diverse offering, a point made in the context of diversity (of disciplines, of subjects of study) earlier. However, on the other end of the spectrum is the powerful idea of focus, elegantly argued in the context of Brigham Young University by Clayton Christensen, wherein a new university can do a much better job and build reputation by focusing on fewer awards. To reconcile these two views, I shall argue that the new universities should be built with interdisciplinary curricula, but fewer awards, and indeed, the interdisciplinary courses will be compulsory rather than elective in keeping with the 'diversity' principle.
I am also aware that Indian governments make the job of running the university difficult by interfering with its admissions: They nominate at least 50% of the students and often this is about party affiliations etc and not about merit. There is no running away from such issues, but this is where the new universities must show its ingenuity to balance such imperatives but maintain its meritocratic core.
As I said before, this is an ongoing conversation and I see this as a post in progress. But this is now my most cherished objective: To be able to be part of setting up a New University in India, which will surely be difficult and long journey, but one that is worth it. I see this as a natural extension of the U-Aspire project, which essentially includes the idea of flagship campuses in different countries at some stage in development, and my own personal aspirations of doing something worthwhile in India. Indeed, I am in search of partners and collaborators, fellow travellers who will make this possible, and am willing to work through the coming years to make this happen. The idea of the New University is therefore something that gives me a personal mission, something to work for, and indeed, something to keep writing about.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.