When I started on my project on building a global university, a friend advised me not to involve India. Because, he said, India is chaotic, its Higher Education system completely corrupted by get-rich-quick schemes and mercenary institutions. This was, in a way, a known fact: The Economist called India Education's Wild West and it was an apt description. However, for the very reason of being the wild west, it was attractive: It is not just the wild west, it is also the biggest opportunity in education that exists today. It is a combination of large number of aspiring young people, a broken Higher Education system and employers constrained by lack of employable manpower: Something that an education company usually dream to solve.
However, there was wisdom in my friend's advice: His point was not about the lack of opportunity, but the possibility that no matter how well-intentioned the project was, it is easy to get crowded out in India. Because no one seems to be doing a good job, students do not seem to care about good education any more: They just want a degree, having to do least amount of work and spending the least amount of money.
He is certainly right: That's exactly how things work in India. But, two things still remain attractive to me. First, when asked what our USP is, I usually give this complicated answer that in education, doing things well is an USP. It makes sense in India by sheer contrast (When I am asked how do I prove that we are doing things well, my answer is that at the point of contact with us, students talk to people who understand education and learning, which is often not the case in other institutions). Second, I am still optimistic about India. I know that students do not care about education is not true. Students do, just as we did when we were at college. The college owners do not care, the regulators do not understand, but the students do care about good education and that's why India's top colleges are so very oversubscribed. This is why so many Indian students come to the top universities in around the world. This is why Indians still top the world in doing all the technical certifications, which they study by themselves. And, this is why even the private schools and colleges that do a good job in India still do very very well.
Where the education thing has gone very wrong in India is the Government's supply side focus on Education: The rhetoric is constantly about how many millions of graduates they would want to produce, how many thousands of colleges they would want to open, how many IITs and IIMs they would give the country. At no point, there is a discussion about doing things well. While we hear that India needs a few million teachers and the government will fund, through its usual crony network, some kind of teacher training, nowhere we hear the government talking about developing an appropriate, rigorous teacher training framework. At no point, any Indian minister ever admits that the country has anything to learn from another country, such as Malaysia or Singapore, which has actively engaged and created mass education models worth emulating. It is the obsession with big pronouncements, not unlike the Soviet era quantity racing, that ails the Indian education sector in general, and Higher Education in particular.
Then, there is this supply side conception of how regulation works. India has not moved on from its Planning era, and have assumed that if you put a regulatory body in place and give it the power of life and death, good education will happen. If indeed India learnt from its own history, they would have known that in such cases, only corruption happens. Regulation is about creating a system of checks and balances, not just putting a few bureaucrats in charge. With India's quality assurance system, a static conception of quality - a checklist - has been put in place, very easy for moneyed people to meet. But this ignores all the dynamic aspects of educational quality, student experience, teachers' reflective practice, critical engagement with curriculum, all of it. The burden of bureaucratic regulation always fall on innovation and this has happened in India.
If anyone cared to look, they could have learnt from other successful quality assurance systems - which are dynamic in nature and puts a premium on critical engagement with educator's practice rather than any asset checklist. They also work with an interlocked system of self-governance, with associations of university administrators, with empowered student unions, and engagements in research circles which keep the conversations relevant and constantly moving. Indeed, empowerment is still considered a dangerous idea, and there is this assumption that self-governance does not work. But this is precisely India's bigger problem - that it is always assumed that the chosen few knows what's good for the rest. Therefore, rather predictably, India has created a hand-me-down regulatory system based on bureaucratic whim and corruption, which was broken at birth and only serves to strangle innovation and enterprise: It is devoid of the concept of self-responsibility, rigged in favour of the rich and the unscrupulous, and fails the students even in educating them about education. It is, in all senses, a dangerous market for a start-up to delve into.
However, change is coming. I remain optimistic as I am sufficiently close to the ground and see the panic in bad colleges about students voting with their feet. Suddenly, the inexhaustible supply of students have vanished. Like deers caught in searchlight, these institutions, which never understood or cared for anything educational, think it is about price or employment opportunities. The hunt is therefore for pliant employers who will somehow take their graduates in, a journey that usually ends up with Engineering Graduates becoming merchandisers in shopping malls, further depressing the interest in education. Prices also go on a downward spiral, stretching the already unsustainable college finances to abyss, making them hire fresh graduates with peanut-like salaries to teach, thus reinforcing the cycle of pointless education.
This presents an enormous opportunity for disruptive innovation. The ingredients we have identified is a global certification (with the quality benchmarks and recognition it brings), competence based education (with student empowerment at its core), good teaching (which, unfortunately, is not common), use of technology to connect and to deliver (which is a given for the generation of students but remains an anathema for most college owners) and a pleasant student experience built around stimulating learning, sense of community and global career development. We are aiming to build all of this around what we will call the 'the new paradigm of business', courses that equip people to work in the age of Google and Apple rather than the Industrial Age, and prepare mind sets for global, hyper competitive and meritocratic world of work. This is, we believe, the kind of education Indian students need as India prepares to move from being canon fodder of world's back offices to the front line of global business confidently. Our qualifications are Professional, rather than Academic, so we fall outside the stranglehold of regulations in India; yet these will lead to Advanced Standing entries to British Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees, opening up 'academic' routes to any student who may be interested.
It is indeed a big challenge and will need lots of work. But, once we are aware of the risk and built a sufficiently diverse portfolio, which we did by engaging into other, less complex, markets in Africa, East Asia and Southern Europe, India remains an alluring opportunity. Our Board Members agree: A Senior Colleague, however, suggested that this would work only if I am personally ready to go and live in India for a period of at least 12 months. I have now taken this on board. Our current strategy is to build one or two centres in close coordination with partners who are distraught by the current state of affairs and trying to break the mould. I have personally committed myself to this - building the next generation educational institution in India is what I want to do anyway - and that commitment extends to living in India, temporarily or permanently.
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
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.