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Showing posts from February, 2014

India 2020: The Problem of Democracy

There is a saying - whatever can be said about India, the opposite would also be true. However, this epithet of being the land of the opposites is a benign one, almost affectionate. It is more a proclamation of India's diversity than an excuse for any hypocrisy. However, on the issue of whether Indians hate or love democracy, the opposites rule explain very little: The Indian attitude can rather be called, yes, hypocritical.
Consider what Indians say about China and one gets the sense. On one hand, Indians proclaim that India's future is more sustainable than China, because, of course, India is a democracy. India's path may be torturous and full of surprises, but India is still moving ahead with its billion people not by government design but collective will. For this and this alone, Indians proudly claim, the world should recognise India as a great power, on the same pedestal with the other great powers.
However, at the same time, when a visitor would point to the contra…

The Creative Education Imperative

Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp for $19 Billion has set off an unlikely debate: With 55 employees of WhatsApp getting very rich, the jobs versus growth debate has been rekindled again. Just like the Instagram deal, where the company was sold for $1 billion but had just 13 employees (in comparison with industrial era Kodak, which employed upwards of 250,000 at its peak), this is another reminder that we are into a different economy where output and jobs are completely de-linked. And, it is not just about a few people getting a lot more and a lot of people getting a lot less, it is about some people in some professions getting everything. 
This creates a completely different set of problems than we faced before. It is not just about social unrest that may follow, and even the lack of demand that many Western economies are struggling with and Bob Reich is warning against (see his take on the WhatsApp deal), but even more fundamentally, it is about disappearance of hope for most peop…

Education and The Market: Clarifying The Stand

Education produces social good, goes the argument, and therefore, the society should pay for it, argues the advocates of public education. On the other side are the policy wonks who sees education as a tool to build private capabilities, leading to private wealth. Between these two positions, there are lots of people, who apparently hold contradictory positions. For example, the For-Profit entrepreneurs and the Private Equity that sees a great money-making opportunity in education believe that education should be for private wealth but the state should pay for it (so that the market remains big enough for them to invest), and those professors in different schools who would continue to think that the students should care for social good above all despite having to shoulder all their debts.
One such position is to see education as a social good even if it creates individual capability and prosperity. We have now come to see that inclusive political and economic institutions as the only…

India and America: An Uncertain Friendship

America finds India an unreliable ally, to its surprise. 
George W Bush will be remembered for his many misadventures in Foreign Policy, but he claimed a legacy in this one important aspect - attempting to usher in a new American engagement in Asia through a deepening friendship with India. This hope was perhaps reciprocated at the time: India's outgoing Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, cites India's Nuclear Power cooperation with America as the biggest achievement of his ten years in power. At the time, the American engagement with India was hailed with an expectation to be as momentous as Nixon's engagement with China.
However, this shift was contentious in America as in India. For Americans, it was some sort of a balancing act after decades of Pro-Pakistan stance after the inevitable seeding of democracy and street politics in that country. It is rather ironic that it was democracy that was cited as the reason for favouring India ever so suddenly: For Indians were be…

Global Citizenship: A Viable Concept?

Global Citizenship has a problem. Despite being a suitably high sounding thing often appearing in management literature, it has no apparent meaning: In an age citizenship has come to mean where one pays one's taxes, Global Citizenship is an empty term to be used as a feel-good, like Rotary membership in some countries. 
However, global citizenship is more than just that: There are people who believe Global Citizenship is possible. They live in a neoliberal bubble that the world is going through a transformation - being homogenous, using Internet, drinking Coke, speaking English and living the local version of the American dream and even watching MTV - and therefore, whatever is the politics, we are all global now by our consumption. 'Democratisation of Commerce' is what underlies global citizenship: Global citizens don't vote, they buy.
But, if Global Citizenship is to be defined this way, the concept is divisive and hierarchical, rather than being integrative and democr…

Laureate in India: Interrogating The Model

Should Laureate International University's recent engagement with Pearl Academy of Fashion in India be considered a pointer for things to come?
Laureate International Universities is one of the biggest For-Profit education companies worldwide, and it is one of the first among its peers to get into India. Given that India has not yet finalised its Foreign Education Providers' Bill, and does not technically allow For-Profit involvement in Higher Education, Laureate's involvement is something of a coup de grace for Indian education policy-making. Though this engagement seems to be fairly low key - there is not much Internet noise on this 'partnership' yet - it clearly shows how the Indian Higher Education policy is easier to negotiate with than it seems.
Given that we see so many British colleges and universities fret about legislation in India, this is one example of quick decisive action by a For-Profit entity. But this move has other attributes worth considering. 

The Sleepwalkers: Higher Education in Developing Countries

Higher Education in Asia and Africa has a good problem: It has excess demand. There are just too many people wanting to go to college, oversubscribing any place that there may be. But the number of institutions offering high quality Higher Education are hardly growing: in China, even with 9 new universities joining global top charts between the years 2006 and 2012, this meant high quality provision for only 16% of the additional 385,000 students coming to Higher Ed every year. For Nigeria's 108,000 additional students getting into Higher Ed every year, there will be no expansion of high quality provision.
But this does not matter for poor quality institutions because no one is really saying 'high quality or bust'. The whole rhetoric around Higher Education is really 'graduate or bust', though poorly educated usually joins the ranks of unemployed straight afterwards. And, poor education is also good business: Because education is afflicted with assymetric informati…

The Man Who Loved China

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I have just finished reading Simon Winchester's magnificent The Man Who Loved China, a biography of Joseph Needham and the story of his magnum opus, The Science and Civilisation in China. I came across this book originally through the recommendation of Fareed Zakaria on his Fareed Zakaria GPS, several years ago, and it was only now I managed to read the book from cover to cover.
This is a fascinating tale which presents three entwined narratives: One of a Cambridge Academic, who lived and died in Gonville and Caius College, surrounded by an environ befitting such a person; but parallel to this runs a very unorthodox narrative of a man, his love and his interests, of Dorothy his wife and of Lu his muse, and of Socialism, Internationalism and of innumerable friendships and collaborations that made this project possible; and finally, one of international politics, intrigue and power, of imperial trickery and pretension, of the horrors of the modern war and the glory of the ancient, …

Contribution, Not Performance

A culture of contribution, which most of our organisations need to thrive, is antithetical to the culture of performance that we usually have.
The culture of performance is deeply flawed for two reasons. First, because it operates with the assumption that individuals make all the difference. But as computers take over our process jobs, we only employ people to do things that require social and creative activities, requiring what we call collaborative work. Teams, so to say, make difference, not just individuals. When you can't perform, perform alone that is, the idea of performance is not just misdirected but deeply harmful.
Second, because the idea of performance creates wrong incentives. The 'me first' culture is deeply embedded in performance, and turns everything into a competitive solo sport. While this is linked to our social attitude towards work and success, the social attitudes are not a given, but just a product of a certain age. In a sense, the failings of '…

India 2014: Towards A Redefinition

All signs are 2014 will be a defining year in India's history. It is only a freak accident that this year's calendar is identical to 1947's, the year India became independent of the British Rule. But more significantly, India's General Elections this year may mark a departure from its course so far, in more ways than one.


It is now all set for the elections in May. Battle lines are sharply drawn, protagonists, old and new, have taken up their positions and the rhetoric is reaching the fever pitch. But, the debate is more than about which party would eventually win, or even, despite being highly contentious, who becomes India's next Prime Minister, despite the countless Facebook-hours Indians are investing on these issues. This year's significance may lie in a re-definition of what India stands for.


For all the hoopla, the election means less than it is projected to be. The hand voters are dealt with is quite poor. Their effective choice is between a heir, who …

Finding My Calling

As Steve Jobs said, you will know it when you will find it. True for love, true for a calling, and it is therefore the object of my search. 
I am one of those, despite the apparently well settled middle class life, who have to face 'what's wrong with you' question from well-wishers. They mean well, and slightly perplexed by my own refusal to do what's good for me. Really, how do I explain why I eschew a mortgage and even a long term commitment to live where I am? I used to say that I am yet to find my calling, but stopped doing this now, as more often than not people would confuse 'calling' for a 'job' and stop the conversation. I say - this is my nature.
Which is true, this is indeed my nature. This is why I lived in several countries and did different things. However hard I try to do the job at hand well - and I make a virtue of workmanship all the time - my goal is never to get subsumed by security of the middle class experience, but to find stimula…

Why Ban A Book?

Does anyone care about education in India? Shiksha Bachao Andolon ('Save Education Movement') has just managed to get a book pulped - a cultural history of the Hindus written by American academic Wendy Doniger - because it 'contained factual inaccuracies'. It does not indeed matter that this was on sale since 2009, and sold well. The education of India has just been saved.
Somehow, I have been preparing for book burnings in India soon and here is a good start. Indeed, there are lots of tweets mourning the passing of the book, and pointing to the fact that there are lots of people banning lots of different books in India. The most famous being Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, which was presumed to have injured Muslim sentiments. But so is V K Naipaul's An Area of Darkness, for its critical portrayal of Indians. Salman Rushdie's other book, The Moor's Last Sigh, was also briefly banned for alleged likeness of one of the characters with Shiv Sena supremo …

BBC Uncovers Student Visa Fraud: A Comment

It was a bit disconcerting watching the BBC Panorama programme yesterday (see here), showing, in great detail, the elaborate network of fraud behind student visas. Using undercover reporters, BBC was able to film an English Language examination, for TOEIC no less, where the answers are being read out to the candidates. A separate part of the examination, where the candidates' speaking and listening ability is tested, a native speaker was hired as a proxy and she appeared the test instead of the real candidate, who was asked to wait nearby during the test. And, this is not just about TOEIC: Perversely, the 'Visa Agents' were able to steal bank account details of people, presumably in collusion with employees of certain banks overseas as well as in Britain, to produce bank statements showing required balances to enable visa extension. 
The BBC was trying to prove that there is an extensive network of fraud gaming the UK visa system. This is not new, but the brazenness of th…

Innovation in Higher Education: A Difficult Business

Datuk Dr Paul Chan, President of Help University in KL, is a remarkable man. As someone who has built a successful university from ground up in what some of my English academic colleagues call as the Silicon Valley of Higher Education, he has a close first hand view of what innovation in Higher Education looks like. Yet, when the real Silicon Valley is waking up to Higher Education, President Chan remains remarkably anti-hype: No one wants innovation in Higher Education, because everyone is after standards and prestige, he said.
Just before I met Datuk Chan last November, Help University caused a flutter in Western media, and with their partners in Southern New Hampshire University, by giving out an Honorary Doctorate to Kim Jong Un. Going by this, they are certainly not orthodox, nor a stickler of other people's standards. In fact, a part of our conversation was about the standards: In what seemed a continuation of views aired by Dr Mahathir Mohamad decades earlier, Datuk Chan …

The Twilight of The Business Schools

Those who can't, teach - says The Economist (See the story). The business schools indeed don't like the disruptive innovation business. Despite the impressive sway they hold particularly in the emerging countries, they are eager to hold on to the fragile foundational logic that MBA is necessary to lead a business, despite mounting evidence on the contrary. So, anything, like the company-run Mini-MBAs, that undermine the value of the business school business, is shunned. This is, however, head in the sand behaviour than anything strategic.
The Economist sees the business schools suffering from two problems. One is about becoming too academic, with professors more obsessed with publication and academic prestige than teaching. This is a standard criticism of academic practice today, one that is easily countered. Teaching without research and practice is hardly the thing to do in a discipline like business. The Economist indeed concerned itself with the top-flight B-Schools, but …

Two Globalisations

There are two ways of looking at globalisation. 
One is an imperial way, which is more common: This is about some country or the other ruling the world, one culture or the other being in ascendency, one way of doing things being better than another way of doing things. This is indeed the predominant way of thinking about globalisation, which we can call globalisation-as-dominance. This is the way most people think, even the ardent globalisers. True, they are slightly embarrassed by their own views, and therefore, they would usually highlight the impermanence of such dominance, pointing to the ongoing dynamics of the global equation, but accept dominance nonetheless as the way of things, as it always have been.
But, then, there is another way of looking at things. This, perhaps less articulated, view of globalisation is less about dominance and more about connection. This is based on a more optimistic view of human beings, perhaps something which we lost touch with. This view may be o…

Private Colleges, Public Funding and A Coming Scandal

Times Higher Education reports that two private colleges in London has received more money in public funding than the London School of Economics and School of Oriental and African Studies. (See story here) While we may argue on the merits of giving public money to private providers, as is the case in myriad public services, even the staunchest free market advocate may accept that this is perverse. One can't even argue that this is market forces at work: There is no way to explain why British students will prefer almost unknown institutions over the better known universities, except that we have managed to craft a system which has created all sorts of wrong incentives for over-recruitment. It seems that despite all the warning signals of the student loans scandals from the US, the government in England has managed to create a system and break it within barely two years.
Indeed, one would argue that stories such as these is a mere case of jealousy of the public sector. But that obs…

U-Aspire: Towards A New Model

Vocational Education is designed to be a poor man's thing. It is for those kids who faltered through the school and didn't do okay in the things that matter. Those who couldn't get the right GPA or work out the system of examinations to get a good college. Those whose parents never went to university and didn't know what counts in the game to get to good college. Those who perhaps couldn't pay the tuition for the private school. You get it - those who are not smart enough, not connected enough, didn't know enough.
I see this as an opportunity. Because the whole system of exams and colleges are so misdirected. They are almost always preparing people with wrong skills and abilities, for professions that may cease to exist soon. I could see a model of vocational education that could be constructed on the back of various government attempts, vain and pointless as they may be, and provide a disruptive force in the education sector of the developing countries. 
The …

Beyond China: Opening of Indian Mind

I recently spoke in an event discussing world economies 'beyond China': My topic was Africa and I reported what I spoke about in an earlier post on this blog (Read Beyond China: Why Africa Matters). I was, however, not speaking about India's prospects in this changed world. It is only fitting for me to supplement my earlier post with what I think of India's prospects.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- China's prosperity and ascendancy present both a great opportunity and a grim challenge to India. China's economic growth, and consequent rise in Military Power, dwarf India's position in its immediate neighbourhood, where it faces many challenges anyway. Its relative loss of significance will both impact its domestic polity, where a particular firebrand nationalism is on the rise, and its resource economies, which is far more interdependent with its neighbouring …

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