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Showing posts from July, 2014

The Universities India Needs : An Opinion

If India is to build up its Higher Education sector, it needs imagination rather than imitation. Its new universities are unlikely to be built in Ivy League model. The success of these new institutions will not depend upon the partnerships they build with the great and the good abroad, but its own vision, strategy, and most importantly, will to do it well. These universities will need less of the shiny buildings and acres of land, and more of an idea what an Indian university should be like. We should be talking less about the valuation and more about values. In one way, these universities must go back in time and embrace the basics: In another way, they must leapfrog into the future.
Even the best university projects in India, those sponsored by large business groups, partnered with the best universities in the world, suffer from the glamour trap. The idea is to attract the students somehow through the lure of the facilities or the plaques on the wall: These come at a cost, that of …

Student Experience in Higher Ed: Exit and Voice

I have written about Exit and Voice before (See here) but not in the specific context of Higher Ed. I believe this merits special mention as Higher Education becomes more business-like. As Businesses try to become more like Knowledge Communities (and build campuses, among other things), the talk in Higher Ed is to turn students into 'customers' and of reigning in costs and instilling 'accountability': This may indeed have an impact on how the students engage with the institutions, and Hirschman's mechanics of Exit and Voice may become as relevant in the classroom.
Hirschman's key point is that the organisations can exist and function at a sub-optimal level, something that is an impossibility in classical economics with its obsession with equilibrium and efficiency.  So, if a firm misbehaves or does not deliver, its customers will leave them and the firm will disappear, is the assumption which led mainstream economics to devote so little attention to sub-optima…

Conversations 8: Searching for A Model for New Education

If there is a purpose in what I am doing in Education, it is to develop and implement a model of education fit for the modern economy. This is not just rhetoric, but an article of faith: Despite most of my day-to-day work sorely concerning itself with the industrial era Higher Ed formula, packing students in a classroom studying a pre-defined curriculum, I believe firmly that the days of this kind of education is over. The model is living on borrowed time, sustained by a collective lack of imagination, vested interests and government largesse.
In fact, this model of education may already be past their sell-by dates because its inherent rationale, that one could prepare students for middle class careers through education, is now suspect. The sole reason this lives on is because it is so difficult and uncomfortable to change anything in education: So it must come crumbling down rather than being systematically reformed.
The object of my work is to explore what could replace it.
That i…

Defying The 'Hindu' Rate of Education

India used to be known as a sickly economy, known for its 'Hindu Rate of Growth'. A term originally coined by Economist Raj Krishna, to explain India's lowly rate of growth of 3.5% annually between 1950s and 1980s, the 'Hindu Rate of Growth' was to mean what the Economists call the Secular Rate of Growth, which means just the trend level of growth - the rate at which nothing really changes. India somewhat escaped the Hindu rate of Growth starting 1990s, when freeing up of the entrepreneurial energies of Indians allowed the economy to progress, and some changes did indeed happen, particularly in the Middle Class life and in the Cities. However, lately, this faltered and India returned to an anorexic growth rate. 
So, the primary job of the newly elected Hindu Nationalist government in New Delhi is to prevent India going back to its 'Hindu rate of Growth'.
But we can introduce another term in the same vain, the 'Hindu Rate of Education', which may be…

Innovation in India: Time To Start Thinking

The Global Innovation Index, produced by INSEAD and others, is built around seven factors - Institutions, Human capital and research, Infrastructure, Market sophistication, Business sophistication, Knowledge and technology outputs and Creative outputs - and measures an economy's ability to innovate. India has continually slipped in the rankings, from 62nd in 2011 to 64th in 2012, to 66th in 2013 and now at 76th in 2014. Indeed, it is useful to contrast India with China, acknowledging the coveted hyphenation that many Indians desire: China has remained on the 29th position during this time, losing and recovering the lost ground during the in-between years (though China includes the territory of Hong Kong, which is treated separately and is a top 10 territory in these rankings).
Not that rankings matter much, but they are useful reminders of where one is going. India's decline tells a story in the context of the rest of the world. In the past rankings, India was ranked 2nd in …

Conversations 7:Three Mistakes of My Life

I allowed my life to drift quite a bit in the last six months and trying now to re-instill a purpose and take back control. It is an appropriate moment, then, to think what happened, which should tell me what not to repeat as I move forward.
In short, I am guilty of taking the easy path which leads to nowhere. This is such a common mistake, and I am amazed that I did it when I look at the time since New Year 2014. The story goes like this (almost improbably): I give up my globe-trotting job in 2010 to get into education, and then spend about two years working and building a network in the sector. I was working in a For-profit institution during the time, toiling to fix its operations and build the brand so that it could become the platform for the online education I wanted to get into. This effort came to nought, as the owner of the college decided not to pursue the ambitious goals and sold the business, leaving us to try the start-up route.
This is where I made the first mistake (wh…

MOOCs in Developing Nations: Over-hyped But Under-appreciated

Institute of International Education's (IIE) Rajika Bhandari writes about the roles Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) can play in education of developing nations (see here) and highlights five key questions regarding infrastructure availability, relevance in the context of non-formal education, impact on gender gap, impact on the role of the teacher and local relevance.
I feel these questions are extremely relevant, but ones that the MOOC enthusiasts often lose sight of. In fact, the biggest danger for the MOOCs is not that it may not work, but rather one puts expectations on it that can't be satisfied, and this becomes another bubble that bursts in time. The questions, as raised here, can help focus the discussion and understand what the MOOCs can and can not do in the developing countries.

1. The Infrastructure Gap
Most MOOC advocates have a limited view of the developing country higher education infrastructure. The reason for such limited perspective is this: If you are a …

Benjamin Franklin: A Note to Myself

Earlier this year, I decided to postpone my ambitions to pursue Doctoral studies, primarily for financial reasons, and drew up instead a plan for self development which does not cost much. The plan included working diligently on this blog, with a certain number of posts every month and more meaningful ones, and reading a certain number of books every month: Six months on, I failed on both counts, though this made blog postings more frequent (but more diverse) and I am indeed reading more books cover to cover now than I did last year.
This commitment, however, is the reason why I ended up making the endeavour of reading Ben Franklin's biography, 500 pages and all. I love biographies, but haven't read one from cover to cover in a while, primarily owing to their usual lengths compared to a 200 page book otherwise. Franklin's biography was sitting on my bookshelf and my To-Read list for a while, and I am glad I finally made the effort and finished it within a reasonable time…

A New Kind of Education

The theme of my work is to explore the possibility of creating a new kind of educational institution. I have changed jobs and done many things in life, but among all those discreet projects, there has always been this continuous pursuit, an education for possibility.
Education is too often about privilege rather than possibility. In every country, though a suitable excuse of judging by merit is used, merit is often defined as all those things with social privilege; the rationale for education, therefore, has become providing social justification for continuation of inherited privileges. 
This flies in the face of the other claim - that education is all about social mobility. It used to be, because education is the engine which has created the modern middle classes, in every country, and helped create the current political and social consensus that we live by. Indeed, education used to be the bedrock of progress. And, that is precisely my point: That education as it is practised today…

On Escaping The Age of Copy-and-Catch-Up

Tyler Cowen has a point when he proclaims that 'innovation is over' and that we live in an age of 'copy and catch up'. Indeed, one can take issues with this and show that 'innovation', as it is meant, is not about big ideas but more about finding better ways of doing things and making lives better. But that would be missing the real point: That despite all our claims of breakthrough progress, we are often mere tinkerers, satisfying ourselves being recipients of lost property and creating the illusions of progress. Rather provocatively, Dr Cowen takes the point further that claims that middle class life has got worse, despite the zillions of apps, smartphones and ubiquitous Internet, with failing education, uncertain jobs, fragile health and worsening security, and only more and more debt kept us afloat. He is somewhat dismissive about all the emergence of the emerging economies, which are playing the 'copy and catch up' game, he says, merely throwing t…

Will the 'University' Survive the 21st Century?

Darwin changed the way we think about the world. Before Darwin, there was God who created the world and the Man in his own image; everything existed with a purpose, and for that end alone. Darwin, almost boringly, offered us another vision: Of a complex, natural process, grinding on for million years, producing a great variety of life forms without a knowable purpose. The Man was no longer special after that, just an evolved animal with greater mental ability. However, the most profound impact of Darwin is perhaps in debunking 'teleological' reasoning, that species existed for a preordained purpose, and replacing this with less grandiose, almost boring, and perhaps even frightening, logic of evolution.
However, most conversations about universities (particularly in the West) are defined by a teleological reasoning, that the universities exist for a preordained purpose, quite outside the social requirements of the day. Rooted perhaps in the defining treatise about the universi…

In Search of 'Academic Potential'

Les Ebdon, the Head of the Government's Office of Fair Access (OFFA), called for Universities to look beyond the grades and admit pupils based on 'academic potential'. (See story) But would that solve the problem?
The problem he is trying to address is a usual aspect of British life, students from 20% of the 'affluent' postcode areas are 8 times more likely to go to one of the top 24 universities in Britain than others from plainer areas; and, when everyone takes into account all universities, the lucky winners of 'postcode lottery' are still 2.5 times more likely to get an university offer. What follows is that in most of these 'good' postcodes, house prices and rent have grown significantly over the last decade (and remained sturdy through the recession) and only people with a certain wealth and income could afford to live there. Add to this the fact that almost all white collar jobs, not just the elite ones, where you went to university matters …

Private Higher Ed in the UK: Time for a New Approach?

The recent comments by Dr Stephen Jackson, the Head of UK's Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), making the case for a different kind of regulatory power to oversee private sector Higher Education in the UK, is significant (Read the interview here). Apart from the basic point about the visa fraud and criminality in the education sector, it is important to recognise that the Private Sector Higher Ed is really a different 'beast', and needs special attention. Besides, the Private Sector Higher Ed in the UK is really very different from most other comparable countries, and has so far been regulated quite badly using borrowed frameworks and out of date ideas. The comments made here point to some fresh thinking, though the proposed scheme may remain extremely difficult to legislate and implement.
In context, it is rather unfortunate that this conversation is happening in the context of visa fraud (see the back story here, and here), which will focus hearts and minds along the usual…

Conversations 6: Thinking About Models

I am re-reading Benjamin Franklin's biography. This is a habit that has grown on me: When I am making a transition, from one kind of life to another, I try to envisage the models to live by. By itself, this is a rather romantic exercise, building presuppositions about what would happen, but I have found this eminently handy, as this gives me a sense of purpose and allows me to plough through the difficulties that inevitably come along.
But there is also something sobering with Ben Franklin's biography. My idea of creative life is perhaps not the bohemian ideal of Parisian poets and artists; instead, my assortment of heroes would include Ben Franklin, Charles Darwin, Rabindranath Tagore and some people I knew personally, like  my own grandfather. I would guess what appeals to me is the fact that in these personalities, hard work, patience and commitment were not antithetical to imagination and creativity. However much may I admire the humanism and the passions of Rousseau and …

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