If the title of the post sounds cheesy, it was meant to be that way. I am about to complete an intense year of working on a project to introduce a new kind of Higher Education model, one that brings the educators and employers closely together, and this experience has allowed me new insights and ideas, apart from all the airmiles, a permanent state of jetlag and a number of new friends and correspondents. So, there must be an afterword, which I intend to write now, which captures both the journey and a sense of arriving somewhere, only if to embark on another journey.
To tell the story, I must start with the assumptions that I had. The most crucial one perhaps is that India is ripe for education innovation. The rationale is simple - India has a growing young population buzzing with aspiration, an education system which is struggling to catch up and a large services sector which needs millions of workers but can not find them - and therefore, there is space for new educational models, bridging the gaps. An easy one perhaps, given that Indian public institutions are not doing a great job and the private ones, except very very few, are even upto scratch!
Apart from this key assumption, which underscores why India must be on the agenda, there are other assumptions to be tested as well. One, that India has a large number of English speaking students, which creates a market ready and available for foreign qualifications. Two, that Indians prefer foreign qualifications as they know that the qualifications from Indian universities are often not good enough. Three, that if one could, using the online technology, create an innovative model which makes available a foreign degree at an affordable cost, most English speaking Indians would love it. And, finally, with all this abundant and emerging demand, expanding marketplace and tech-savvy young students, Indian Higher Ed sector is on the cusp of several innovative breakthroughs.
My on the ground involvement, adventure as I call it, was a great opportunity to test these assumptions. I was indeed aware of the nature of India (being of Indian heritage myself) that if anything can be true for India, its opposite would also perhaps be valid. So, my approach was more to reflect rather than conclude, to come up a new set of testable assumptions rather than one final strategy, and to decide what I do next rather than where the Indian market, as a whole, will go.
So, here is an update, which, given the nature of the beast, is a work-in-progress.
The key assumption that India is a key market for education innovation is true, because the underlying numbers are certainly correct. However, as one prominent Indian Education investor pointed out to me, there are important social and economic factors to be taken into account. For example, Indian Higher Ed sector is not as competitive (because of its highly regulated nature, the funding structures and underlying corruption, which I wrote about earlier) and the additional demand due to growing young population and available funding through the banking system, and therefore, the incentives for innovation are low. And, this is not just the supply-side phenomenon. The Indian job market is still dominated by public sector and publicly supported enterprises, or businesses which deal with the public sector, which introduces a conservative approach to educational decision-making. So, while there are many forms of popular non-degree propositions - some of the largest IT training companies came from India and MOOCs are increasingly popular - Indian formal education market remains as conservative as ever.
It is also important to understand the nature of the Indian service sector businesses. Most of the employment in Indian service sector is focused on the internal markets, requiring a certain level of skills which the foreign offerings often overshoot. The export-facing sectors, such as the IT and IT Services, which often are more visible than their relative economic size (and particularly in terms of jobs), are often locked into low-skill jobs, which do not appeal to the more aspirational segments of the middle class. So, contrary of business strategy assumptions that one would really love to have a job with IBM in India after doing an MBA in an UK university, the students who can afford an MBA in an UK university would aspire for a job in the UK, with a start-up perhaps. Besides, the salaries these large scale IT services employers pay, typically $400 - $500 a month, do not justify the expenses one would have to make to acquire a foreign qualification.
One can extend these observations to test the other assumptions. For example, in India, the English ability, financial worth and global aspirations correlate very well. Every segment of the Indian student market may be large, but the one most education innovators are aiming for - people who would prefer non-traditional education (foreign degrees delivered online), can speak and write in English, have the money to pay for a foreign qualification and in the end, prefer to stay in India and take an Indian job - is actually fairly small.
This is not to say there are no opportunities of education innovation in India. There are several. There is a great gap within the formal education sector, and the Indian government is increasingly willing to allow private businesses to create campus-based universities. The opportunities to create new and innovative offerings within the regulatory structure are enormous. Here, the mindset is conservative as far as the acceptance of the degree is concerned, but the willingness to pay and openness to curriculum innovation is very high.
There are also great opportunities in the non-formal sector, where Indian students are increasingly willing to take chances. Many people acknowledge that the formal education does not get jobs - in fact, they accept it to be that way - and they are willing to pay for additional training. Most offerings in this segment are rudimentary, and there is a great opportunity to create offerings at scale. This is where the Education-to-Employment message is most relevant. The cost structures do matter here, because Indian jobs paying Indian salaries are what these offerings aim for, but the openness to innovative delivery methods is high and this is the great opportunity for online education in India. The regulations and award do not matter much, but the connect with employers and jobs do. Employers are also willing to accept this as legitimate - in fact, several employers I have spoken to already employ agencies to make graduates employable - more than any innovation inside the formal education.
There is also a great opportunity to build something aligned with global aspirations of the traditional middle classes, something like Minerva which combine Liberal Education, global exposure and leadership roles. Like any segment in India, this is a large enough segment - something like the whole of the population of Vietnam looking for premium education - and one could build offerings at scale even at this very niche. These are opportunities for brand-name global institutions, or innovative global companies which work with them. Global Professional education is also in high demand - I just met a company which gained quick traction by offering training for CFA and CPA in India - and willingness to pay is high.
And, there is a vast opportunity in the opposite end of the spectrum - the lower middle class, people in small towns and villages, is where the growth really is in India - where skills education can transform lives and service the domestic service sector industries (Retail, Telecom, Insurance and Banking). Here, the cost structures matter and most international offerings are out of sync, but one could perhaps visualise solutions that combine online technology, Indian services, world-class quality assurance with global capital.
At the turn of the year, therefore, my assumptions stand modified. If I was to start today, I would not construct a start-up offering British Higher Ed Qualifications with an online delivery mechanism aimed at India, as I did in 2012. That model may work in other countries, but not in India. If I was to construct a proposition for Indian Higher Ed today, I would pick one from the four different kinds of proposition that I mention here.
And, indeed, I have also learned a thing or two about the business of customer segmentation. As I reflect on this experience, I understand the flaws in my imaginary, middle-of-the-road student. The student I imagined, young, tech-savvy, speaks English, have the money, want to experiment, want a foreign qualification and would want to stay in India, do not exist because I super-imposed some data-driven assumptions (coming out of all the different market reports which aggregate people into models) on an imaginary Indian student acting rationally, but overlooked the social realities (like the value of a degree in the marriage market, that visa temples exist in India, that employers are products of the same social reality and do not operate with the cold logic of business strategy all the time). These social factors are often ignored by the flat-world business theorists, who assume that the world is going to converge and these peculiarities (the very fact that we treat these as peculiarities tell the story) are going to go away. However, such assumptions not just lead businesses to wrong path, they often obscure the opportunities. Getting a sense of these opportunities is really my take-home from this one intense year, and I would tend to think, worthy ones.
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
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
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
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
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.