Showing posts from May, 2015

My Next Life

Again, a Sunday and a Sunday post. 
After taking on this travelling life, Sundays are travel days for me. Sundays often mean a late morning flight out of Gatwick, with the goal to reach somewhere by Monday morning. Often, my mind is closed on Sunday morning, in anticipation of the sleepless night that would follow. And, indeed, there are other Sundays to play the same chore in reverse, to get into Gatwick early morning and then spending rest of the day catching up on all the sleep missed during the two week sojourns and indeed, the red-eye!
This is one rare Sunday without any of that, and that makes me so protective of it. This is my time to think and read, I would like to believe, though the usual life soon catches on - it usually reaches its full crescendo around mid-Morning, usually with the clarion call of Milk (or something else, most inevitably) running out. So, I stop my indulgent reverie and return to Planet Earth, usually manifested as a Shop Aisle, at around 10am! But, the …

Higher Ed Innovation in India

A few days ago, I was completely bleak about the possibility of introducing Higher Education innovation in India. (See earlier post here) However, my key points were perhaps already cliched, and with the benefit of little more perspective, it is worthwhile to review this topic with a different start point - what shape can Higher Ed innovation in India take?
First, there is an enormous amount of corruption in Indian Higher Education sector, and it is growing with commercialisation. The students are justifiably sceptical about anything new or disruptive, and would rather put their faith on tried and tested, despite knowing that these public institutions are quaint and could not care less for them. 
Second, while the students know that the choices they have are all poor, the default reaction to this realisation is not to try something new or innovative, but to ensure that one does not do anything foolish. So, while Indian education seems ripe for new and disruptive propositions, educati…

The Future of Professional Education

What to do with Professional Education?
While there is endless discussion about Vocational and Higher Education in the context of what we have come to call Knowledge Economy, no one seems to talk much about Professional Education. One reason for this is that we assume Professional Education to be the business of self-contained professional communities - Lawyers, Accountants, Surveyors etc - and those who pursue them to be self-selected aspirants who have chosen that profession for themselves. It is, however, a quaint view, because most people pursuing Professional Education are just students looking for jobs (or Mid-career employees looking to define a profession for themselves) and it should be as much a part of the conversation about building the knowledge economy as any other form of Education.
But if general conversation about Professional Education is off the mark, professional bodies do not do much better themselves. They are caught between two roles - one as the gatekeeper of …

Who is to blame for Pakistan failing?

Nisid Hajari makes such an obvious point in Foreign Policy (see here) that it surprises. Blaming India for the failure of Pakistan is so cliched! What do we not know of the arguments made? That Gandhi was too religious for secular leaders like Jinnah to put up with, and this is why he went on to set up a religious state? Pakistan faltered because it was not given Calcutta, and later Kashmir? That Indian leaders never wanted Pakistan to succeed? These arguments have been repeated since the 1940s, and promoted assiduously by two groups of participants in the drama, who may each have something not to talk about.
First, the Pakistani elite. Nehru did indeed scare them off, but this was not about Hindu majority. If anything, ask the Hindu fundamentalists in India, Nehru and Gandhi would be accused of undermining Hindu majoritarianism. Nehru scared them off because he was dangerously socialist and the founders of Pakistan were mostly landowners. Most political leaders, and the Army top bra…

The Path to Development

In an insightful article in Strategy and Business, John Jullens present a view on How Emerging Markets Can Finally Arrive. This is required reading for anyone who cares about emerging markets, if only for going beyond the orthodoxy of free trade and flexible labour market. The broader point - that every market needs its own strategy and that the strategy may vary from stage to stage of development - is also extremely valuable, as this is usually overlooked in any politically tinted discussion about development. 
At the core of it, this article has a China theory at its core. China is affecting a transformation of its economy, and it may just pull it off. While some commentators in the United States would say that China can not be a model for most other countries, just because of its political structure, it is becoming a model for many countries, including, for India, the alternate that these commentators would love to highlight. China has proved the naysayers wrong several times - Th…

Leapfrogging to 4G University

There is an argument that the developing countries will not follow the path of developed nations setting up educational institutions and campuses, but rather leapfrog into universities built on modern technologies, such as 4G. The evidence of leapfrogging can be found quite easily. Indeed, none of the developing countries went step by step through the IT revolution, and many of them directly joined in at the mobile era. The fact that a quarter of Kenyan GNP flows through mobile transactions is one of the great examples of technology leapfrogging, and often cited to back the case that universities may do the same. In fact, some commentators see the emphasis on university campuses and infrastructure in developing countries as plainly wasteful.
There are, however, two parts of this argument, which need to be examined separately. First, that the developing countries would not follow the evolutionary path traversed by developed countries is perhaps quite understandable. They are joining t…

Approaching India - Ending The Skills and Education Divide

In India, Education is not supposed to develop Skills. At least, that is what various policy-makers prescribe, as they use the two terms, Skills and Education, with two very specific meanings. Accordingly, business groups and consulting organisations will have Skills Departments and Education Departments, accepting that these are two different things. 
Seen from outside, this is indeed one of those idiosyncrasies that one has to put up with when dealing with India. But it is not just about some government official, perhaps goaded into it by some clever consultant, coming up with the Skills mantra as distinct from Education. It is also two other things that ail India. First, it reflects, rather than mandates, a deep division between Skills and Education that is already there in the Indian psyche. Doing anything with your hand is indeed considered inferior in India, a legacy of the Caste system which defined a hierarchy of labour. Skills, that is the ability to do something, are not co…

Secular Morality - The Missing Ideal

One of the key functions of a modern university should be promote a Secular Morality. However, by turning technocratic, this often becomes the missing piece, the point that universities relegate to private sphere, rather than an active value that they need to promote.
The reason for this is obvious. We have three kinds of universities. The State-sponsored ones, while nominally secular in most countries, define secularism as equal sponsorship of all religious ideas. Their secularism is non-discriminatory, rather than an idea in itself. The other kind, private, charitable ones, often backed by religious founders or organisations, exist to promote one or the other religious ideal, or at the least, exist because of the religion-inspired social obligations of its founder. For these universities, the only kind of morality possible is inspired by religion, and indeed, their kind of religion. The third type of university is the For-Profit ones, set up as businesses to serve people who do not…

Approaching India - The Case for Competency-Based Higher Education

India is facing a Higher Ed recession! Okay, the students are still coming, as they always do in India, but the colleges have now started failing. There are some colleges in India with less than 10 students. The rapid expansion of private colleges, when at least 10 opened every day between 2006 and 2012, seems to be over. Business Schools are in even deeper crisis, with a crisis of confidence on MBA as it fails to fetch anything more than jobs undergraduates can easily do. So, the fees are falling, marketing expenses are rising, seats are going vacant and yet, the admission queues in the tried-and-tested colleges are getting longer.
This is a difficult time to talk about new ideas, and new ideas are sorely needed. Even those traditional institutions, enjoying a sudden popularity in the wake of widespread disillusion, have crisis of their own in their midst, not least the political interference and widespread corruption in the Public Education sector. While these may stand solid in co…

Approaching India - India in the World

I am now in Mumbai, the sprawling commercial capital of India. 16% of the country's GDP is in this one city, where 70% of its capital transactions take place. This is one of those big populous metropolis, home to more than 20 million people, that represents whatever the popular perception of India is. Even before the flight touched down, a perceptive traveller can clearly see the islands of California-esque prosperity in the middle of Sub-Saharan poverty, the apt expression Amartya Sen used to describe India.
Professor Sen surely touched a raw nerve when he said that. The comment came just before the last year's General Elections, at a time of resurgent Indian nationalism. He was accused of selling out, undermining India in front of the world for personal gain. Anyone flying into Mumbai can indeed see what Professor Sen meant - the metaphor would appear quite literal - but such acts of truthfulness are usually considered unpatriotic.
It was only coincidental that today's …

Approaching India - Let's Go Kolkata!

I have three data points about Kolkata, which I talk about often. 
First, Kolkata was the first Indian city to reach a million population, and only the second city in Asia to do so (Tokyo is the other one).
Second, it is the only city in the whole world, in this day and age of urban expansion, to have lost population in the last ten years. The loss was marginal, and it is still a very populous city, but this is not good.
Third, it is the only Indian metropolis with abundant supply of drinkable water. Assuming that water is going to be a big issue in the next twenty years, Kolkata seems secure as a City.
These three data points capture the usual narrative. We often talk about the city's illustrious past, as the Second Capital of the British Empire, Capital of India and as home to many leading modern Indian intellectuals, a place of learning and a hotbed of Indian nationalism. We also hope about its promising future, pointing to various geographic, demographic and economic reasons.…

Approaching India - No Country for Education Innovation

I promised to write about my travels in India in an earlier post (see here) and here is an update. I have completed a week in India, traveling through Mumbai and Bangalore. Just as I expected, travels in India are always full of surprises. Once I open my mind, I always do, I can find anything and its exact opposite in India. This time, I was looking out for hope. I got hope and despair in the same measure.
India is, indeed, no country for someone looking for new ideas in education. And, it is not just because the country can not lift itself up from the colonial hangover of privileged classes. It is also because Indian education is, at least mostly, deeply corrupt. The new private universities in India, which have expanded rapidly, have come about mostly through a rigged accreditation process, oiled through donations to whichever party remains to be in power in a given state (and indeed, if you are too sympathetic to the opposition, you dont get a license). But, also, public universit…

Education-to-Employment Gap - Need for A Joined-Up Approach

As more and more students go to college all over the world, the problem of education-to-employment gap become more and more significant. Though data varies from country to country and discipline to discipline, it is safe to assume at least 50% of those who are in college today will not find an employment. Despite this, the queues to join colleges are becoming longer, as the promise of Middle Class life is the mainstay of the social arrangements that we have now, and every now government in every country comes to power promising the magic formula of creating the jobs for educated (or skilled) people. This creates another problem, that of educational access. There are simply not enough seats in colleges for those who want to join them, at least not in good colleges and not in the areas where these students are. This creates a second problem - of educational access. Add to this the Global Workforce Shortage, that companies wanting to fill positions can not find workers, and one gets the…

Employer Awards: The Thing That Would Change Higher Ed?

What shape would disruption happen in Higher Ed? All the new institutions claim they are disruptive, and indeed, even the old and prestigious institutions are keen on disrupting themselves with the MOOCs. What shape the disruption will take is a guessing game, and here is my two-bits on what this could look like.
My conjecture about 'What' is based on the 'Why' question. Why is Higher Education in the risk of getting disrupted? A large part of the answer is clearly linked to the decline of the nation state, the key sponsor of the Higher Education that we see now. And, this is not just about the money that the State gives to Higher Education. It is more about the nation state as a social system and Higher Education's function within the same. 
The Nation State should be understood as a Power System, run by an elite with certain ethnic and cultural values. This system, with its set of rules, privileges and relationship, are linked closely to the definition of this elit…

Approaching India

I am on my way to India, again. This has now a two-week cycle for me. So, all this, Sunday morning breakfast at Gatwick, midnight queues at Indian airports to scan my body for African diseases, the familiar food in Emirates, feel usual. I am already tired from journeying so much (an experienced traveller told me, only those who don't travel think travel is glorious!) and the journeys now are marked by a strange combination of boredom, tiredness and total lack of enthusiasm, which is unusual for me. 
Particularly because I am going to India, and as it happens, I would spend a few days in Kolkata this time, a city I still consider my home. Notwithstanding the fact that I am so disheartened by the illiberal turn in India, Kolkata never fails to attract, amaze and make me feel comfortable. Yet, it is one of the cities which are too ensnared in its comfort zone - and surely it attracts because if is my comfort zone too, one thing I try so hard to escape all the time - and it fails to m…

Confidence and Certainty

I finished reading Kevin Ashton's super-smart How To Fly A Horse, a very readable book on creativity. This is the kind of book I love reading, about new ideas, and what makes people come up with them. While I would not put this one at the top of my favourites list on the category, that will be Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From, this is still very good. At this very point of my life, when I am searching for a potential topic that I could do further studies on, this is a feast, a birds-eye view of one of the things I keep reading about - about creation and creators. However, more than just being a good start for me on my project to make my reading more thematic, the book is full of great insights and ideas that will hopefully help me in my work.
One of these ideas comes from an inspired passage in the book, which distinguishes Confidence and Certainty. In Mr Ashton's view, Confidence is the belief in yourself whereas Certainty is the belief in your belief. And, as…

Labour Lost!

Or should I say Lost Labour?
Labour loses, Ed Miliband blames the surge of nationalism. All that is predictable.
David Cameron and Tories warned that Labour will benefit from a divided country. It is they who obviously are the great beneficiaries. That too is predictable. Conservatives, everywhere, are the parties of fear. They gain from uncertainty.
But what about the loss? Is there a lesson in it more than just a shrugging acknowledgement of surge of nationalism, and an unspoken belief that all this is temporary? 
The point missed, I believe, is that the Centrist politics is bunk. People want the political parties to stand for something. It is easier to be crafty and get away with rhetoric when you are playing on fear, as do the Tories, because our fears are almost always of unknown. It is harder if you are trying to give people hope, because we want our hopes to be certain, visible. 
The problem of New Labour is just that. Their new politics is about being everything to everyone. …

UK 2015 - 7 Things That Can Happen Now

Election results are in. Tories have won, with a result better than their own dreams. They have got Vince Cable and possibly Ed Balls (who is getting a recount). Fear has triumphed over Hope. Nationalism is back - with UKIP and SNP, English and Scottish nationalists, triumphing in two different ways.

Here are seven things that can happen now.

1. Scotland can leave the UK. UK Map looks like yellow top, blue bottom, more or less. The next Conservative government will have no MPs from Scotland. SNP must be smiling for more reasons than one, because it makes another referendum a possibility.

2. UK can leave Europe. David Cameron is tied to the pledge to have an In/Out referendum. The nationalism that sunk Labour this time will be alive and well. Without UK, EU will perhaps be stronger. But, for UK, as Gordon Brown wrote yesterday, that is possibly the North Korea option.

3. Immigrants can now leave the UK, as the xenophobia can now continue unabated and destroy British industries and ins…

What is Critical Thinking?

As we speak to employers about what skills they value, they often talk about Critical Thinking. When we talk to colleges and universities, at least in the UK, Critical Thinking comes right at the top of the list of the things they want their students to be able to do. Someone I know, who has been working on the Educator-Employer interface for more than a decade now, tells me that even if they are using similar language, they mean different things by Critical Thinking. According to him, this creates the disconnect, and this is why while 70% educators may think the students are ready for the workplace, less than half the employers think so.
With this in mind, I was engaging with educators and employers to figure out what the different definitions of Critical Thinking may be. It seems that both employers and educators mean the same thing - the ability to test and validate the assumptions that underlie a decision - when they talk about critical thinking. They are both talking about not a…

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