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Showing posts from November, 2016

Transformation of Indian Higher Education: Noting The Signs of Change

For those who felt change is always slow and cumbersome in India, the recent move by the Indian government to annul the Rs. 500 and Rs 1000 notes overnight should be a clear sign that things have changed. Indeed, there are certain things which never change - the implementation was poor and thoughtless and the bewildering array of tinkering that came afterwards demonstrated the jugaad mentality - but Chinese-style decisive action may have now become politically fashionable.
This may give hope to those who thought India would open up its Higher Education sector eventually. There has been a bill, drafted and redrafted several times but never acted upon, to this effect dating back to 1990s. Various governments since then expressed its intention to make the Indian Higher Ed competitive globally, but in reality, had done the opposite. While India expanded its Higher Ed capacity significantly since 2006, creating a few thousand seats every day on average, the sector remained steadfastly par…

Reclaiming The Public Sphere

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Coffee shop chains are cool, but are they?
That Starbucks, Costa and Pret are everywhere in the neighbourhood, offering us a standard experience - of space, coffee and everything - is signalling more than just coffee: This is about what we use public spaces for and how we use them. They are an instrument to create our identities.
Imagine the morning coffee, not just its smell but also standing in the long queues at or by the station. The act of standing there is being part of a civilisation, which, despite its currency, seems to have been going on forever. This is being part of the office crowd, being busy, being hard-working, being on the path of, if one is not already, successful. The carefully crafted and branded paper-cup, with the cap and the holder, all parts of being modern, a fragment of our daily, and perennial, experience.
But, more so, it is the sitting down experience, laptops everywhere, each table a small universe of start-ups and ideas, napkins specially drafted for bu…

On India's Demonetisation

Lots of odd things happened in 2016, and I wrote about them, almost reluctantly, as they happened. And, yet, while I could not keep myself from commenting on Trump's victory, I refrained from commenting on India's 'demonetisation' move, in which the Government annulled 86% of India's currency by value, overnight. This event has more real and emotional significance to me than Trump's victory, and indeed I am in the middle of a very heated discussion, online and offline, on the issue. Yet, I chose not to comment, at least so far, because I was so divided on the issue. And, commenting now is not a pretencion of self-importance: I rather thought it was best to say how I really feel, rather than trying to project that I am indifferent (which I am not).
To start with, I should be happy because the government has made people to make sacrifices. Instead of the promised better days, the Prime Minister has called upon the middle class to be the soldiers of the ATM, whic…

The University As A Network

I wrote earlier about How To Build An University to argue that our current paradigms are flawed. My essential point was that the university, more than its buildings, curriculum and facilities, is a community, and this should be the key consideration for building an university. I wanted to add to this thought, how one may put the community at the heart of university-making, and think through some of the practical implications.
This argument that one may need to look at the University as a Community is old, and indeed, the first universities were conceived as communities more than anything else. This is also at the heart of a sophisticated business argument - Clayton Christensen and his coauthors argued for adopting an 'User Network Business Model' for the universities - and this did become a talking point when venture investment in education was raging. I did write about it then (See Education 2.0: Universities As User Networks , Universities As User Networks: An Update and Th…

The Revolt of the Elites

The current mood in Europe can be summed up as Waiting for Le Pen. If Brexit was shocking, and Trump's victory was sobering, that Le Pen will triumph in May is something to be expected. It was indeed always in the realm of possibility - Michel Houellebecq was almost there till he conjured up an even more dystopian possibility - but in a space of last few months, a Le Pen presidency has become an unremarkable trend event.
However, such expectedness should take away nothing from the consequences of such events, that they mark the end of business as usual. The global system of international relations and internal politics of nations are both breaking down, opening up all sorts of new possibilities and unforeseen dangers. Civil Rights and Democratic systems are at risk, and the new leaders may indeed leverage unprecedented powers of surveillance and of control to create new, terrifying, possibilities. 
But this post is not about what could happen. There is already enough of that in …

How To Build An University

The above title is a red herring: This is no how-to guide on building universities. Indeed, I am no expert, and not pretending to preach. Rather, as I could not possibly title something like "Wondering How To Build An University" without being considered crazy or pompous, most likely both, I settled for this less offencive title.
However, the troubles with title offers some insight why the discussion is problematic. People do build things and organisations, but universities are not one of them, at least by common imagination. Despite being an empirical fact, hundreds of universities have been granted license in the last few decades, and an urgent demographic necessity, there is no other way to satisfy the growing middle classes, university building is seen to be something that takes hundreds of years, much beyond the imagination and scope of a single lifetime. Hence, while knowing 'How To Build A Company' is interesting and useful, claim to know 'How To Build An…

Looking Out to 2017

I usually measure my life not in terms of what I have, but what I have learned. This approach works for me, particularly as I have very little except a pile of books, but there is one problem with this approach: It does not necessarily tell me whether I am moving forward. 
Learning more should be good, but then one can argue that one can not live without learning, and therefore, learning, by itself, is not a benchmark of progress. Put another way, the question to ask is not whether I have learnt new things, but whether I learnt enough. This is indeed a more difficult question to answer.
Take, for example, the year of 2016. Even when I struggled in the past, I would usually feel good about doing better year-on-year. But, in comparison, I am approaching the end of 2016 rather bleakly. The year itself has been one of waiting. Last Christmas, I was hoping for some dramatic change, which failed to materialise. And even while I gave up on the plans I made, I was not able to develop somethi…

The 45th

This post is, as may be obvious, not just about Donald Trump, elected to be the 45th President of the United States. 
This is also about the 45-odd percent of the American voters who did not vote (OK, I am rounding up). And, about the world political system that we had since the 1945, that is breaking now. And, with it, the 45 year old system of globalisation and free trade around which there was a common political consensus, which is now at the mercy of the 45th President of the United States.
Was I surprised that Trump managed to get elected? Not really. Was I disappointed? No, because this was always in the realm of the possible. Am I sad? Most certainly, because what it signifies and what I expect to happen next.
Apart from those few who are genuinely excited about a Trump Presidency, I got three other reactions from the people I interacted on the subject, all three I disagree with.
The first was that this was all a madness. A friend wrote on Facebook that the Brits are relieved …

Who Imagines The Nation?

One of the big advantages of studying again is that I can let the assumptions that I lived with be questioned, and even discarded, with much qualms. Sure, this would make some of my older posts look silly, but then, as Lord Keynes said, "When facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?" As a wise woman (only a woman could see this naturally, I deduce) once said, or so I derive from what she said, the path to wisdom starts from the courage to contradict oneself!
I have always made a lot out of the imagination of a nation. I have seen it, after some of the great social scientists and historians, as a modern imagination, even something that emerged after men escaped the thrall of religion, and needed an organising principle to arrange their ideas. It is, I always believed, a belief system invented (imagined is the word Benedict Anderson used) to sustain new states since the mid-nineteenth century, starting with Germany and Italy. 
This was a convenient theory that exp…

The Hollow Society: One Conversation India Needs To Have

India is the fastest growing major economy, is the persistent claim. There may be some statistical truth (which some may consider an oxymoron) in the statement, Indians are definitely one of the most optimistic lot in the planet. For most of them, lives have got better within a lifetime, and they look out to the world - at least an world without Pakistan - with confidence. And, this dominates the political conversation in India - hope trumps fear, with pun intended - and the message of better days transcend political sloganeering to turn into everyday faith.
Being the doubter, therefore, is to fall out of step. Questioning the great achievements of the country is quickly pounced upon, and even reasonable discussions can get one branded as an enemy of the people. And, indeed, in this - the unquestioning faith in the India - the intractable regional differences that dogged India for most of its modern existence seem, for the first time perhaps, wither away. For once, the unquestioning …

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