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Showing posts from January, 2017

Can Capitalism End?

There are people who would proclaim 'End of Capitalism' as each new crisis breaks, only to be proved wrong. Just as Marx did in his time, they see this end coming in every war or revolution, and indeed, in big and small financial crisis - from great depressions to currency crisis to stock market crashes. They see germination of an alternative from the triumph of socialist agenda in Vietnam or Venezuela, or a general apocalypse in climate change or a Russian face-off. In short, they seem to expect a definitive, episodic end of capitalism.
But nothing yet has come of it. 'Capitalism', the beast these thinkers aspired of killing, has only come back stronger, proving its resilience through defying the odds. Stock markets that went down went up eventually, financial crisis dissolved into stability, revolutionary regimes decayed into business as usual and the apocalypse failed to arrive. Ironically, as it defied misplaced expectations of its demise, it seemed Capitalism can…

Is EdTech Bust?

EdTech was one of the fancy terms that took hold in the last decade. It succeeded 'e-Learning', which started the journey around the time of 'e-Commerce', but failed to get a second life in the Web 2.0 world. The reason for e-Learning's failure and e-Commerce's resilience is perhaps instructive: Despite the bold claims, there were no Amazon or eBay of e-Learning.
EdTech gave a new lease of life to the idea of technology-delivered learning. EdTech stuck, and terms like mLearning did not go anywhere, partly because of its scope - it embraced everything - and partly because of fashion, and its more successful cousin, FinTech. However, the question now is whether EdTech would be able to succeed like FinTech, whose impact is genuinely visible (as is e-Commerce's), or would it have the same fate as e-Learning, an unmourned passing away?
Technology Industry and its investors are adept at making up terms and cooking up market sizes. The reason they make up terms b…

The Indian Imagination

Is it important to have an independent Indian imagination?

The question may be too obvious and too jarring at the same time. Too obvious, because the imagination of the Indian Republic was derived from the colonial imagination of India, and the new Republic did not just inherit the colonial laws, polity, ceremonies and buildings, but also its language, geography, ideas and conceptions of itself. But too jarring at the same time, because it is obvious that independence is good and dependence is bad, and the question is attempting to open a debate that is already settled in most people's minds.
But independence of imagination is not like independence as a nation state, decoupling the bureaucracies and changing the personnel. It is also different from shifting the power structure, replacing one elite by another. An independent imagination may involve a reinvention of knowledge, questioning what is valuable and how should one look at the world. This is disruptive, but also, in a way,…

To Be or Not To Be EU: The Left's Confusion on Leaving

The UK Supreme Court's ruling that the Houses of Parliament must have its say in UK's invoking Article 50 caused trouble, yet again, for Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Leader, just as our Prime Minister, seems to love the 'Have Your Cake and Eat It Too' options, and now, he is keen to let go of a chance to have a proper debate about the wisdom of Brexit.
Mr Corbyn was a reluctant remainer, just as Mrs May was, in the summer's referendum. For all those who supported his elevation as the Labour Leader, including myself, Mr Corbyn was supposed to represent a new kind of politics: One of conscience, as against the reed in the wind policies of career politicians. However, his stances on Brexit, in summer and now, have been totally devoid of courage and conscience, and now, in its latest form, has become totally cowardly. 
To be fair to Mr Corbyn, he is one of those old Socialists whose antipathy to EU comes from its basic nature as a Capitalist institution. For him, EU is n…

Higher Education in The 'Post-Truth' World

'Post-Truth' was the international word for the year 2016 for the OED. And, 2017 is firmly entrenching the idea, with 'alternative facts' being the modus operandi of the new Trump administration. The point is, as Britain's Michael Gove put it in one iconic TV debate, the world may have lost faith in Expertise.
I recently heard one Vice-Chancellor of a great UK university reflect on this. He was wondering what should the academic profession do, when no one cares for facts or expertise any more. Surely, the search for truth and primacy of expertise is at the heart of modern Higher Education. Does this new turn make Higher Education irrelevant altogether?
The case he was making is for a new engagement with the world. This is the prevalent view in much of the academia. The case for 'academic diplomacy' is being made. Some scientists in the United States are signing up to be in politics, so that their voice is heard. The thrust of the argument is to end the …

The Unfounder

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(Image Courtsey: The Economist)

As we wait for the Trump Presidency, the transformation of the American Corporatist State into a Corporation, with a billionaire-filled Cabinet. It is one of those fairy-tale moments of capitalism, of singularity of corporate interests with the most powerful institution in the world, the United States of America. 
This is a BIG moment! But the hopes and fears that surround it, the language we are speaking, are widely off the mark. Here are some examples:
1. This is the moment of Fascism, liberal politicians and newspapers are saying. Perhaps not. Fascists were pretenders - but Donald Trump and his administration pretends nothing. Their intentions are quite plain, their methods are predictable. This is more of a Corporate Takeover than a Fascist regime, and what we get should make Fascists look benign.
2. This is madness, brought upon us by a crazy 2016! That Hillary Clinton failed to beat Donald Trump is not an aberration: We should have known the nine…

Globalisation Trilemma and End of Consensus

2017 has brought out all those Nostradamus and other doomsday predictions out of closet yet again, and this is because, rather ironically, 2016 has proved most predictions wrong and doomed the experts. This was a year of losing faith in expertise, as Britain's Michael Gove claimed on television, and sure enough, we got a Twitter-wielding American President before the end of the year. But if one expert has escaped 2016 unscathed, and indeed, vindicated, this would be Dani Rodrik of Harvard's Kennedy School.
Dr Rodrik came up with 'Globalisation Trillemma' in 2012: The prediction that Democracies, Nation States and Global Markets can not coexist! One can get two out of the three, any two, but not all three. For all the shock at the events of 2016, this is one model has just been proved right.
With all the hindsight of 2016, Dr Rodrik's model now makes abundant sense. At the heart of the 'Globalisation Trilemma' is the argument that Globalisation, by its ver…

The 'For-Profit' Solution and Why It Won't Help UK Higher Education

The UK Government's proposed Higher Education Bill, which, among other things, makes it easy for For-Profit Universities to get degree-granting status, is expected to face steep opposition at the House of Lords (see this story). This is a long-awaited move, and many For-Profit operators, primarily from the US who are having a terrible time at home, are looking forward to this bill. UK Higher Education has a global reputation - arguably an average UK university is better regarded globally than an average US university - and being able to grant an UK degree is indeed a big prize when mass Higher Education is expanding so rapidly in Asia and Africa. Now, one could regard the House of Lords' stance as a retrograde one, and see this as a battle of entitlements - a few privileged people, retired academics among them, fighting for their corner, but this will be a mistake. The expansion of For-Profit Universities is likely to affect UK Higher Education - its effectiveness at home and…

Going to '17: Stranger Nowhere In The World

As one must, I look out to 2017 for a new start. The time is appropriate to think what this should look like, on the morning of the first working day of 2017.
2016 was a strange year. I spent the year grounded, in a kind of suspended animation thinking about the next big thing, but doing it. Seen more graciously, this was a long recovery, from the burn-out of my earlier attempt but also from the two years of being on the road. It was not meant to be a year of reset, but rather of going back to drawing board, rethinking the assumptions and reworking how I start again.
I did not want to be grounded for a full year surely, but as is always the case with such things, I had a lot of false starts in 2016. False starts are very much part of my life and I am rarely discouraged by them: In fact, I take those as badges of honour, as proof that I went outside my comfort zones. Those, failures and disappointments, are symptoms of me living.
But, a sober eye could also see them as symptoms of ov…

International Higher Education and the BRICS: Is There An Opportunity?

BRICS, the acronym fashioned by Jim O'Neill to signify a special set of 'emerging' economies that would drive global growth, had better days. There was a time, in the immediate aftermath of the Global Credit Crisis, when these economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, for the uninitiated - held strong and showed promise. However, as the commodity prices and global demand slumped, the economies started fluttering; political mismanagement and corruption caught up as well. While the Russian and Brazilian economies went into recession, and South Africa teetered on the brink of Sovereign Debt crisis, China seemed to be heading to a hard landing and Indian government of the time lost the will and initiative. By 2014, people were writing obituary of the BRICS idea. Even Mr O'Neill moved on to the 'Next 11', smaller, faster growing countries, which are less diverse and politically more amenable, eventually settling down for another smart acronym - MIN…

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