The statement that India's Higher Education sector is in crisis and needs a 90s style liberalization draws the riposte: Education is not commerce. But instrumentality is at the core of India's Higher Education system and 'liberal' education, an education without the immediacy of objective and specificity of purpose hasn't taken roots in India. Even after Independence, no Indian D'Annunzio called for making Indians after India has been made. There is no hiding away from the reality that Higher Education is a significant sector of economic activity, which is a major employer with a long-term impact on productivity and prosperity.
The situation in Higher Education is rather like Indian commerce prior to liberalisation, when even car-making was done on ‘national interest’ and the Indian government protected different industrial sectors for the sake of shielding well-connected business groups from global competition. The question of education is more urgent: India reached a demographic moment and not raising the standard of higher education would be much more dangerous than Indians riding clunky cars designed in the 60s. While it is not my intention to undermine the importance of education by comparing it with cars, the point of this comparison is to illustrate the point that a globally competitive economy must be underpinned by an open and dynamic education system, and not be the handmaiden of vested interests.
It is time to acknowledge that Higher Education is of strategic importance. In a technology-driven world, China, our big neighbour and regional competitor, has stolen the lead. Chinese companies are at the forefront in the development of new telecom standards and now match the United States in sophistication in cyber-monitoring and security. There is a mistaken belief in India that while China leads the world in manufacturing, India is the global leader in services. Indian IT companies, however, are still stuck in low-value grunt work while Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have taken on the American behemoths. In this race to global and regional leadership, China’s universities, which have grown both in size and stature over the last decades, have played an outsized role. To expect India to innovate, compete and lead, whether in defence or in commerce, with its universities and colleges permanently crippled and abandoned to vested interests, is like expecting an athlete to win a race in shackles.
Indeed, one may choose not to evaluate Higher Education on the basis of economic competitiveness, nor see China's and India's interests fundamentally opposed. But even the other functions of Higher Education are poorly served within the current structure. The private universities limit themselves to courses with job prospects, avoiding the commitment to research and creation of new knowledge, often blindly following models created elsewhere (it is not unusual for resource-poor Indian universities to announce new courses with cut-and-paste curriculum from the Internet). The public universities remain overcrowded and poorly funded, with appointments driven by political affiliations, participation at the mercy of politicised unions and no greater purpose than to please the government of the day. The meritorious students, as well as the rich ones, leave the country for greener pastures as soon as they are able. Even if one wants to see a Higher Education sector that encourages the development of democratic values, foster the national community and strengthen the nation, this fragmented, directionless system is surely not fit-for-purpose for that goal.
But while some may accept that a systemic change is needed in Indian Higher Education, what is not acknowledged is that the earlier attempts at building a new model have failed. The early endeavour of creating the IITs, world-class institutions in their own right, has created islands of excellence in the midst of mediocrity, and instead of being captains of industry and society mindful of public good, IITians often left the country to realise their full professional potential (40,000 IIT graduates living in California represent several years output of the entire system). More recently, the headlong rush to create capacity by encouraging private sector participation - India licensed 10 colleges with 5000 additional seat capacity every day between 2008 and 2014 - created underfunded colleges which can't find qualified professors.
Indian students have resounding rejected the latest attempt to expand capacity. While the number of Indian students leaving the country for advanced studies has increased exponentially, India's Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) has hardly budged. In the meantime, China's GER, and the number of students in the Higher Education system has doubled. Creating new universities have not created any incentive for innovation; rather, as the new universities were often licensed based on political patronage, the expansion of capacity has disincentivised the search for new models and solutions.
And, finally, the new edifice that India has built, from its newly-minted IITs to all the way down to the humblest colleges, taken for granted a certain climate of globalization which is coming to pass. Just as the voters angry with globalization are tearing apart politics as usual in North America and Europe, the Indian Higher Education system has built itself on the assumption of its permanence. The smooth road from school to competitive examination to engineering college to one of those massive 'campuses' to do back-office work, the real vision of Indian education, has increasingly become full of roadblocks. Technologies have started eating into the jobs that made the urban magic of Bangalore possible. And, yet, the policy-making has continued to sleepwalk, building more of the same, well past its sell-by date.
I agree my portrayal is moribund. But I have travelled the world looking at the universities and studying their history. My observations are not to be taken as a denial of India’s greatness, but only that its higher education system does the country a great injustice. India's great future is obvious to any observer, but India can’t claim its rightful place without unleashing the aspirations and realising the abilities of its people. Instead, the present Indian Higher Education system has become a machine to break the will and waste the possibilities of millions of young people, giving them a poor, derivative education devoid of ideas and inspiration. There is no other way to explain why some Indian colleges pay their professors less than one would pay a semi-skilled worker in urban areas; why some universities would copy and paste curriculum from other university's web pages; why Masters’ students' coursework would appear so badly researched and poorer than school children's; why some Vice Chancellors would demand bribe from private operators in return of approving franchise provisions; so on and so forth.
Now, to my solution: Opening of the Higher Education sector is the only way to induce a structural change. India is the world's fastest growing market for Higher Education, with a quarter of the world's future college-educated workforce being trained there: That will interest any serious institution interested in global reach. Indians, who have made their mark in research excellence and creativity, would find ways to realise their potential and to contribute to local economies, without having to leave the country. Bringing the education to people would allow a lot more Indians, rather than a lucky few, to do this. The virtues of competition would raise the standards at the Indian institutions too, not least by creating a pool of highly educated educators who can take up teaching positions. Such diffusion would allow the necessary flexibility in the system necessary to cope with a rapidly changing global economic and technological environment.
I am quite aware that India has a historical distrust of foreign education. After more than seventy years, India has not come to terms with its humiliating colonial experience. The never-ending conflict with Pakistan and the domestic discord in its wake have been daily reminders of the residue of the colonial legacy. Its relationship with Higher Education has been shaped by the colonial legacy: It has remained an instrument to get jobs rather than a character shaping exercise, a mere pursuit of the present and the particular rather than a forward-thinking enterprise. But India's ancient universities, those monastic institutions which we are so proud of, were one of the most global, with a long tradition of congregating scholars from all over the world under their roof. And, while Arab invaders destroyed them, they brought to Indian education global connections of a different kind, with Muslim scholars coming to Indian institutions and maintaining the flicker of the Islamic golden age in institutions in Northern India long after the Iberian and Central Asian scholarship were in decay. Isolationism of any kind, for any sector, runs counter to the Indian experience. India has always been, throughout its history, a globally engaged country, except for the period just after Independence when India reflexively shut itself up. As we seem to agree now, this has not served us well. Counterintuitive as it may seem, engaging with the world, so that, in Tagore's words, 'India receives the light if ever a lamp is lit anywhere in the world', would be the right way to resurrect Indian education. It would make good economic and strategic sense too.
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
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
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
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
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.