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Right or Left? Figuring out the politics of 21st century

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I am sparred into writing this post by a rather awkward exchange in a recent business meeting. I was there to discuss a project, but my client asked - before we discussed anything else - which side of the political divide I belong. The trigger was the emails that he regularly receives from a diaspora think-tank, where I serve as a trustee and which occasionally sends out emails in my name. Desperate to move on, I mumbled that in politics, I sit on the fence, though the fence is getting increasingly narrower. But I knew it was an inadequate answer: Fence-sitting is a poor excuse at a time of all-out war of ideologies! With reflection, however, I realise that this is indeed the right description of my political persuasion, though fence was a poor metaphor. This is because 'sitting on the fence' implies a lack of commitment, an opportunistic pandering of both sides. But that's not what I do: I am very much committed to my politics, though I may not buy into the labels of right

A dream without a door

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  The two weeks of Covid, it seems, wiped my memory clean - but given me new ones. One of those is a dream - of the most feverish nights - in which I was in a room where all doors out led back into the same room again. Its mosaic floor was of the room I grew up in, back home in Kolkata; its door a white one like the one in Croydon; its windows showed nothing but an endless array of houses nearby, somewhat reminding me of a flat in Hyderabad where I spent some time. In the dream, I was forever trying to go out of the room and turning back up in it, again and again, even when I was not sleeping anymore. It was one of those that extend from sleeping to waking to sleeping back again, making me more desperate to escape in every turn. If I ever write a story about it, would I call it 'No Exit'? I thought about it later on, as I continue to limp back to normal life. The jarring point is the existence of the door though, a wide white-framed one, which was there for a reason. It was per

Robots are coming for Private Higher Ed

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Robots are coming for private higher ed. It is usual to toast the rapid automation of work at investor conferences, in the hope that this would break the State monopolies on higher ed and usher in a new era of education innovation. What's left unspoken is that the public higher ed will eventually die, underfunded and unloved, under the sheer weight of its bureaucracy.  However, the collateral damage in this brave new world may not be public universities, the better of which are far better equipped to handle the coming of the Robots, but the private higher education that has grown rapidly worldwide over the last twenty years. Indeed, the same investors have billions of dollars at stake in private higher ed and wouldn't be pleased if the first casualty of the very disruption they celebrate costs them a bomb.  But this seems likely for two reasons. First, the impact of automation will be most felt in the jobs that involve narrow specialisations and process-based jobs, exactly the

Alternatives for India

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India prides itself of its diversity, but lately it has decided to go monochrome. Suddenly, India's model is China, though no one would admit of it. Harmony, after all, is good for economic growth, goes the thesis. Therefore, Indian institutions - and the states - are being harmonised in the quest of economic growth. The protests, the cacophony of opinion, unmissable characteristics of Indian democracy for its first seventy years, are increasingly branded 'un-Indian' and pushed to the margins.  I am aware that my timing for bringing this up would immediately position this as a reaction of the farmer's protests and the Indian government's indifferent handling of the same. And, it is indeed something worth talking about : The lack of consultation and due process, the silence of most of the mainstream media, the underhand techniques used to undermine the credibility and even the Supreme Court's actions, indicate a total absence of space for alternative views. India

The trouble with career design

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My current work involves the development of an employability programme. As I worked on it, I had a deja vú, an old idea really, which is worth posting about. Years ago, I discovered the obvious: That it's not easy to educate for employability. Not only education has a broader goal, which is often undermined when one narrowly focuses on the requirements of one industry or another, labour markets, particularly in the sectors which are technology-driven and globally connected, are notoriously fickle. Hence, I concluded then, that career planning for students is a pointless enterprise and instead, we should develop a design approach to career (see Career Design, not Career Planning and How to do Career Design ).  Indeed, since then and through different projects I participated into and many coversations I have had with people working in the field, my convictions have only deepened. In general, I think, we are accepting that all knowledge is provisional and our ability to predict the f

How we made the Pandemic?

Last spring, people who could not understand, or could not accept, the difference between a Computer virus and a naturally occurring one, were pushing hard the idea that the Novel Corona Virus - which was raging through Europe and the Eastern Seaboard of North America at the time - was made in a Chinese lab and then sent out to the world. Whether or not one believed it then, come Winter 2021, there is no doubt that we have made this pandemic our own. Then, I believed that the simpler explanation - that the Pandemic occurred from Bats and through Pangolins - was more plausible; a price we paid for careless exploitation of the natural world. China was guilty, of delayed action, of obfuscation and of - at another level - allowing potentially dangerous practice of eating exotic meat, but not of making the Virus which would affect and kill a lot of their own citizens and dent its global prestige.  Now, as the contagion shows no signs of slowing down and the virus is creating new, potentiall

What is the point of college?

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I have spent a long time making the case for college education and I see I used two different arguments interchangably. The first of these was the human capital argument, the one about skills. Usually, given my line of work, this was about telling employers about work-ready graduates and students about jobs and income. After the universities, I used to cite 'graduate premium', not telling the whole story - that the figure is inflated out of proportion by the incomes of a few winners and collapse of the non-graduate income; most graduates have seen their income stagnate or decline in real terms ever since 2008. I used to argue that the quality of education is best expressed in the starting salary of the graduate (a desperate oversimplification that takes the labour market and all the implicit issues of race and gender out of the consideration) and that the countries should invest in colleges to gain competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.   The other argument was the dem

Why technologists will not save education?

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Post-Covid, will technologists save education? It certainly needs saving. We are perhaps looking a whole lost cohort - may be two - who will graduate in a terrible job market and struggle to make a start. Too many pupils, coming out of forced loneliness of a year, would struggle to adjust in colleges. Those who deferred their studies, will have to find the momentum again. And, as if after a great reset, the conversation what education is for has to start in earnest. Technologists will offer no answers to any to these big, burning questions. In fact, after the year when technologies became so embedded in education, it's role will be seen differently. In a way, this has been the best of the years and worst of the years for education technology: Technology's role as infrastructure has been recognised and technology's limitations to revolutionise education have been exposed. We now know that while technology may have answers to our many questions, technologists are often asking

2021: Going back to go forward

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2021 has started with a whimper, for me. Fittingly I spent the last two weeks of 2020 in the sick bed, as the virus finally caught up with me. I never said so, but I had to learn first hand that this is no flu: It was a virulent disease that makes one feel really sick. Now that I am back in action, I am still feeling sub-par and tired all the time.  That was, however, a fitting end of a year in waiting. Nothing moved forward and my life went in cycles. The worst nightmares I was having when deep in fever were not imaginary, but real - that feeling how pointless everything I do have become. It is as if I got caught in time and never moved forward since 2011, when I used to be optimistic. However, the good thing of this illness and recovery cycle is that one eventually looks forward. As I get back on my feet, I am telling myself that it's time to be optimistic again. Of course, it's hard under the circumstances. Regardless of what I feel, the reality has not changed much outside.

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