21/100: India - Education's Wild West

India is higher education’s wild west, so says The Economist.

That’s spot on. This is the macho territory, where none of the genteelness of the Higher Education world is in evidence. Those who survive need the mercenary spirit, whether they are on the right or the wrong side, and need, indeed, plenty of luck and firepower.

But, then, this is also the land of possibilities, as Wild West was supposed to be. This is a land of an emerging, aspiring middle class, a country of the fastest growing cities in the world, of millions of entrepreneurs, of some of the hungriest companies in the world. Besides, most of the people are young, unlike China’s, and a country poised at the threshold of a huge demographic boom. If someone thinks the El Dorado of education is in India, he won’t be too far off the mark.

However, despite all this, the Gold Rush moment is yet to come. Not too far, I shall argue, about six months’ away is the moment when everyone goes to India. The Indian cabinet is finalizing a bill allowing foreign providers of education in the country. This isn’t supposed to be a big deal, but this is going on forever, and once completed, this will mean greater transparency and professional competition in the Higher Ed industry in India. This is not just the point when the foreign companies will come to India, this will also be the moment when Indian institutions would up their game.

So, everyone’s poised – just that no one knows what will work in India. Particularly from the foreign providers point of view, it is a difficult call. They just don’t have to enter a huge market, which is usually 10 to 20 times of their home markets, but one that is exceptionally complicated in terms of languages, regions, cultures, practices and prejudices. This is said of China, but can equally be true for India: From outside, India looks like a huge multiplier effect, with so many times of Europe’s population and cities which have more people than some of the smaller European countries, but the moment you set foot in India, the endless series of divisions become. What does not help, in this setting, is any stereotype: Any of the colonial era presumptions, like Macaulay’s infamous statement that the entire Sanskrit and Farsi literature will possibly fill one shelf of an educated Englishman’s library.

When a foreign education provider sets up shop in India, it is not just about teaching Indian students and giving them a foreign degree, but also meeting the requirements of Indian employers. Indeed, they are looking for ‘global’ skills, but that seldom means as things are done in Europe or North America. Today’s global skills, more correctly, are about knowing how things are done in Africa or Latin America or Middle East, which the Northern Hemisphere universities are lately catching up with. Besides, it is also about equipping Indian students with forward-facing skills, going into cutting edge areas of technology and business administration. The assumption that curricula past its sell-by date in the west will work in India, is grossly incorrect. A culturally situated new thinking must drive any successful initiative in India, which must marry the best practices of Foreign education with what the Indian students and employers demand.

So, it is not just the empire building in the Wild West, but the phenomena of wild west breaking onto the World Stage. It is sad to see that none of the Indian universities make it to the global top league. Indeed, the league tables are hotly debated, but that none of the Indian institutions make it to any of the tables is instructive. One would think that the wave of education liberalization will change this, push the Indian institutions do better and compete and soon run for the global top table. Certainly, they are not short of resources: They have so far been denied the high benchmarks of global competition and they are soon going to get it.


professor cz said…
Given the demand for secondary education (considered high school and junior college) India will need to increase the numbers to be educated from 17 million 2008 to 57 million in 2017. In addition India is attempting to achieve a university enrollment increase of 30 per cent by 2020. To meet these goals the traditional way (brick and mortar) would require the addition of 700 universities and 25,000 schools and junior colleges with an addition of more than a million teachers, 15,000 faculty with Ph.D’s in management and over 30,000 Ph.D’s in engineering (Pathak, 2011). They cannot and will not build institutions or hire thousands of professors that they do not have, instead they will use electronic means to deliver the needed education.
Consider one method they will use- NPTEL is a joint venture by Indian Institution of Technology and Indian Institute of Science established to deliver education in engineering throughout the country using curriculum based video and web courses. This allows a single experienced professor to reach thousands of students. Each course contains materials that can be covered in depth in 40 or more lecture hours. In addition, 110 courses have been developed in video format, with each course comprising approximately 40 or more one-hour lectures. Students have access to 129 web courses in engineering/science and humanities and these offerings will continue to grow.
India will also deliver distance education courses through so-called study centers where students go to take online and televised courses. If the student does not have access to television or the internet at home they walk to the local study center. Many of these centers are franchised operations owned by locals. The Indira Gandhi National Open University has over 2.4 million students with 3,000 study centers. Other players in distance education are: Punjab Technical University with 1,200 study centers; Sikkim Manipal University with 750 study centers and Maharishi Dayanand University with 759 centers. At present here are about 100 online universities and the number will continue to grow. In addition these online institutions stream educational content through the third generation (3G) mobile telephony using the satellite-based Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) Technology and Broadband, and McGraw-Hill is developing a platform to teach English and test preparation on cell phones and of course they use YouTube and FaceBook. NPTEL has around 4400 videos on You Tube contained in 120 courses and 2.6 million viewers. Indian corporations are also participating in higher education especially in the areas of pharmacy, engineering and medicine. This is how India will educate its populations and do it inexpensively.

No 12 hours a week studying for these students
No bear blasts that go from Thursday night to Sunday
No 110,000 students and alums at the football game
No $200,000 diploma

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