Knowing the Possibilities: A Visit to Vidya School of Business
|Vidya School Of Business|
|Vidya Knowledge Park|
This visit, as the photos show, was to Vidya School of Business, housed in an enormous 200 acre Knowledge Park that the eponymous publishing group has put up. If there was any doubt in my mind about the seriousness of India's Private Education players, one look at the complex, which includes an International School, an Engineer college and a School of Business, alongside sprawling lawns, tennis courts and athletics facilities, did make that go away. The usual Indian hospitality, evident right from the moment I was picked up at the train station, is the only antidote of being overwhelmed a visitor has had. Despite the apparent comfort, admittedly, I was quite speechless looking at the sheer scale and ambition that this private institution signify.
If my testimony is already glowing enough, there is more to come. I was invited to speak to the students, something I surely looked forward to. Yet, right at the time of entering the auditorium, which held around 150 students at a time, I was overcome by a last minute panic: Having been away from India for many years, my Hindi was decidedly rusty. Having seen Indian students in big city business schools and even in London, I felt unsure whether the students in this small city business school, which recruits most of its students through the State Entrance examination and without much interviewing, will be able to follow what I intended to say. Indeed, my concerns were quickly brushed off - the head of the school assured me that all teaching was done in English - but my suspicions remained, having seen some of our students labour through the lectures in London. However, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a crowd of intelligent, articulate and aspiring young people, who not only understood what I was trying to say, but engaged in conversations afterwards, asking intelligent questions and offering their own perspectives.
This is important to me personally. I was not sure India is doing enough for its Higher Education and was deeply worried about a lost generation. My personal aspirations of returning to India someday were constrained by my dim view of India's private education sector, where, I thought, most entrepreneurs see Higher Education as an interim option to park idle real estate. Some of the visits I made, in business schools in Delhi, Calcutta and elsewhere, only reaffirmed my suspicions. The chaos surrounding the cowboy business schools like Arindam Chaudhuri's IIPM, which operates without any accreditation and negligible academic discipline, clearly showed that the regulatory system is dysfunctional, and one can get away with anything if one throws money at it. However, I had to admit that the pictures one sees from outside hide out admirable attempts like Vidya, which are serious long term efforts into building the education infrastructure that India desperately needs.
The challenges remain enormous, indeed. Despite the serious investment, the School can't do much about the curriculum. The Indian Government, while welcoming to private investment in education infrastructure, can't let go its control-freak mindset and ended up regulating the curriculum. This is one of the worst forms of regulation, indeed: The private sector was allowed in, but its innovativeness isn't. If a serious school like Vidya is forced to teach a dated curriculum in the name of state-wide harmonization, the whole system dwindles into the dominion of the lowest common denominator. The Business School teaches for a degree granted by the State's university, but has to offer additional, without credit, courses just to make sure that the students are employable. However, being outside the core curricula, the motivation of the students are difficult to sustain, but without these additional courses, the students become wholly unemployable.
Apart from the tyranny of mindless regulation, I was also struck by the apparent lack of collaboration between the employer organizations and the institution. This has again been a common theme across the Business Schools I visited. Apart from occasional visit by a mid-level functionary to deliver guest lectures, which was primarily done for financial benefits of the person rather than to signify any industry-academia collaboration, the education sector operates more or less independently from the industry. The placements are difficult, and often not at the right level. There is little dialogue between the industry and the government, unlike in the UK, and the three - industry, administration and academia - seem to operate in independent spheres, much to the disadvantage of the students and the professionals.
Vidya is a perfect example of what Private efforts in Higher Education could do, and a case in point for smarter, and lighter, regulation by the government. It does not help that education is a 'joint' subject in India, and that any such education business has to deal with two levels of bureaucracy, one at the state level and then at the federal level. One would hope that someone somewhere will wake up and realize how critical education is for the future growth and prosperity of the Indian republic, and unshackle it from the burden of legislation. One would also hope that the Industry and the Academia would realize its interdependence, and more will be done to build the relationships. Education, I contend, is not like any other business, and even Private Sector Education can not thrive solely on student fees. The only way to build a long term business model in Education is by establishing, and developing, the productive linkages that sustain capacity building: Once Vidya showed what the Private sector can do, one would hope that rest of the country will wake up to the possibilities.