Showing posts from October, 2012

India 2020: Changing The Education Mix

Comparisons are indeed helpful: China and India, two countries with huge landmass and population, both trying to get out of poverty and build a prosperous future, make great parallels to be looked at. Dr Rahul Choudaha in his blog ( presents the comparative pictures of Chinese and Indian Post-Secondary education, statistics that by itself highlights the contrasting growth patterns of the two countries. Here is the statistical highlights (I am quoting from DrEducation): 1. India (26.7 million students) and China (29.1 million students) are the biggest post-secondary education systems in the world, bigger than the United States (21 million students).  2. India, however, has more students studying for an Undergraduate degree (19.8 million) than China (12.6 million). 3. In stark contrast, more students study for vocational courses in China (14.9 million) than India (4 million). 4. A similar contrast can be seen at the Post-graduate level too. India

Breakpoint: About Starting It Over

I am starting it over again. It is a complete reboot, and I feel like I have gone back eight years, or even fourteen; the good thing is, I am enjoying it. People love becoming younger without giving up the accumulated privileges. In my case, it is the other way round - it is indeed about starting from scratch while enjoying being older and hopefully wiser - a bit scary but thrilling nonetheless. Being young, I have come to conclude, isn't about the tautness of skin but feeling the weightlessness that comes with such a plunge to the unknown. I have felt this weightlessness before. In 1998, when I walked out of my job to start a small company, I realised the weight my big company business cards had: Suddenly, even with people I used to deal with in my corporate career, I was somewhat of a non-entity. The feeling was hurtful at the time, but sobering and useful in the long run; I did go back to big company work in a couple of years time, but was never as presumptive as I woul

Reimagining Higher Education: Making Global-Local Education

All Higher Education is local, because of its structure. Most of it is still delivered in attendance, which limits it to a locally resident community. Its funding is deeply anchored in alumni handouts or government grants, again with a mostly local orientation than not. However, the world of work has changed, and is changing further, and local comfort and global confidence have both become critical parts of skill set for most professions. I shall argue that most Higher Education do not address this need at all. In fact, truth be told, Higher Education often does more harm than good as far as these global-local balance is concerned. College creates prejudices rather than dispelling them. Students are told to see their classroom as a microcosm, a reflection of the wider world, and often impose the stereotypes thereof. The liberal end of this view is a rich country backpackers' view of the world, benign but flawed; at its other extreme, it is bigoted and dangerous: The Higher Ed

Does India Need A Different Higher Education Model?

Kapil Sibal, India's Human Resource Minister, estimates India needs 1500 universities, almost three times as much as the current 564, to serve its young and aspiring population, and meet the economic growth expectations of the pundits. This oft-quoted but unofficial observation reflects the scale of ambition of the Indian policy-makers, and the direct connection they make between Higher Education and Economic Growth. Consequently, India is the only major economy in the world where the Government is still spending money on setting up new Higher Education institutions, and building up capacity in the old ones. This effort will get a further boost by the recent appearance of three of the IITs (Kharagpur in 226-250 bracket, Bombay in 251-275 bracket and Roorkee in 351-400 bracket) in the Times Global 400 league table, though none of them made it to the top 200, yet. Some effects of this additional investment, as well as the government's enthusiasm on getting private sector to

Reimagining Higher Education: Case for a new Paradigm

It is so fashionable to talk about this being a moment of discontinuity that it must be true: In Higher Education, such discussions have reached a fever pitch. All the forces that make today look different from yesterday are bearing on the change of Higher Education: The recession is transforming the careers and aspirations, the technology is changing daily lives and the institution meltdown is challenging the notions of authorship and knowledge. In the middle of all this, the demand for Higher Education is rising, in fact by so much that it is filling up the institutions and pushing them to expand. But at this moment of supposed glory, most institutions look definitely downbeat and out of sync. I shall argue, this is because the times are discontinuous. For all the talk about creation and dissemination of knowledge, writes Louis Menand, the purpose of the system is to reproduce the system. At the moments of discontinuity, such as this one, there is nothing much to reproduce. The

MOOCs: An Alternative Business Model for Higher Education

Let's face it: Higher Education needs a different business model. What we have now is what has been handed down to us from previous generations. This is a model based on reputation, based on the demand for the aspiring classes to be like the previously (and still) privileged classes. But this is snake oil in a sense as no such pathway exists anymore. And, besides, one can't mass supply exclusivity: The more education there is, the less special degrees are. So, we have had an onward and forward arms race, and sadly, this was mostly about things which matter less for plain old teaching and learning. There were things about research, which creates knowledge and informs teaching, only if it is humanly plausible to do a full year's worth of teaching and maintain high research productivity: More often than not it proved very difficult. And, then, the features race descended, or should we say ascended, into absurd - heated swimming pools, professional athletics facilities

Notes on Employability Training

Employability, in Higher Education, seems to be that one thing that everyone wants but no one knows what it is. Therefore, how to train for employability remains both open to interpretation and a subject of intense debate. I have had the privilege to see two sides of the debate in close proximity: Being in the For-Profit Education sector for many years, where employability is the key selling point, I have noted the disdain for such a trivial thing from the other side of the education divide. Things indeed have changed over time: However, sitting through a focus group on an employability training product very recently, I witnessed how uncomfortable university lecturers still are in acknowledging that it is something that their students may legitimately want as an outcome of their education. To be fair, employability was never a Higher Ed thing: Degrees, at a different time, almost always got a job for those willing. The professors, mostly a product of that era, is slightly perplexe

India 2020: Fear of the Foreign

Mamta Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the agitator-in-chief against the current proposals to allow Foreign Direct Investment in various sectors in India, writes on her Facebook page (I have underlined some portions): "I want to relate to you a tragic experience of an Indian working in a well known IT company in California, which explains the real life impact of allowing FDI in Pensions. This is not just a stray case, but one among millions of sufferers in USA where pension funds are invested in stock markets . This is what is being attempted by UPA II. Here is an Indian who was putting his savings into a Pension Fund to secure his future at old age. Pension Funds were a part of much celebrated 401k scheme, one of which was operated by the well reputed Mutual Fund company listed in US stock exchange. It is shocking that when US stock market crashed during 2008-09, our Indian friend lost 50 percent of his entire savings . He was left high and dry with

India 2020: The State in Trouble?

Indian politics has just got interesting in the last few weeks.  Anand Mahindra, a leading industrialist, was quoted by The Economist recently saying that 2012 was possibly the worst year for India's economy and polity for a long time. He is indeed right: For much of 2012, Indian economy was bumping along the bottom and the Government was frozen in a policy paralysis, mired in corruption scandals and unable to do anything at all. The economic growth rate plummeted to 5% mark, which meant, in effect, that more people will remain in poverty and the middle classes will take a lot longer to get the commodities they covet than they previously expected: A recipe for disaster in a country like India. Modern India presents a classic illustration of Ernest Gellner's point that the modern state draws its legitimacy from economic growth and the lack of it may cause an existential trouble for the state. That moment surely arrived in India in 2012. In many a ways, India's democ

The Start-up Life: The Week of Imagination

One week into my start-up life, I feel much happier than before. Lighter, to start with, with no legacies to steer around, or no politics to deal with. Indeed, old habits die hard and I spent the whole of yesterday trying to look into a potential acquisition of a college, a just-in-case option to smooth the investment process. But, in the end, it gave me the same creepy feel: While I am flexible and an enthusiastic practitioner of the art of the possible at all times, some compromises are bigger than others, and getting mired into the wrong acquisition deal can completely scupper the dream of institution building that I intend to pursue hereafter.  If I am honest about it, I have already been here before. This was the story of my last two-and-half-years, when I was trying to transform a college from inside with the hope that I can turn this into the platform to create the Global E-School. While I don't regret trying, as this has given me the experience, exposure and the networ

A New Curriculum For Business

We are working to construct a new curriculum for undergraduate business training, which will sit at the heart of the new education project we are pursuing. The key premises are simple: 1. We don't see undergraduate business training simply as a mini-MBA. Rather, this is an opportunity to situate business in the wider context of social life and knowledge. The students, rather than thinking 'everything is business', should understand the different domains - family, community life and government - in their own variety and complexity. 2. Accordingly, this training is less about 'how to' than 'why' and 'what' of business life and career. The undergraduate students, who still have many important life decisions ahead of them, would need this broader perspective than the graduate students who may have already made their choice. 3. Additionally, we shall put a great emphasis on the emerging realities of the business - the disruption of business as usu

Higher Education Business at the time of Cost Disease

The biggest challenge for serious entrepreneurs in Higher Education business is to confront the cost disease. As the American student debt exceeds credit card debt and the cost of American college tuition increased by 440% compared to a 110% rise in average prices and 150% rise in average wages since 1970 (The Economist, Sep 29th, 2012), this may be the biggest challenge the Higher Education sector faces as a whole. For-Profit Higher Education has expanded significantly in the United States during this period, and indeed, hasn't done much to depress the upward spiral of costs as evidenced in these figures.  Yet, other countries such as the UK has now embarked on following the American model: The British government, through a series of pointed policy initiatives, has made it clear that they intend to encourage the business of Higher Education. The reason for doing this, if we discount the conspiracy theories, is to keep costs under control, and yet meet the aspirations of socia

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