Showing posts from October, 2013

Politics of Foreign Education: The Colonial Memory

When I wrote a post titled 'Does India need Foreign Universities' I got the usual, and perhaps correct, response from many that the answer is obvious: Indian universities have a long way to go in terms of quality and innovation, and they need partnership with foreign universities to achieve this. However, my purpose of writing the post was never to argue on the contrary. In fact, it was not about collaboration and exchange of knowledge between the universities at all. This discussion is not about education, but about politics: My purpose is limited to exploring the political context why it is so difficult for India to pass the Foreign Education Providers' Bill (or allow Foreign Universities in India), when the educational benefits may be rather obvious (not to mention that most of the policy-makers themselves, and most certainly their children, are foreign educated). While it may be easy to dismiss this as yet another example of the inefficacy of India's political

Reflections and Interests: Learning for A Pivot

I feel free. I feel free to do new things, and start learning again.  This is a wonderful feeling. For several months, I pursued a fixed goal, whose shape was pre-defined. This is not just at work, in my personal life too - there were things to be completed, awards to achieve, promises to be delivered, all arranged in advance. Then, suddenly, I arrive at this point, from inside perhaps rather than outside, when some goals are achieved and some have been exposed as useless. I feel footloose, the settlement done and the road calling me again. All the affections and memories of yesteryear beautifully curated and arranged in my mind in a wonderfully rich display, pregnant with all the love and comfort and belonging, never to go away, but just as the starting point of the travel that must follow.  I have always questioned the need for an end in life, particularly an end known in advance. Yet it is the end known in advance, matters most: In some societies, it is prearranged before one is bor

Politics of Foreign Education: Does India Need Foreign Universities?

India is Higher Education's El Dorado: Every university seem to want to get there, and no one knows how. The British Council's report on Transnational Higher Education puts things in perspective. India is firmly in amber territory in terms of friendliness to Transnational Education, it scores High in market attractiveness but low otherwise, because of the policy and regulatory confusion. It is one of those countries which everyone loves to talk about, but never does anything with. The Indian Government loves to play the game - it has been discussing a bill to allow Foreign Providers into the country for more than a decade now, but never got to the point of putting it forward to the Parliament. For the outside observers, this is just the way India works. The lethargy in governance is just too well known. The various International Directors at various western universities love this, as it always allows them a talking point in the meetings, a topic about which one can appear

The Project of 'Liberal Education'

The project of liberal education, as Professor Michael Roth of Wesleyan University memorably puts it, is to - Liberate, Animate, Cooperate and Agitate.  Liberate, as Frederick Douglas put it - education made him 'unfit to be a slave'. This is the first object of a liberal education perhaps, to make a person free, so that he can never be a slave again. Animate, as Emerson and later Whitman will argue, is about discovering beauty by engaging with the world: With Education, suddenly, things that did not mean anything before, a painting, music, a building or a public square, may suddenly appear laden with meaning, full of history or promise for future. Cooperate, as Jane Addams described, because Education should allow one to see different points of views, and see, beyond the petty rivalries of everyday existence and make us see the commonalities of existence and form social bonds. And, finally, agitate, because liberal education, at its core, is a big Utopian project, predica

On Technology and Higher Education

I have been going through a Conference Season, attending different conferences discussing the future of Higher Education with the most inevitable discussion on Technology in Higher Education. It is somewhat amusing to hear so many different views somewhat converging on the same answer: That it would change education, but contrary to what some of its most radical proponents say, it won't make the traditional structures of Higher Education obsolete. So whether a speaker launches into a revolutionary manifesto or a conservative soul-searching while speaking about technology, in the end, it is always the establishment message that returns - that Higher Ed isn't going to wither away. This view, however, is more of a reflection of the people in the room than the possibilities of technology. The discussion about technology in education always start with the somewhat patronising and now cliched question about how many people have started a MOOC and how many have completed it. In t

Against 'Lazy' Internationalisation of Higher Education

The Times Higher Education League Tables are out, the usual self-congratulatory columns have duly appeared alongside a few long faces and the Conference Season have began in all earnestness. We just ran one ourselves, which was about Indian Higher Ed but the conversation primarily centered around how Brand Britain could help lift standards. Another is due next week - under the title 'Exporting Excellence'. The moment of Transnational Education has clearly arrived - and by common belief, UK Education institutions, primarily due to their 'quality', are expected to take the lead. It is timely therefore to ask how pertinent is this expectation, and whether UK Higher Education institutions will really be able to take advantage of the 'globalisation of education'. The strengths should be obvious: The UK institutions dominate the league tables after the US ones. Some of the world's best known universities are in the UK. The UK researchers get a disproportionat

Interrogating For-Profit Higher Education

I have been studying Higher Education, especially For Profit Higher Education, for several years. In a way, I have an unique position to be an outsider as well as an insider in this: I own and run a private Higher Ed business and work with several others, while in my free time, I do my research and blogging on the subject. I shall claim that I am somewhat neutral on this very political issue - I see private enterprise as a force for good and public higher education, as it stands today, well in the need of a disruption, but also acknowledge that private owners and shareholders of Higher Ed companies haven't figured this out yet. Having worked with several For Profit Higher Ed companies, I have realised the logic of money has to sharpen itself if it has to create a winning Higher Education brand. In fact, my work keeps circling around this central question: How to create something really good with private capital? I claim that I have glimpsed this prospect in my years in NIIT, w

Employability: What it means in Practise?

One of the colleagues asked during the Education Investment Conclave, which took place last week, what it means in practise. The question was directed to me, and my answer something to the effect that it means preparing the students so that they can be employable all their lives, not just get the first job. What I was thinking is that what goes on in the name of employability is so very lame, the writing of CV or preparing for interviews, all directed to somehow crossing the initial barrier into work, based on the implicit assumption that getting started is the most difficult thing. There may be some truth about the difficulty of getting started, but that's only half the story, if that. Employability isn't about just crossing the threshold into employment; in fact, in most cases, the employability problems start thereafter. The candidates don't get why it is so important to turn up for work at time, why you can't afford to lose temper, why you have to work in a

Changing Indian Higher Education System

The modern Higher Education system in India was built on the promise of Government Jobs and Social Prestige. A very colonial construct, this was sustained even after independence, and to this day, the students and their parents often approach Higher Education similarly. On the other hand, Indian economy is changing rapidly, with the expansion of the inner market, a result of a deliberate fiscal shift over the last decade towards the creation of rural demand: The Indian Higher Education, as it stands today, may not be fit for purpose in context of these rapid changes. The discussions about ‘demographic dividend’, and the millions that must enter Higher Education, are omnipresent in policy-making. However, any serious discussion about Indian Higher Education must go beyond the headline numbers and take into account the complex realities of regional variations. The fact that Indian states are very different from one another, demographically, socially, economically, a

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