If one is to set up a new university today, what shape would it take?
This isn't a theoretical question. Simultaneously with the predictions of university's demise in the West, which is perhaps overblown, the rate of creation of new universities all over the world has only accelerated. This is particularly true for the newly industrialising countries like India and China, where the governments are keen to create additional Higher Education capacity to accommodate the aspirations of the rapidly expanding middle classes.
From the vantage point of the makers of the new universities - these are, it must be made, mostly private endeavours - the questions about its shape and structure are of secondary importance. They are indeed responding to a market of nearly bottomless demand. For example, India's graduate population, already at more than 25 million, is expected to reach the 40 million mark in less than 10 years from now. For the 600 odd universities in India, that will be a vast growth to handle, even if the number of universities double. This dramatic growth in demand obscures the question of purpose and structure of the universities and makes it a merely academic point.
However, answering this question may be more important than it seems. An university set up without a strategic view may fail to realise its full potential, in terms of market share and financial performance, and if it matters, social impact. It may fail to respond to the changes in shifts in the job market, and indeed, the job markets in the newly industrialising countries are far from stable. And, ultimately, it will face competition despite the significant expansion of demand, for the most capable segment of the students (hence, the most profitable) as they look to build their brands.
From talking to universities in India and China, I am aware that this is unnecessary business language for them: They are, I am told, not in the game of differentiation, just standardisation. But this build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy has proved to be ineffective in many industries, even in these countries, as even these rapidly expanding markets are fiercely competitive and the customers, students, are more aware than we give them credits for. Following yesteryear's templates are not very effective and existing universities know that already: Their business models are currently working by expanding their reach into new segments of population as the economic prosperity creates new demand, but this is neither profitable nor sustainable.
As the new universities enter the market, they need to anticipate not just the market demands as of today, but also at least five years' hence. The job markets they would prepare graduates for lie in the future, and indeed, in the emerging markets, three to five year is an entire lifetime. Without a careful strategic approach, they would be sleepwalking to disaster, and will forever remain dependent on the regulators keeping the gate closed on competition rather than building a sustainable sector. Needless to say, this is not just business talk: The strategic thinking is needed even to provide a meaningful education.
The point is that this differentiation need to percolate down to every sphere of the university, including its architecture, courses, admission policies, people practices, academic ambitions and standards, employer linkages, research activities and publications and so on. One of my English university colleagues, after touring Indian colleges with me, described how surprised he was about the decision making in these private universities: most decisions are made on the fly, responding to the market demands, mostly as an entrepreneurial company will do. This may appear a refreshing change from bureaucratic culture of English public universities, but this is inherently unsuitable for an enterprise whose products - students - take several years to prepare. Besides, such decision making hardly produces joined up thinking: Most university activities appear to reflect the Chairperson's whim of the day. Besides, most universities, coming out of as they did from proprietary or family businesses, are run with a culture and structure built on loyalties rather than independence and merit, which undermine strategic decision making further.
While this may make grim reading, the sunny side of all this is that it is really easy to create a new, different universities. The governments are mostly willing, and market conditions are favourable: The competitive space is weak with too few universities, all mostly following failed templates. One good effort, led with strategic insight, will immediately make a difference, and can capture best students, scholars and opportunities quickly. This is indeed my agenda as I am looking to advise an upcoming university in India regarding strategic developments.
My suggestions so far have been simple: To create a joined up strategic vision for the university looking deeply in the market for graduates and students' own preferences. This is consistent with my view that Higher Education sector often seeks to serve itself and responsible educators must look outside in to define what constitutes a meaningful education. I am hoping that I can help the university team bring together a consistent, long term approach pervading all aspects of the university, and make it a truly forward-looking, global endeavour.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.