Indian policy-makers always come up with this comparison: United States has more than 4500 degree granting institutions, but with four times the population and a middle class of the size of US population, India has only about 700. So, India needs more, is the implicit conclusion. There is no clear consensus on how many more universities India needs, but one tends to hear a number between 1200 and 1500. However, in the rather hasty rush to create universities, as expected, India is creating more problems for itself.
Surely, university creation is mostly state business than a Federal matter in India. But states have caught on to the Central rhetoric. Some states in India allowed private universities, some allowed a free-for-all business, but some, like West Bengal, MP and Maharashtra, always maintained a conservative line. Those last bastions seem to be falling now.
Consider West Bengal: It is no surprise that the Communist Government that ruled the state for more than 30 years couldn't ideologically adjust to the Private University business, not even for their cronies. Not that they created a successful public university system: They rather destroyed the academic culture of the state, once well regarded in India, by meddling into institutional autonomy and strictly political appointments. Higher Education was not one of their priorities. A few years into their tenure, many of the states brighter students were leaving the state for college elsewhere. By the time they departed, they left the state's higher education system in a mess, riddled with an underfunded public system mostly run by political appointees.
The new government, which won the election with the slogan of change, needed to address this urgently. So, they did two things: First, they evicted the political appointees of the past government with their own political appointees. And, next, they started allowing private universities to be created.
The logic behind allowing private universities in West Bengal is somewhat questionable. The West Bengal government believes, and said as much, that these private universities will create jobs. If this sounds like common sense, one should follow closely what the government is saying. They are not saying that the private universities will create skilled people and therefore investment will come to West Bengal. They are saying that since the Heavy Industry investment will not come to West Bengal, allowing a few private universities will hopefully keep busy the state's middle classes. Private universities, in this construct, is the employer, not employment generator!
I was close enough to the business to hear this bizarre rationale in West Bengal, but a similar sort of thing may be playing out in other states too. Why else there is so little discussion about the quality of education in Indian politics and media - contrast that with the vast amount of literature (and political debate) in almost every major country about the purpose and efficacy of college - and so much talk about the number of universities, colleges and students one ought to have?
One straightforward explanation may be that India is coming from behind and it needs to create a lot of capacity, fast, to accommodate its students. Therefore, the discussions about capacity precedes and overwhelms any discussion about efficacy, be it in Higher Education or in Vocational Education. But then, India's Engineering colleges and Business Schools are failing, because the students are not interested in the poor education they offer, and the pressures on India's traditional, and underfunded, colleges are as great as it ever was. It is not unusual to see Indian institutions to operate with only a handful of students, and many private universities only have a few hundred students as compared to the thousands of students in public colleges.
This is problematic because institutional size matters. Despite a similar rush to create Higher Ed capacity, an average institutional size in China is over 6000 students but in India, it will be less than 500. This significantly constrains what the institution can do - a small size immediately rules out any research capacity - and also relegate those institutions into permanent dwarfs.
Indian institutions are also highly concentrated in certain areas, forming academic corridors based on real estate prices and policy friendliness, leaving other areas underserved. This is indeed typical for development through private capacity: Divorced from any social objective, these institutions tend to focus on certain profitable, usually well served areas. In West Bengal, one can guess, all the new capacity will be created within a 100 mile radius of Kolkata, its capital, leaving its North and West, relatively poor parts, untouched. This also means that the new Higher Ed capacity is usually concentrated on a few disciplines, mostly business etc., which are more profitable. The enthusiasm for Engineering or medicine, the areas of highest demand, among private operators have somewhat cooled after the regulators woke up to the poor infrastructure provision in many of these institutions, and has been replaced by a new-found love for Liberal Arts.
In theory, the market-driven development of India's Higher Education sector should create more diversity, more opportunity and more innovation. However, that's not what happens in practice. The word 'market' is usually just a label to hang on the door to conceal the usual crony capitalism, auctioning of university licenses for political funding. Add to that the political grandstanding about hundreds of universities, without any regard to the students' lot or any coherent policy thinking, and one gets to the point of chaos, where market does the opposite: Concentrate the power in the hands of few, stifle innovation, restrict opportunity and undermine diversity. This may be the broader narrative of Indian capitalism, but this is being played out in Indian Higher Education within a short span of time, in sharp relief, and causing long term damage to the country's capacity to educate its people.
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
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
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.
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
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
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
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,
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.