U-Aspire: Building SmartColleges in India
All programmes that the SmartColleges will offer - and indeed the plan is to start with just one to set the standards - will have few common characteristics. First, they will all be global, in content, outlook and standards. This is not so much about giving them a British qualification but more about giving it the British way, delivered in English, based on 'learning to learn', with emphasis on interactions, practical application and critical understanding. Second, they will all be delivered in the twenty-first century mode, blending technology, fieldwork, research activities and global community interactions. The Indian education sector, despite its late-mover advantage, is usually blind to technological progress, and we are seeking to change that. Third, these programmes will all be employment-linked, and in most cases, will be delivered in conjunction with employers. This is our big challenge but one we are willing to take. This is why we are looking to acquire training companies which have deep employer connections - this is usually better in vocational education than the naval-gazing Higher Ed institutions - and we want to leverage this into real projects and work experiences for our students. Fourth, the programmes we offer - in International Business to start with, and then in Digital Media work and other areas - will include not just the technical subject areas, but a range of exposures and activities needed by the real workers in the real workplaces. They will focus on, as any practical programmes should do, all the 'soft' tasks that accompany any job but never get taught - selling ideas, negotiating and finding middle ground, delegating and taking responsibility, and most importantly, learning to ask the right questions. And, finally, these programmes will hopefully also imbibe the culture of lifelong learning, that education is more than mere consumption and getting educated is usually about the start of a journey than its end. We do this by focusing on the values and ideas that shape a productive life, and these are more important in twenty-first century life than it ever has been, and making it an integral part of the education proposition.
So, with all this, the proposition of U-Aspire changes, and I hope, for good. This is no longer about doing British qualifications and beaming the British lecturers over the Internet, but rather establishing real delivery mechanism with the values and ideas fit for twenty-first century. Time to be bold, I am saying to myself: This is the kind of big bet that I was looking for. With the other projects coming upstream in China, which is based on similar ideas but will be led by our Chinese partner, and hopefully in Malaysia and Africa too, I hope that these deep engagements will shape the next few years of my life, and the work we do.