Showing posts from June, 2014

Conversations: 1

Half year gone - should I repeat the cliche that time's flying - and I am on the threshold of a new thing. A new 100 days plan will be handy, and I intend to set this in motion from tomorrow. Let things change and fast. So, here is the last six months: Our plan to get the business off the ground with a strategy that we decided upon late last year has failed. Focusing on one territory and a couple of partners was a risky plan - I did foresee this bit but didn't win the argument - and rather predictably, when this under-delivered, we were out of time. I spent a great amount of time as an Adjunct Tutor, feeling claustrophobic and waiting for a miracle, but kept my already overdrawn bank account on a life-support. And, towards the end of a rather tentative, but boring, six months, things started coming together in the form of interesting ideas and interesting projects. I am just on time to make a fresh start. It is not that I have not achieved much in the last six months.

Why I Want To Stop Teaching

I am in the midst of a change: After teaching in a public institution for two years, I am looking to give up teaching and get back to other kind of work. Indeed, teaching was primarily to cover me during the bootstrap years so that I can pay my bills. However, there was more to it: I chose to take up teaching responsibilities, dating back to 2010, in order to learn the practice of teaching, concurrently with my Masters in Education. This was part of my commitment to get into education and a demonstration of my deeply held belief that education is an art by itself and to get into it, one must understand the domain. That may seem obvious, but it is not. Because education touches almost everyone, everyone has a view about it, which is good. However, what's problematic is that everyone seems to think that they have a definitive view what education should be. So, the technologist thinks that education is all about neat technology, the business person thinks that it is about capaci

Culture in the Classroom: 1

How much should one pay heed to cultural issues when planning to deliver education globally? This question has assumed renewed significance as global education is now a reality. Technology has made it possible, financial liberalisation made it desirable. Now, even the last barriers, which were there for mostly political and cultural reasons, are also coming down. Even a country like Bangladesh, which is forever at war with Western influence at home, has now allowed overseas universities to set up shop ( see story ). With a broad global consensus slowly emerging about a regulatory easing of Higher Education, the global online providers never had it better. The technology of delivery has reached a tipping point, the access to computing, through cheap tablets and smartphones, have reached even the remotest parts of the world, and the groundswell of middle class aspirations have far outstripped the traditional modes of supply.  Indeed, there are big hurdles to cross. China no

UK Student Visa Fraud: Next Round

The Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, made a statement in the parliament yesterday regarding the government's response to the widespread visa fraud uncovered by BBC Panorama earlier this year. ( See post ) The measures are rather extraordinary in scope, though those who have seen the BBC Panorama programme would agree that the brazenness of the scam was mind-boggling. If anyone thought that the issue of student visas are now settled, after thousands of private colleges, bogus and legitimate, have been shut down, they have been proved wrong. Several universities, including London Metropolitan University, have been scarred by the experience ( see story here ). The aim of the government was to close down every college except the Highly Trusted ones (a category of sponsors defined by the new immigration rules) by 2012, but this has obviously failed. The fact that this issue keeps coming back indicate that a serious rethinking, rather than rhetoric, is needed.  The d

India Post Election: Reflections on A FICCI Event

Yesterday evening, I was at the Royal Academy of Engineers to attend an event arranged by UK India Business Council, around an Indian Business delegation from Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI). Chaired by Rt Honourable Patricia Hewitt, the former Secretary of State for Health and current UKIBC Chair, this was an interesting conversation between British Asian businesses and the representatives of Indian businesses. The theme of the evening was focused on what the election victory of Narendra Modi led BJP means to business, and everyone was quite upbeat. The conversations focused on decisiveness, on things happening, and the fact that this is the first one party government in India after 25 years (Rajiv Gandhi's government, which had a massive majority, lasted till 1989). Rather than actual policy changes, the message given out was that the things that were stalled will now happen. In audience were Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, who confirmed

Academic Freedom in India: The FYUP Case

As I wrote about a tipping point may be coming to Indian Education ( see here ), when a rollback of regulation may open up the space for experimentation and innovation, and allow the Indian institutions to take advantage of the domestic demand, something was playing out in Delhi indicating just the opposite was happening. A friend and correspondent was quick to point out that my optimistic musings may be off the mark, particularly on a day when an ugly example of political interference on academic decisions was playing out. This is about Delhi University (DU) wanting to introduce the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) instead of the usual three years. There was nothing in the University Statutes that disallows the university from doing it, and the university laid out the explanations for changing the system. Initially, the regulators, University Grants Commission (UGC) was backing the decision, so much so that the university admissions started as usual. This was an unpo

Waiting for A Tipping Point in Indian Education

I am deeply interested in the developments in the Indian Higher Education system, simply because this is the world's greatest opportunity and greatest challenge in Higher Ed today. It is not simply the number of students, which is massive, but also the sheer complexity of it, linguistic, political and economic, is equally fascinating. The comment I used to make in jest - that India is education's El Dorado, because everyone wants to go there and no one knows how - had indeed more than just a grain of truth. This has now become a full time occupation for me to study and talk about Indian education. I cherish the opportunities of talking to people who are already working in Indian Education, and usually end up pontificating about the billion dollar opportunity they have in front of them. Some, if not most, of these conversations are usually frustrating. They prove another of my lighthearted observations: That demand corrupts, and huge demand corrupts hugely. Despite the fas

Being Indian

I have chosen to live outside India for more than a decade. This was my attempt to become Indian. I did not leave India because I felt constrained. Rather, I was comfortable. And, it is that comfort that I wanted to overcome. My persistent requests for transfers abroad, even to remote locations in Asia and Africa, were often met with puzzlement by my bosses, who could never figure out why I would want to go away, leaving what seemed to be a promising and safe career.  Eventually I went away, but I never really left. Most of my conversations always centred around India. All that I learnt along my way added to my perspectives and changed me. I lived in Bangladesh first, which made me cross the first boundary, that of religious stereotypes that afflicted so many conversations when I lived inside the cocoon in India. Travelling in South-East Asia opened up my mind to the value of working by hand, and challenged the deep-seated caste-based presumptions that I grew up with. And, ev

Recalibrating My Life: 1

I am at that "all change please" point of my life. Everything that I have been doing must now change.  The plan I embarked upon to set up a Global College must now be commuted for something less ambitious : We never raised the capital we needed and without creating significant infrastructure, it is unlikely that we would be able to attract the right kind of partners globally. The current model of depending on partners who themselves lack strategic depth means that we are spending a lot of time advising and helping, but not getting reciprocal commitments in return.  Indeed, this is not a sudden realisation. We were aware that this business can not be built without scale, and therefore, the initial plans were to build this alongside an existing institution. In that sense, this has not been an eighteen month long endeavour, but one of four years. At the first attempt, I wanted to transform a London-based Private Institution into a global delivery organisation. That pla

Education Technology: What To Do With TV?

Television is an embarrassment for education technologists. Whenever they proclaim that Internet will change education forever, breaking the entrenched institutional structures, most people around the table will say, "oh yes! we saw that with TV". Television was supposed to change education, and supposedly it did not. All one recalls of television in education is somewhat boring lectures at wee hours in the morning which no one watched: And, indeed, as far as the institutional structures are concerned, television did not disrupt anything. Usually, this leads to a discussion about socio-economic factors, the broader perspective of the rise of a new middle class, the transformation of work, all the reasons why the putative revolution by television never happened in learning. These are mostly valid reasons, but perhaps unnecessarily defensive: Television did change education and identifying these changes and drawing lessons from them are perhaps the best thing to do for to

Reverse Migration: Revisiting the Idea

I wrote about Reverse Migration at various times on this blog, and it is interesting to read these back posts now to see how my views have changed over time.  First, in 2009, when Vivek Wadhwa made the case first, I was excited about India's opportunity and wrote Reverse Migration: India's Chance . My point was that the relatively unaffected Indian Economy would benefit from the phenomena of global Indian talent returning home because of the Great recession. However, India's economy stalled thereafter. But even before that, returning Indians would stumble onto my blog post and wrote about their experiences, mostly of disappointment. I also realised that I misread how open India would be to the phenomena - I was subject to resident Indians' ire for assuming that these returners would be, should be, given a red carpet return, because they did not stick around to make India's prosperity happen. The arguments, strangely enough, were the usual arguments one mad

On Kolkata

A much maligned city, Calcutta of the black hole, when several Englishmen perished locked up in a small room, on a hot summer night on the 20th June, 1756, lived in Western memories in different forms, lately in the ghastly revocations of its poverty and squalor by the likes of V S Naipaul and Gunter Grass. With the international spotlight on Mother Teresa's work, it was confirmed as a terrible place, somewhere you may want to send your charity money to but never wanted to go yourself: The Bengali diffidence in sticking with its Communist government, despite its misery, made an Indian Prime Minister call it a 'dying city'. And, indeed, it turned out that way, as the only metropolis in the world whose population has declined in the last decade. But there is another tale, which hardly gets told. Kolkata was one of the two cities in Asia in the early 1900 with more than a million people, the other being Tokyo. The capital of the British India till 1911, when King George

For The Creative Turn

One of the first conditions of being creative is being uncompromising: It is about not holding back thoughts, ideas and desires for the sake of breaking norms and offending people. I know this, because I often hold back: My desire always has been, if this could be said, to be noted by becoming invisible. I have spent too much time in my life trying to be a team player, mingling with those who had no desire to be different or make a difference, and trying to sound interested in ideas, though these were not really ideas but words pretending to be ideas. It has mostly been a journey of postponement, a desire to be free by remaining unfree for a while, a surrender, often, to mediocrity and indifference. Now, at one of the big inflection points in my life, I am seeking the creative turn.  It is not just nostalgia about a life forsaken, but a desire to reach deep inside and touch my own heart: To be me, though that expression is cliched and sound so much like the faux celebrities o

The Skills Discussion: What Are We Missing?

Skills education is often seen as a panacea for poverty, and developing countries, in Africa and Asia, pour enormous sums of money to build skills infrastructure. There is an intuitive sense behind all this: The policy makers in these countries look up to the industrialised nations and ask what they need to get even. The need for infrastructure, physical and human, become too obvious both from the study of economic history and a casual walk down Oxford Circus. It also makes a lot of political sense: The government can build elaborate employability programmes to impress its rural population eager to join urban life, and the middle class voters, disappointed with the lack of skilled masons, plumbers and electricians, do not mind. Indeed, all this makes sense if one believes that the world economy is moving in a straight line, but one clearly knows it isn't. Again, a reading of economic history or a casual walk down Oxford Circus makes the central idea quite clear: Things are ch

Would Things Get Better?

Knock on the door on a busy day and I am forced to discuss whether things will get better. This time, it is preachers from Jehovah's Witnesses.  My normal answer that things will surely get better does not end the discussion: I have to justify my statement pointing to our infinitesimal capacity to solve problems which appeared unsolvable at different points in history. Next moment, I was read from the Bible about God's promise to wipe every tear. Despite my best intentions, I disagree, as politely as possible, saying that Man may have to solve its own problems.  Thereby, I start a debate which I knew is without outcome. So, if man can solve its problems all by itself, why do we have wars, terrorism, corruption now that we are at the peak of our civilisation? My answer: We thought we were at the peak of our civilisation at all times by some people, yet we always had problems. Come to think of it, there were always people telling us that we can't solve our p

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