Showing posts from June, 2015

Competency-based Higher Education : Which Competencies?

Competency-based Higher Education is the new mantra in the United States, something that the For-Profit sector loves to talk about. The reaction to this is bound to be ambivalent elsewhere, particularly in Europe, where Competency-based Education has a rather long tradition, though not in Higher Education. Whether this is a new idea or an old thing packaged anew, the old questions persist - whose competencies and who gets to define them. The answers are less obvious than it appears. An offhand answer may treat a sector or an industry as the starting point, which was the traditional approach followed in European Further Education and now being copied in the developing countries. While such competency frameworks may have some merit, we are also aware of their limitations - that the individual employers may not necessarily follow the same competency frameworks (in other words, company culture plays a dominant role regarding which competencies are valued) and these are highly dynamic

Education-For-Employment: Rethinking The Employers' Role

One of the missing pieces, a big one, in the Education-to-Employment conversation is what role does the employer play.  We know that a large number of graduates come out of school and can not find a job. Educators, in some cases resistant to the idea that a job should be seen as an outcome of education, are being held responsible for what is becoming a big social problem. Policy makers and Media are leading the conversation and demanding greater accountability, for a successful outcome defined by productive economic engagement (job or enterprise, whatever), from the educators. Several new-age Education institutions are exploring different educational models tied more closely to the outcome, including more responsive curriculum, pedagogy that mirror workplace practices, intensive career preparation for senior students as well as setting up facilities such as incubation centres connecting students with Capital and networks to start their enterprise. In summary, despite resistance f

The Conversation about Character

Character is back in conversation. It was one of those Victorian ideals we came to discard. It reeked of elitism, somewhat, and of an irrelevant valour from a time past. The IQ, which came to replace it somewhat, was far more democratic, at least in theory. We loved those stories of smart people coming from unlikely places, and they became our new heroes. But, as it seems, character is back in conversation, with a vengeance. As IQ peaked, and observing all the craze about tests and test preps, one would tend to think this can't get any crazier, cognitive psychologists, economists and educators started talking about the value of the non-cognitive skills, such as work ethic, self control, integrity, grit etc. We now have masses of data and all sorts of interesting research proving that these things do indeed matter, and character building is now back at the centre of educational discussions. Which should be good news, I should think. I am on to a little project to go bey

My Adventures in Indian Higher Education

If the title of the post sounds cheesy, it was meant to be that way. I am about to complete an intense year of working on a project to introduce a new kind of Higher Education model, one that brings the educators and employers closely together, and this experience has allowed me new insights and ideas, apart from all the airmiles, a permanent state of jetlag and a number of new friends and correspondents. So, there must be an afterword, which I intend to write now, which captures both the journey and a sense of arriving somewhere, only if to embark on another journey. To tell the story, I must start with the assumptions that I had. The most crucial one perhaps is that India is ripe for education innovation. The rationale is simple - India has a growing young population buzzing with aspiration, an education system which is struggling to catch up and a large services sector which needs millions of workers but can not find them - and therefore, there is space for new educational mod

The Glass Cage: Automation and Its Consequences

Nicholas Carr is counter-intuitive, and therefore, must-read for anyone interested in talking technology. I followed his big ideas since his path-breaking 'Does IT Matter?' which was about Information Technology stop being a strategic tool and more like an utility, like Electricity. One could argue that this prediction did not materialise, as we put our hopes on Big Data etc to change the way business is done. However, the follow-up on this thesis, that IT would be available through a pipe rather than the strong-room like infrastructures in the past, certainly did, and today one could look at the Cloud Computing infrastructure as an utility, rather than a strategic asset. His later work, 'Is Google Making Us Stupid' (and the book that followed, The Shallows), created a whole genre of work exploring the effects of technology on our brain and our capacity to think, which bore out some of his early warnings about changing behaviour. In summary, he excels in making the Te

Education-to-Employment - Reassessing The Challenge

To paraphrase Dickens, this is the best and the worst of the times for Higher Education. On one hand, Higher Education was never more popular. A preserve of the rich and the privileged, it has now become the mantra for everyone aspiring to move up in life. The success of the Western Middle Class in the Post-war years of industrial expansion created a template that everyone around the world to follow, a life of suburban bliss (or an urban apartment), a family, a car, a good school for kids, all inextricably tied to going to college and getting a job afterwards. On another, Higher Education is also in serious trouble, because the equation does not work in practice. The middle class jobs are vanishing, the middle class incomes are stagnating, families are breaking down and state provisions of education and health (where it existed) are being whittled down to meaninglessness. And, most apparently, the Education-to-Employment linkage is breaking down. More than half the graduates, on aver

Working in International Education - A Personal Note

I have been working in International Education for the last fifteen years. This has been an interesting journey as I have done various roles, right from teaching classes to establishing operations in different countries, selling courses as well as managing university partnerships. And, indeed, I was writing about this as I went along, using this blog as a scratchpad of ideas and records of interactions with people from different backgrounds and interests. I am not sure I thought of this as a career path in any sort of meaningful way, but it somewhat became one. Some of the things I did was deliberate, others less so. In fact, if anything, I discovered that a career in International Education is quite different from what I perceived it to be. Or, that there is no career in International Education if one remained Indian, by appearance and at heart. International Education, in more ways than one, is about promoting courses from Developed countries in the Developing, and this require

Project-Based Learning Versus The Classroom - The Unfinished Argument

My first job ever was to set up corporate email networks. Yes, this was days before the Internet as a commercially available service, and I worked for the first e-mail service company in India. We would get corporations to buy subscriptions to our services, and then people like me would turn up at their offices to set up servers, modems etc. However, a big part of our job was to make people use the service to communicate with each other. The point was to save money on long distance calls and fax, because the subscriptions were sold precisely on that sort of cost-benefit analysis. But the users were all too reluctant in 1993 to switch over to a different mode of communication, and our system did not have its full benefit till everyone started using it. So, I would turn up with my comparison charts (this was before Powerpoint too) and explain to people how email may be better than Fax. And, as one would expect, it was not an easy idea to grasp, because most people were paralysed with t

The Greek Exit

It now seems possible that Greece will exit the Euro, and it is worth talking about what this may mean. The Greek government is driving a hard bargain with its creditors, not giving in to their various demands, particularly on Pension and Benefits cuts for retirees, and higher tax on goods sold. While this seems unreasonable and everyone seems to be blaming the Greeks for the trouble, at the core, there is a fundamental difference of priorities. The austerity strategy that the Greek government is resisting is a failed one, and it has resulted in a contraction of the Greek economy and worsened the Debt crisis rather than improving the situation. So, the fundamental position of the Greek government, that the debts will be paid but not by crippling the economy for generations to come and not by causing deeper social unrest, is more reasonable than it seems. The creditors position, in line with the currently dominant worldview, is the one that dominates the media, but its time seems

Skills and Automation

If my work is about creating an education offering ready for the 21st century, two forces count the most - Globalisation and Automation. The question how automation alters the educational requirements of a common citizen and average worker keeps popping up in my engagements, conversations and work. I spend a great deal of time traveling and talking to people how education must change, how we must look for a different set of skills than the ones we hitherto talked about, and how we must get ready for a tipping point globally when the economic and social structures change drastically under the weight of these two forces. In this context, it is important to think how this change may look like. For this post, I intend to focus on automation, the ubiquity of intelligent machines and how that may alter the nature of skills, and leave globalisation for another day. I have indeed made several blog posts about this in the past - it is indeed central to what I have been doing for several y

The Undoing of Nestle in India

Maggi Noodles was a great success story in many ways. When it arrived in 1983, the Indian concept of snacks did not necessarily include Noodles. Its timing was great - just as television and cricket were conquering Indian homes and middle classes were looking beyond government jobs - and its communication was perfect, the 2-minute food! It combined global aspiration, motherly love and emancipation of women into one, the perfect combination for India. The traditional Indian snacks, all those Puri-Subji and Dosas, gave way - none of those could be made within a few minutes and without great skill and preparation. Maggi even tasted modern, always warm and alien to any taste one has grown up with. This was, in a way, one of the first stirrings of culinary globalisation! As it falls apart in the wake of the nationwide ban on Maggi this month, this makes a cautionary tale. One regional authority first discovered unusual amounts of Lead and MSG in Maggi, and then the panic spread nation

Obsessive Branding Disorder (OBD): What It Is And How To Avoid It

Recent discussions with a couple of start-up entrepreneurs brought up a topic that used to be my favourite: Obsessive Branding Disorder (OBD). This was the title of 2008 book by Lucas Conley which made it to the Best Business Books list of Strategy&Business that year, with a simple and powerful idea that you can indeed brand too much! This was a difficult idea to grasp for anyone involved in marketing, because our worldview can be summed up as, Brands eating the World! Our job, we tend to think, is to claim every piece of estate, real or virtual for the brands that we are custodians of. In the rush to better competition, we intend to leave nothing, urinals to the sky, if we can afford, to imprint our brands. We want to claim words, how cool is when someone talks about Googling something, and even emotions - feeling very Apple, anyone? The idea that we can overshoot the mark is indeed quite unsettling. But, if we look to others, it becomes quite obvious. We suddenly start

How Higher Ed Will Change : An Unified Theory

There is consensus that Higher Education must change, but many views on what it would change to.  This conversation about Higher Education change are usually carried along two parallel lines. The first, Financial, is closely linked to the decline in popularity of the Welfare State, and of the doctrine of publicly provided education in general. The second, Technological, stems from the dematerialisation of communication and contact technologies, and the emergent possibility of human relationships (and, therefore, instructional contact) without the constraint of physical facilities or the availability of learner and the tutor at a specific point of time and place. However, there is a third way to approach the shape of coming change in Higher Ed, and this is to approach the conversation from the changes in the nature of knowledge and work. At this point, the conversation about educational change becomes a conversation about education, not just limited to policy wonks or venture c

Online Talent Platforms - Enabling The SIM Model

McKinsey Global Institute is predicting Online Talent Platforms ( see here ) could have significant overall benefits, adding $2.75 trillion to global economy by 2025. For this, they define talent platform in a rather open-ended way, combining the traditional recruitment websites like Monster, the social platforms such as Linkedin and the Gig economy enablers such as Uber or Handy together. The central thesis could be read as thus - a fundamental restructuring of the labour markets is under way, and these online platforms could remedy some of the effects of that change. The scary figure of 850 million unemployed in the major economies, some of which induced by technological change and labour market shifts, jumps out of the report, and its optimistic vision that technological tools would solve technology induced challenges. In many ways, this affirms my thinking about the Skills-Information-Mobility model (See SIM Model of Employability ). The broad definition of the Online Talent Pla

India and Bangladesh: Let The Future Matter

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Dhaka tomorrow. His is a historic opportunity, to reimagine the relationship with Bangladesh, and to unlock the prosperity cycle that can transform Eastrn India and beyond. To do this, a focus on the future will be needed. Almost all the discussions in South Asia, all the time, is about the past. This is one region caught in endless cycles of memories, revenge and retribution, as if the time never moves forward. This would be the challenge that Mr Modi must overcome. Bangladesh matters. Many Indians may think of it as a poor, weak, insignificant country, pale in significance in comparison with Pakistan or China. But with its 156 million people, it is the 8th most populous country in the world, though that fact does not seem to count much in this very crowded corner. It is a poor country, but despite a lower per capita income compared to India and Pakistan, it betters them on measures that count, higher life expectancy at birth, lower c

Rethinking EdTech Investments

TechCrunch reports a slowing of EdTech investments in the first five months of this year ( see here ). The period in question is perhaps too short to pick up a trend, but this may allow us to think through some of the issues on the table. For example, what kind of EdTech is really going to change things? The EdTech business is a slow one - someone told me that you will need 36 visits to an university to sell them a piece of technology, and make it 72 if it is a new idea - and indeed, most investors and entrepreneurs, believing the trade press perhaps a bit too much, are already feeling disappointed that the things do not change as fast. In fact, not just this piece of news about slowing deal flow, but also the big successes - like - tell us a story of continuity, rather than change.  The big investments in EdTech going to video perhaps tells us that while technology is being adapted in the classroom, and people are learning themselves, the ways of doing so are chang

University of Law in the Brave New World

Yesterdays rather innocuous news that the University of Law has been bought over by the Global University Systems means more for British Higher Education than it appears. It may be the start of a wholesale transformation of British Higher Education, for good or for worse. For the uninitiated, the University of Law is one of the few private universities in the UK, and the only For-Profit one. It evolved from the College of Law, which was a Not-for-Profit entity, and which was bought over by Montagu Provate Equity, a PE fund with more than 4 Billion Euro worth of assets under management. Montagu buy-out eventually led to the transfer of University charter to a For-Profit entity after some hiccups, justifying the £200 million price tag. However, while this was one of the biggest PE deals in Education, it was also illustrative how little PE investors understand education. The valuation seemed to have solely based on the University license, which was not immediately available, but it

Breaking Into Indian Higher Ed Market - What Have I Learnt

India is one of the most complex markets of Higher Education in the world. It is complicated with multiple layers of regulation, with the States and the Centre having a say, and neither of them having a definitive say. It is a strange marketplace with a modern service economy overlaid on a middle class created by public sector careers, where conservatism and aspiration are in constant conflict. It is unusually corrupt, and this is one sector where Private Sector matches or betters Public Sector corruption (see my lament here ). All this makes any new idea, and market entry for a new institution, global or local, extremely difficult. ( see more here ) I have done several projects with global organisations trying to enter Indian Higher Ed market, and understand why they must try. ( see my earlier post here ) Despite the complexities, India is simply the biggest market for education. It is the arena where the big questions of education innovation are being played out, and to be a pl

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