Showing posts from March, 2016

Starting Up India: Why No One Talks Education?

Start-ups are fashionable. They conjure up the image of brilliant teenage founders creating billion dollar businesses from scratch, magically finding the confluence of perfect technologies and hidden desires. The inconvenient fact that they mostly fail is also wrapped in a heroic feeling - fail, fail again and fail better is the battle cry - and its toxic consequences on the people's lives are overlooked as the investor cash goes on chasing the next big thing. This narrative is already familiar, being everywhere on the media, books and all those seminars promising to change lives. But, the fashion now invaded politics, with Start-up Policy gurus appearing on Government roasters, Start-up courses being listed on university catalogues and Start-up programmes being promoted as the latest governmental idea to promote its beleagured middle classes. The conversation usually focuses on tax breaks and lots of expensive real estate in the form of innovation zones, and everyone expects

Trust and Taxes

Of the life's two great certainties - death and taxes - we have not been doing very well with the latter. For an increasingly squeezed Middle Classes, facing declining real income, uncertain job prospects, costlier health-care and education and the very real possibility of never being able to retire, the fact that the rich does not pay much taxes may occasionally shock, but not paying taxes has indeed become one of the key signals of being rich. The newest metaphor of business - the cloud - is not just about technology, but of de-materialisation of taxes too. Obscure as it may be, the fate of taxes, and its consequence, may be one of the best ways to understand the global economy. Consider the two seemingly opposite conversations trending in the news in the last few weeks. One is that the Indian cabinet is considering imposition of a 'Google Tax', or, more correctly, an 'Equalisation Levy', an uniform charge on revenues made in India for all corporations not h

On The Holy Grail of 'Demand-Led' Degrees

Over last several years, I have worked to find that Holy Grail of Education: A degree that leads directly to a Job! I did write about this search on this blog, all the dead ends, disappointments and revealations that came along the way. Starting with perfect innocence - that this is the best thing that can happen to corporations whose difficulty in finding skilled personnel - I came to learn the ground realities of the trade, that the skills gap is usually 'someone else's problem' and long-term solutions are no good for the managers focused on quarterly targets.  Despite this, however, I got somewhere. Almost implausibly (to me, at least), I got some advance commitments on hiring graduates we could train. It was a commitment with all the expected checks and balances, but that provided that keystone for building a demand-led degree. And, indeed, the first one is always the hardest: Once that one commitment was signed off, it was easier to have conversations with ot

Are Your Employees 'Socially Engaged'?

Of all the strategies a company could conceive to win hearts and minds on social media, nothing is perhaps better than what its employees can do, if they engage socially.  Usually, the Social Media strategies that companies come up with are not very different from the traditional PR. It is top-down, canned good news stories, written by professionals. It has a very predictable, managed feel. Managed by professionals who have transitioned from traditional to social media - what an inconvenience - it can not but be that way.  But, social media is different because of the need for authenticity. Broadcast media has the reputation for editorial control (even if grossly overestimated) and this gives automatic credibility to something seen on TV. Social media has no such thing: Anything can be on Facebook, or Twitter. What such stories lack in credibility, can only be made up by authenticity. And, while one can, and indeed try to, be authentic, it is a hard thing to fake by definitio

Education and The 'Fourth' Industrial Revolution : 1

Whether we call it the 'Second' Machine Age or the 'Fourth' Industrial Revolution, the idea that we are at some kind of technological tipping point - that moment in history where society would change - seem to have consensus. Such change, going by historical experience, means different things, doing new things and not doing old things as well as finding new ways of doing old things. This transformation, all these new ways, is a function of education. There are winners and losers of the transformation so far. All economic evidence points to a massive loss of privilege for the middle classes, though the feel-good factor of house prices somewhat soothed the effect. In fact, the stagnation of middle class life, despite all the excitements of Uber-hailing cabs, is present and clear, making the economists question whether the Information Technology revolution has had much beneficial impact on living standards, particularly in comparison with earlier episodes of industri

Dead People and Their Ideas

I think about dead people. Not because they are dead - this is not about any maschoistic exercise thinking about deadness - but of their ideas. I seek my intellectual stimulation not just from Wired magazine, looking at all those gadgets of the future, but also trying to understand what Adam Smith or Karl Marx would say about technology, society and progress. But such habit of looking back makes me lonely - I am often without company in the midst of excited conversations about gadgets and possibilities.  But, oddly, this does not make me feel old: It makes me feel alive. Whatever you may think of this self-justification, there is something lovably naive about all this chatter about technology. Lots of people believe that whatever we are experiencing - this progress - is unprecedented. Consider, for example, this magic of hailing a cab through Uber, or getting a handyman through Handy! This is denting the universe - they would claim! While it is certainly denting the universe in a

Getting Back to Work

I did stop writing personal notes on this blog. I wanted to make it more professional. But that made me, as I realised on reflection, write long, rambling posts on ideas that are personal, which may not have much consequence as I am not living them. In that sense, personal is more professional on this blog - at least that reflects my lived experience - and I intend to get back to doing it again.  So, here am I, at a seemingly interminable red light at a crossroad. Stopping so was an admission of failure: That my ambition to create an world-changing education outfit failed. I desired a recovery, after a fairly intense few years of bootstrapping when I flirted with bankruptcy and lived precariously doing contract teaching and occasional writing, and all those 'bourgeois' comforts and ambitions that I so heartily disliked when I had a comfortable life, became so much desirable by their absence again. So, as I hung my hat - in fact, ate my hat would be a more appropriate desc

Business Models for Global Higher Education: Five 'Avoidable' Assumptions

Global Higher Education is good business. Over the last five years or so, billions of dollars worth of investment has gone into it, and it has become, if not the next thing, at least one of the next big 'things'. This euphoria may be a fall-out of the bust in For-Profit Education in the United States; or, it may have arisen out of the unique demographic opportunity in Asia, and with a generation-lag, in Africa. However, it is still a relatively new business, stumbling through its way - figuring out its business model as it goes along. So, here is the question we should start with: Is Global Higher Education business a solution in search of a problem? One must start with Education as a business and the debate surrounding that. However, Public Higher Education in the form that we know is a relatively recent thing, and education businesses stretch back in time much longer than we think. Education businesses often took the lead in the time of great social and technological ch

Humanities Education: Need For A 'Repair'

College Education may indeed change as the social demands of it transform radically. We can debate whether this is good or bad - I have argued elsewhere that there is little objective discussion here and a lot of self-interested talk - but one frightening consequence of this is the impending demise of Humanities. This threat is less clear in some countries than others. An extreme case is India, which is fast becoming a nation of Engineers (and also Doctors and Lawyers), where humanities is usually treated as a subject for girls, or those who are not expected to make a living. But this is also pronounced in countries like the United States, where humanities funding is under threat in many states, and even in Western European countries, which were traditionally focused on liberal education but that edifice is being dismantaled rapidly with the roll-back of public funding of Higher Education. In response to this decline of the humanities, a number of books and articles have been wri

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