In 2012, I set up a small company with a few other people. The essential idea behind this venture was to create an International Education proposition, a 'pathway' programme that could be delivered in-country and which allow the learners to earn credits that could be used to get an UK university degree with a shorter duration. We chose to deliver Pearson Business Qualifications, which meant the students completing these qualifications in their own country could come to UK and complete an Undergraduate degree with only one additional year of study.
This business did not work as we intended. There were several business reasons. We did not raise enough money, or, to put it the other way, our ambitions were not aligned with the kind of money we had in hand. This was the big reason, but there were other reasons too.
For example, our business plan rested upon another assumption: That countries like India have created a lot of educational infrastructure in the recent years, most of which is lying vacant. We assumed that we can build collaborations with these new institutions, and use their infrastructure to deliver a blended learning collaboration. I believe, however, we made a mistake assuming that these institutions will not only give us the infrastructure, but also promote the qualification, both to their own students as well as to new candidates. Indeed, this is related to money - we did not have much in the kitty to spend on student acquisition - but this simply did not work. And, as evidence that this was a critical mistake, the same model worked in China, where, more for regulatory reasons than anything else, we partnered with a local Chinese training company, who in turn were supposed to work with universities etc., and they did manage to attract students.
The other issue we perhaps faced is that we were trying to do too many things at the same time. The Pearson qualifications were competence-based, and we wanted to deliver it accordingly, creating a completely new paradigm that local colleges were not accustomed to. At the same time, pressed to get them on our side, we highlighted that these qualifications were really pathways to UK degrees, and got drawn in the conversation if there is a guarantee of visa and indeed, whether these qualifications can get them to Oxford or Cambridge (which it could not).
In 2014, when the business was becoming economically unsustainable - too few learners - we requested the Chinese partners to take over the students and conversations, which they did. I spent the next two years solely focusing on Competence-based Education, exploring the idea of demand-led degrees and working with large employers to create strategic talent development programmes. That experience was eminently worthwhile - it allowed me great insights not just on student decision making but also how employers approach recruitment of fresh talent, and a number of fresh ideas about the 'business' of International Education.
First, that degrees and universities are not dead and obsolete, but they are as strong as ever. This may have been the conversation in the United States, but in most parts of the world, and particularly in India and China, degree studies are expanding and earn a decent premium in the job market. If anything, the wages for High School students, and those with non-recognised degrees, have plummeted, and therefore, good degree programmes are at high demand.
Second, there is strong demand for International Degrees, as it presents an advantage in the local labour market. However, not all International Qualifications, and particularly those from lesser known universities, earn a premium. An in-country provision of an International Degree or a properly designed pathway therefore has great advantages, but it may not be right to price it against international benchmark. We made this mistake, as do countless other businesses, who ask the wrong question: How much it would have cost them to study abroad? The problem is that they are not studying abroad - those who can, would still do - and the benchmark is really against local provisions.
Third, in order to build a cost-efficient, high quality delivery of International Degree and Pathway programmes, we need to have technology. The point, however, is to think through what this technology is for. In our earlier attempt, it was about using UK-based lecturers to interact with students. However, this added to costs but did not enhance student experience, and one of the main obstacles we faced is to make such a system work in classrooms due to poor Internet connections on campuses (the individual internet connectivity is often better than the ones found in campuses in India, though nothing is anywhere near OECD standards).
Fourth, the disruption at the workplace, both on account of automation and new formats of globalisation (driven by local demand in developing countries, requiring different professional abilities and innovative imagination), is real and not a developed country thing. Local skills, relationships and knowledge are now exceedingly important, and while international education can benefit a person significantly by extending his/her perspective and augmenting critical abilities and soft skills so important in the new workplace, it may equally undermine his/her ability to work locally, build local networks and engage. This balance is critical, but it is not an either/or thing, and one needs to have both.
A year or so ago, when we started talking to our Chinese partners to take the lead in the business, I declined an offer to get seriously involved in the proposed new structure. At that time, I was deeply interested in building what we called at the time 'Concurrent Employment', a sort of apprenticeship proposition that built learning credits out of real life work. However, my interests have changed since, particularly as the shifting nature of the workplace became fully apparent to me, and I have started realising something I have 'known' before - that an educator must go beyond the immediate job opportunity, and rather start with the person of the learner! In fact, more I appreciate the value of learning from practical work and real life, the more I realise the limitation of training for a particular job: The job is not the point of education, the person is - and the commercial impertaives of educating for a job obscures the person altogether. So, my interest in creating International Pathway programmes, which creates global exposure with local engagement, is back. And, I shall claim, this time it is different.
Apart from my interests in real life work, I now want to build the solution ground up, providing face to face support and making local education fit a global framework rather than the other way around. However, at the centre of the proposition, I shall keep a College degree, that middle class totem of prosperity, but will aim to avoid either the degree-selling or job-selling business. I am yet to spend time in designing the proposition in any detail, and spending time now in connecting with fellow travellers and all those are exploring new formats of Higher Ed, but my idea is to develop a Global Leadership course, which will be built on real life work and will provide pathways to university qualifications at good universities in different countries. My assessment of my earlier, aborted, venture is not that we had been too ambitious, but that we have not been ambitious enough: This time around, I am not willing to repeat that mistake.
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.
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
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
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,
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
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.