Indian Higher Education needs reform, and urgently. The post-Independence system of education, built on the edifice of the colonial structure, largely made of State-owned and State-supported colleges and universities, largely failed to create the publicly minded citizenry it was set up to educate. Even its elite segment, set up at great public cost and access to which were tightly controlled through nationwide aptitude tests, and which has created a large number of Silicon Valley millionaires (and some billionaires of repute), fell short in terms of the local impact: As China powers itself into Higher Education, creating not just highly ranked universities but also stealing the march on technological innovation, the shortcomings of these institutions have become as apparent as ever.
But this is not all: The reform is needed because attempts at reform have failed. The wave of privatisation since 2006, encouraged by the state and the central governments in India, has created a system without a purpose, a huge mass of vocational institutions with a very tenuous connection and understanding of the Labour markets handing out degrees. These institutions, meant to build the 'knowledge economy', have in fact crowded out all serious attempts at Higher Education innovation. The expansion did more harm than good as it corrupted the regulating institutions, produced unemployable degree holders, froze out good quality Professional Training and most crucially, turned a strategically important sector into a mere instrument of money laundering.
Hence, the current predicament: As globalisation hits reverse gear, Dollar weakens and India's IT Services industry start shrinking, the country stares at a demographic doomsday. Indian youth can be kept busy with Cricket and cows for a while, but not forever: And, as it seems, we are at a point of return of history, when the failure of education - particularly Higher Education - has endangered the Republic. Indeed, powerful interests resistant to change still defines the Indian Higher Education policy, but one would hope that the employment crisis, a present and clear challenge, represents the penny-dropping moment, Higher Ed's equivalent of balance-of-payments crisis of the 90s, which opened up the Indian economy.
Sensing that the new private expansion has gone wrong, the government's policy in the last few years was to actively implement the rules and shut things down. It has forced a number of institutions to close, discouraged international partnerships and effectively disbanded the large and profitable distance learning industry that sprung up in India. These changes are welcome, as the free-for-all market was effectively turning into a 'market for lemons', driving out honest operators. But in its zeal to stamp out malpractice, the government has eliminated whole sectors and discouraged activity in key areas, such as foreign partnerships and online learning. And, indeed, all this has only strengthened the vested interests, cartels which control the land and own many institutions, as they saw off challenge from the upstarts and business-as-usual was reaffirmed.
However, not doing something new is hardly the panacea the Indian Higher Education system needs. Neither is piecemeal reform of any value, when the whole system is in crisis and tinkering with agencies and their mandates are equivalent to arranging deck-chairs on a sinking ship. Like the balance-of-payments crisis swept aside decades old systems of economic management, this moment allows the perfect pretext for root-and-branch change. The reform that Indian Higher Education needs now should start with the basic questions, and encompass the whole structure.
These basic questions are the ones that relate to the key issues that India faces, like globalisation, technology, environment, citizenship and the like. However, there are deeper issues that must also be confronted first. The key problem of Indian policy-making is that its Government does not trust its citizens but it has to still somehow work inside a democratic framework. The lack of trust prevents consultation and simple policies; the democratic imperative means that each policy needs to satisfy everyone by other means. Hence, even simple policies are made complex, and the Government wants to micromanage everything, even implausible ones. One should only look at the General Sales Tax (GST), which will be rolled out in India in a few days time: Though it is meant to simplify life, the bureaucrats can't just let go - Restaurant food, for example, has three separate rates (5% for small restaurants, 12% for standard ones and 18% for those with AC) - even though they have no realistic hope of managing the classifications right or making them fair. I bring this up as I believe the issue of Trust is fundamental in reforming the Indian Higher Ed. Currently, the regulators and the institutions are locked in a hide-and-seek game, and the approach is punitive. No one is going to try anything worthwhile unless this environment changes.
Then, indeed, there is this question of globalisation. India wants to be a beneficiary of globalisation - that India will supply a quarter of world's workforce in a few years' time is the Prime Ministers' stock quote (and perhaps his best hope of avoiding social unrest) - but it has been deeply protectionist in its approach to Foreign Universities. This can not go on, if India really has to attract investment and projects, and build an world-class education system. Indeed, the problem so far has been that the Indian government wanted to micromanage which institutions can operate in India etc., and failed miserably: Indian students are flocking into universities abroad, and bootleg degrees have thrived in India. The government came up with ridiculous proposals all the time - limiting access to Indian market to certain ranked universities is one of them - rather than arriving at some basic principles. And, as I mentioned above, one of these principles should be that any guideline should be transparent and practical, something simple such as that an institution needs to be fully accredited in its home country to be able to open a campus in India, rather than getting into the details such as the university has to be one of the world's top 400 (raising questions such as which ranking table, why that table and not something else and what happens if the university is within top 400 at the time of application but outside it when it starts operation).
Apart from creating a trust-based, simple and practical policy environment for Higher Education, any reform also has to address the basic issues about the purpose of education in India. This is no way a quaint issue, given that India is perhaps one of the most unequal and one of the most divided societies in the world. A society can hardly function if its members lack even the basic civic-mindedness, and remain closeted in their little worlds of work and family solely. And, yet, this is the building principles of the Indian education system, which has borrowed this from the Colonial, utilitarian roots. It is likely that such a grand question will never be addressed in reform initiatives arising out of a pure economic context, as it is now, but this has a clear economic consequence: India's dependence on foreign trained leaders, for its institutions, enterprises and social activities are going to continue till Indian institutions are changed and their purposes are revisited.
In conclusion, I am suggesting that India needs urgent and deep reform of its Higher Education system. This reform needs to be radical and all-encompassing, and this is not just about this curriculum or that curriculum. In fact, if anything, this reform needs to start from a point that there is no single answer to the job at hand, and the objective of the reform must be to encourage innovation - in different fields and forms - by introducing clarity, practicability and fairness in the policy framework. Despite many disappointments in the past, I remain optimistic that such reforms will perhaps happen, if simply because the alternatives are so grim.
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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
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 was gui
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
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, as
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
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
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.