Showing posts from August, 2021

Beyond Online Education

I have been, admittedly, a constant sceptic of the inflated valuations of online higher education companies.  Part of the reason is practical: Most online education companies focus much more on sales than creating sustainable institutional structures, looking to create an educational sub-prime. Their aim is often to 'uberise' - commoditise the inherent trust and respect that make an educational community work. That focus on scale, without a proportional attention on the outcome, makes an irresponsible business. Indeed, the Chinese government has recently stepped in to make this precise point. But there are also other reasons why I think these edtech valuations are frothy and unsustainable. I think the investors misunderstand the nature of education, particularly higher education, and therefore, their estimates about the prospect of online higher ed are wildly wrong. The pandemic was an aberration, when people were forced to stay home; as we return to normal, online education wi

The limits of American power

  The scenes from Kabul Airport are sad and shocking, but they are not extraordinary. If anything, it seems that the Biden administration, even if they did not know what this would look like, was fully aware what they were doing - and what its consequences will be. Their allies were in it too, and they also knew what was going to happen: They were hoping, after Louis XVth, that the inevitable catastrophy would come after they have safely left. Most of the world already knew, ever since the 'Nam, that America is much better at bombing territories than holding them. That George W still misadventured shows the perils of not knowing one's history - or for that matter, any history! There was, of course, a good dose of over-confidence from the end of history moment of the nineties: After all, as Marx said, Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please. It's not just about history, but also about the present. In more ways than one, what's happening in Kabu

The missing middle of online higher-ed

  When the campus is reduced to a screen, are Princeton and Phoenix the same? One may indeed think that higher ed going online create some sort of level-playing field, and in fact, may even give the challenger an advantage. This is based on what happened in Amazon-vs-B&N: When the rules of the game change, new and disruptive players can compete better. Technology can trump track record and endowment. But this belies a lack of understanding how higher education works. Education is NOT about the delivery of content: A lot of it is about signalling of value. Amazon could sell the same book as B&N using a different media and the customer could attain the same outcome - the reading experience! The outcome - in terms of expectation and outcome - from Princeton and Phoenix is quite different.  Besides, when something moves online, brands become more - not less - important. Metaphorically speaking, if Princeton to Phoenix was a 10:1 advantage offline, it is likely to be 100:1 online. I

The next Edtech

    There is a certain presumption that after the pandemic, edtech is the future of education. Which edtech, I ask. If that's puzzling, that would be ironic. There is a disconnect if we assume that after the pandemic, there will be no business-as-usual, but at the same time, expect the edtech to be business-as-usual.  The pandemic has normalised edtech but also exposed it. The lame excuses about its limitations have been forcefully discounted but its true limitations have been seen and felt. Therefore, as the societies emerge from the pandemic and settle into new ways of doing things, edtech, like everything else, has to change itself.  I have followed the chatter about what comes after, and picked up three key shifts in the conversation: 1. Pedagogy-market fit : The most interesting speculation I came across is that this is time for edtech entrepreneurs to look for 'pedagogy market fit' ( See here ). Indeed, this is old hat, what went on in the guises of instructional desi

India & the future of higher education

India is where the future of higher education is being decided right now. Of course, the literature on the subject paints a different picture: This is mostly about the future of American Higher Education! The funding follows the same logic - funding technologies and enterprises based on the conversations in the United States.  Implicit in this is the assumption that the United States, the world-dominating civilisation of the moment, represents the peak civilisation, and all the other countries are on a journey - and are at different points - to become more like the United States. Therefore, the future of the future of anything is being more like America.  On the ground, the reality is very different. China has powered its way to global economic top table - and increasingly the academic one too - pragmatically picking and choosing elements of the American model, but steadfastly sticking to its own path. Now India comes to the party, belatedly acknowledging its vast waste of human potent

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