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Indian Higher Ed: Indian or Global?

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My work is in international education. So my mantra is that education must be global! If we are not preparing our students for the global workplace, we are doing them a disservice, I say!  However, an interesting conversation with an young colleague made me pause and think. Her point, on reading India's new National Education Policy, was that the policy talks a lot about being Indian while promising to prepare Indian graduates for the global workplace. She saw this as an anomaly and hoped I would agree!  But here is my own confusion perhaps. I do think Indian education should be more Indian. I actually find the educated Indians disdain for their own countrymen disconcerting and believe that this is a crucial weakness of the Indian society. It weakens India as the Indian middle classes are increasingly disconnected from the real problems of their own country and try out various Made-in-America solutions rather than thinking on their own. And, I believe education, and particularly Hi

How to prepare for the apocalypse

A lot of my work is about preparing our students for the future. Under the general banner of employability, I have a fairly boxed-in view about the future. We deal with college students and prepare then for jobs. Slightly ambitiously, we try to prepare them so that they can be masters, rather than slaves, within the context: You should be able to choose what you will do, and once you get the job, you should be able to keep it and grow in it, we say! Of course, more than anyone else, my colleagues and I know how hard a thing this is to achieve. The number of students in higher education and the number of middle class jobs (the type you keep and can grow in) are completely out of sync: A vast majority of university graduates, regardless of their degrees, will not find a proper job that can build their lives. Most will go from job to job, mostly staying at the same level all their life (job progression, the base that all middle class dreams are based on, usually only happen to 5% of the O

Conceiving a writing project

I am working on an idea of a book I want to write. This was in my mind for a while, though I conceived this differently. Initially this was meant to be a joint project, more as a self-development book for aspiring students. After the momentum for the same fizzled out, I had to re-concieve, not for the original commercial purpose but more as a personal meditation on what kind of professionals we need in the future. In essence, therefore, this is a new project. I don't want to write about 'employability' any more: It's not about advising students how to metamorphose into what employers might want. I have flipped the perspective in my mind: It is more about what kind of professionals we need to shape our future. In a way, I want to write a critique of the professions in their twilight, as the combined assault on the idea of expertise and dissipation of employer-employee social contract are undermining what it meant to be a professional. I did some work when I was still int

Not another course, please!

Courses are convenient. For any school, college or university, they are a good way to allocate time and resources. They can be fit into calendars, planned for and measured against set criteria. Therefore, the educational institutions really are the houses of courses! This was the framework I operate within, and if truth be told, resent. I see this as a case of inverted priorities: moving away from what the learners need or want, but rather what is the most economical, the mode of engagement being the same, and the most convenient. One could also argue that there is no real alternative: education in the formal sense must start and stop at some defined points and 'courses' are the most acceptable organising principle for these. There are no viable alternatives, the argument runs.  I disagree. As we have started delinking formal education from sitting in the classrooms, the rationale for 'courses' has grown weaker. The resource framework was hanging together by its fingert

On making a reading list

It is a rather strange time for me to work on my reading lists, but reading list is a strange thing for me to work on. If anything, in a time like this when my priorities are changing, a reading list is a great place to start. I consider it my strength that I have many interests. My mind seeks patterns, across topics and contexts, and my flow moments are those when I stumble upon similarities across contexts. This makes me a bad conversationalist and my skipping from one thing to another often exasperate others who are more disciplined and discipline-bound. But my big professional successes so far came from the ideas that seeped through boundaries of practice.  However, this is the reason I am always reading multiple different types of books together. It is not unusual for me to read a novel in the morning, some philosophy in the afternoon, be knee-deep in business early evening while taking history to bed, and equally enjoy all of them. I don't use bookmarks often (or I have less

Ready player one

I am living through this profound sense of ending - of my identity, my project and partnerships - and now, as a coping strategy, looking to shift my vision to the future. Enough of thinking about and analysing the mistakes that got me here; I am now thinking how to get out and what to do next. I know there is no easy escape. There are so many interconnected things I can't just walk away from. But at least, I have set things in motion. I have finally emotionally detached myself from a project which I considered to be my mission only a few months ago. I have also started putting my relationships away from personal commitments and friendships, as I was doing until now. The risk with my approach was that the whole edifice could have come down with a single mistake, as it duly did: I lost trust and before I knew it, my project was over. However, I have learnt that trying to pull away, making drastic changes, is too painful, particularly when other people are involved. So I am dismantlin

A note to myself

I write this on a sad afternoon when I feel the weight of the world. I grew up being told never to be weak. I accepted hardships would come. One would be tempted and led ashtray. The character, which was supposed to be key, was all about standing up to all these difficulties, denying the temptations and be steadfast about one's own purpose. This is how I lived so far. But I lost my way. I think it's the pandemic which did it. Partly it was me - a rush to reinvent myself! Partly it was my wrong estimation about people - who to trust and how much. And, of course, it was the circumstances, as my carefully constructed world collapsed in a perfect domino action. So I sit, this afternoon, desolate. It feels that there is no escape. On top of my mind is the slow decline of my father. Someone whose incandescent presence illuminated all my life seems to be fading out by a little bit everyday, but irreversibly. The sense of hopelessness is corrosive - it is exposing the meaningless way I

Education for internet economy

I have somehow defaulted into the education-to-employment transition business.  My interests are sincere. I have spent too much time in private higher education to understand the downsides of diploma mills, when the education becomes only about getting the diploma, and in the international context, about getting a visa through that diploma. The governments promote diplomas, as a way of social legitimacy or a way of getting immigration status, and the private higher education tends to follow the government policy. However, watching this business from close proximity, first in India, then in the UK and other international education destinations, I have grown weary of the limited aspirations of the diploma business. Therefore, this commitment to education-to-employment transition, which I have pursued with utmost sincerity for almost a decade now. But despite my evident engagement into this, can it count as my mission? Frankly, I don't believe in narrowly limiting the aim of education

The perfect reset

My carefully constructed plans are all coming to an end. Simultaneously, like a perfect domino.  A season for new beginnings is here. The pandemic got me into a mindset. Of waiting. Of believing things would sort themselves out with the passage of time. It's that quarantine mentality. And, while I never stopped, the way I imagined life and work was defined by this, a sort of trench mentality, survive to see through. However, I had no lack of ambition. At work, gradually, I arrived at a plan to transform global higher ed, yet again. It started modestly, just a specialist college in London; but soon, I was into products that could be plugged into all college curriculum and a network-based delivery method to scale it. It was an imperfect plan - I knew there was lot to be done - but I didn't hold back on dreaming.  Things changed in 2022 for me. I think it's the post-pandemic bounce that people talk about. I, boosted by vaccines, stopped fearing the pandemic. I started travelli

Student employability: Treating students as partners

I have recently been involved in developing and testing a student 'employability' programme. Like any other journey, this one evolved as we progressed. Because we took a design approach to building this, goalposts have shifted several times. We started building this with a very specific institutional context in mind and then looked to generalise it, making it available for other institutions in dramatically different contexts. The whole exercise has been one of exploration, conversations and iterations, just as we expected this to be. We engaged with a range of people, inside the institutions as well as outside, including a lot of business leaders, recruiters and learning professionals. And, of course, with a number of students, who joined the courses we delivered. We faced the usual challenges - of fitting things around the calendar, resourcing and compliance roadblocks, the usual bureaucratic powerplays etc. - and those highlighted, as expected, the issues of institutional cu

In search of harmony

Is there anything I believe in? This is one of those profile questions that pop up in diversity and inclusion forms. I prefer not to tick 'prefer not to say' as it seems disingenuous. I believe in something  though it is hard to categorise within those neat boxes. I was born a Hindu and believed in something. It was not just the festivals and holy days, not just the prayers and wishing for a blessing - those were all part of my childhood! But it was more than that: I thought like a Hindu and still do. I feel a part of the universe in me; I feel the debt I incurred to the universe, and to my ancestors, at my birth, and live everyday to pay it off; I know the I came from the universe and to it, I shall return.  But few beliefs I grew up with fell away with time. The caste hierarchy, in a sublime way, was part of my social sense. I was conscious that marriage to a non-brahmin would be unacceptable. It took time, travel and engagement with more enlightened people for me to move bey

On mediocrity

My greatest fear is that of mediocrity, of ordinariness. This ranks even higher than that of diabetes, which, given my family history, has the best chance of eventually killing me.  But I would rather be killed trying to stretch myself than live as deadwood. This is why I am usually so weary of all the well-meaning advice about work-life balance. My friends complain that I am too old school and don't care about physical or mental health. Apart from the key fact that I only work for myself and choose to do what I do (a privilege many people around me doesn't have), the whole work-life balance, for me, is a bourgeois consumerist trope to keep people looking elsewhere for meaning. My heroes - people who moved civilisation forward, Tagore, Gandhi, Einstein, Leonardo - wouldn't have time for such luxury. At the other end of the scale, 90% of the humanity wouldn't have any choice either, living hand-to-mouth or (for women in particular) work being the daily life itself. But,

Ideas for India: Three essential debates

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  I spent the last week at the Ideas for India conference in London. This conference had different strands, and brought the diaspora Indians, India watchers and a number of delegates from India together.  Because Rahul Gandhi chose to attend - a rather last minute thing which changed the published agenda somewhat - the media narrative revolved around his 40-odd minutes of talk. And, of course, a sense of discomfort hung over the whole conference: A wholly new thing for me and it shows how much India has changed. Somehow, the people in India seemed to think that no conversation about India should happen anywhere else in the world, a strange thing for a country which is anxious to assert its global importance. Additionally, anything outside the official channel is seen as conspiracy. Gone are those days when the presumptive opposition candidate, the current Prime Minister, could freely interact with the diaspora Indians and slam Dr Manmohan Singh's lack of initiative; today, this wou

Four predictions for post-pandemic Higher Ed

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  I recently spoke at an Education Conference and was asked to comment on what is likely to happen in Higher Ed sector post-pandemic. My presentation was about four key changes. I am not sure it resonated with the audience - I very much looked the odd historian trying to talk about the future - but I sincerely believe what I mentioned. Therefore, it is wothwhile to record these observations here, before they were completely forgotten, even by me!  My broad point was that pandemic, traumatic and game-changing as it has been, is not the only force changing higher education. Otherwise, after the infection numbers start falling and we start facing safer again, everything would have gone back to how it was earlier. However, a number of things happened in the last few years, which, taken together, would have a profound effect on how we live now. Before we attempt making a prediction about what happens to Higher Ed, it is definitely worth taking stock of what's changed. Here are some of t

Skills 'fetish', really?

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My current work is focused on alternate credentials based on project work. The key idea here is to create credentials based on experience and create a bridge between the academic world and vocational preparation. Therefore, the current excitement about microcredentials at the university corridors is at once a source of hope and also of disappointment (see my rant about microcredentials ).  But, at the same time, I also deal with this persistent doubt about what we are doing: Are we promoting an unsustainable skills fetish which trivialises education and sacrifice individuality and freedom to think at the altar of neoliberal 'paying the bills'? Having spent most of my working life in For-profit education, I know which side of my bread is buttered. At the same time, my life as a historian of higher education, which I pursue with no less zeal or care, I feel burdened with the need to question my practice.  For a start, I know that our idea of university is a historical, rather tha

The corruption of college

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  Let's start with a hypocrisy warning: I have gone back to college three times for degrees. First time because I was told that was what everyone did; second time, because I migrated and wanted to have a degree that was respected in the UK; and third time, because I wanted to read history and thought that it was the great unfinished business in my life. But, it is precisely because I did all those things, I feel the college, in its most common form available today, corrupts us. However, there is more than just individual corruption. Obsession with college can destroy whole nations. I am Bengali after all, and I think the college fetish corrupted whole generations of Bengalis who became degree obsessed (which explains my own misadventure), disconnected and impractical people. We stopped doing things, living life and travelling around the world. We took college degrees as ends in themselves and thought that everyone around us would think the same. Sadly, that was not to be. This expl

Microcredentials: Stale wine, broken bottles?

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  To understand the state of new imagination in Higher Ed, it's best to look at the recent buzz around microcredentials. Touted to be the next big thing - after what? MOOCs? - this is one big non-event that everyone is talking about. Ask anyone in the academia why microcredentials is such a great thing, the answer will focus on the 'micro' part rather than the 'credential' part. That it is short - less than one course credit - is supposed to be the exciting part. It seems that the universities, until now, did not notice that people learned, whether there was a course credit for it or not. Therefore, this is like Columbus' 'discovery' of America: It did not matter that some people lived there already! Perhaps it indeed is like Columbus' discovery: It is not about creating a space but claiming it for oneself! It is a defensive rather than an innovative move for the academia. There is a growing chasm between what the people need to learn - primarily due

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