Showing posts from May, 2022

Ideas for India: Three essential debates

  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

  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?

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

  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?

  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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