'23: Setting the agenda

I got into private higher education by mistake. Like any outsider, I looked at the prospect of setting up a college and got excited. It was only when I got inside and started understanding how private higher ed worked, I realised that it was a mistake. I sometimes think I was courageous to carry on and try to change things from inside; other times, I recognise the sheer futility of the enterprise and wish I chose another career instead.

But there are now few routes of escape available to me. I have done several things in life, but all of them are always around education. More specifically, the common theme across all my various careers spanning thirty years has been workforce education. Some of the times, I dealt with students before they start working, and other times, I have been on the other side, dealing with people who have started working already. I have done technology roles, written courses, taught and ran business units, but all of them were always around this one thing: Preparing productive workers! Career change doesn't scare me as I have done this so many times, but then I also recognise that I have actually never left this 'workforce education' space.

At the same time, I recognise the limitations of the enterprise itself. These thirty years that I have worked were exceptional. That most people have to work for a business became accepted wisdom as the public sector stopped growing. Information Technology created a whole new sector - sectors, in fact - which absorbed a vast proportion of educated young people. The way one thinks in business became accepted as a superior way of thinking. Students flocked to colleges to study technology, or if they are less mathematically inclined, business. This was accepted as a whole new phase of human history, promoted as such by mainly American writers and publicists. The pathetic collapse of Soviet bloc was accepted to have marked the end of any other way of organising the society and to become like the United States became the goal for every other society. The Chinese and the Indians discarded their colonial suspicion of their former oppressors and embraced their commodities and ideas, expecting a straight road to good life. All of that coming to an end now.

It's not about just one thing, like Putin's wars or the lingering shadow of Trump in the great decline of the United States. What I refer to is the shifting values about what good life means. Has globalisation been a good thing, a lot of people are now asking! Climate change is putting a serious question mark on consumption driven expansion of global economy. The precarious game of boom-and-bust that the financiers play has exposed the speculative nature of modern business: The pursuit of shareholder value has reduced doing business to accounting tricks in more than one case. And therefore, business as an ideal way of life is more or less over! Even businessmen and increasingly bankers and cryptomen are trying to hide behind the voodoo of purpose-drivenness! 

In my context, this indicates that the role of private higher education would increasingly be questioned.  In fact, I don't even think the international higher ed segment of private education is sustainable! Even if more than half of Indian students want to go abroad, as a recent survey concluded, they may not choose private providers and may prefer public or not-for-profit universities instead. Hence, I am not very keen to go any deeper in private higher ed sector which depends on international students, and instead focus even more closely on the workforce education opportunity (or upskilling, the ugly alternative word which is sometimes better understood). 

Therefore, my agenda for 2023 is not to do what I have done so far in 2022, and definitely not the way I have done it. It's a moment of all change! My handicap is that I am starting from scratch, and have to build new networks and alliances to make this happen. Indeed, I think people is the key to building educational institutions and that this is very important part of the pivot I am attempting to do: Build a team of people who are passionate and competent in workforce education! That is my starting point for 2023.


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