Sunday, September 27, 2015

Does Knowledge Matter?

The currently fashionable view in education is that knowledge does not matter. 

The thesis goes something like this - at a time when you can search for almost anything in Google, why does one need to know anything? 

So, goes the argument, the point of education is not to enhance knowledge, but to enhance professional skills. So, it is not the texts and discussions about ideas and subjects, but rather abilities such as thinking critically is the point. As long as one can do such things, they would be able to know.

There are deep flaws in this view.

First, can one think critically outside any domain? This view of secular professional skills, professional skills outside a domain or practise, undermines the importance of professions itself. While this is symptomatic of the time (where a humble blogger pretends to write about epistemology), the domains remain important and the blogger in question should know the limits of his endeavour. The process of education is structured to initiate a learner into a domain and develop abilities, such as critical thinking, within it. The idea that one could make a learner a critical thinker without grounding on a discipline is missing the point about expertise in the first place.

Second, in the absence of a discipline, the talk is of Competency. However, the model they propagate as new is actually quite old, the Europeans have been training on competency for half a century, though the degree fetish in Europe is not as ubiquitous as America and Europeans never mixed up competency education with Higher Learning. But, even if we accept the fashionable doctrine of competency-based education, we know that competencies divorced from discipline represent a fairly limited perspective of what humans do. Flaunted with the badge of 21st century learning, this is actually a belated coming of age some of the twentieth century ideas, that most human beings should not think outside work. However, this is very dated, given that machines are taking over all the jobs that does not require human thinking outside the procedural tasks  - and thinking is the only competency worth pursuing left in contention. 

So, this formula of knowledge being outdated and education being about knowledge-neutral competencies is deeply counter-educative, a doctrine of dumbing down in disguise. This still thrives, because the institutional curators of knowledge, the universities, have lost sight of what knowledge is about. Most universities have become, mostly because of the public funding and political stewardship, bureaucratic institutions, too engrossed in institutional navel-gazing and linguistic mastery, and too alienated. So, knowledge in an university setting has become too much about the system itself and disciplinarity has come to represent linguistic mastery alienated from practice. This knowledge, of a linguistically consistent truth, is more valued within the academe than outside, so much so that we have an expression - Academic Knowledge - full of derogatory implication. 

But away from the buzz of competencies and the snobbery of universities, knowledge still matters. Knowledge is more than the search results of Google - that would be information - and even knowing more than what search results Google is hiding and for what reason. Knowledge, in our context, is about being aware of the assumptions we live by. There are assumptions behind everyday words - this is indeed what the academicians spend their whole lives on - and there are assumptions behind common actions and searches for truth. One can not google these assumptions, and Wikipedia provides no answers - and there are no shortcuts of figuring out other than immersing oneself into one discipline and looking out to the world standing on firm grounds of disciplinary culture and methodological consistency. Knowledge is about being self-aware - knowing subject positions if we must - and knowing is a continuous act. There may be no finality of knowledge, possibly, but this does not mean that there is no point.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Three Questions About Free Market Economics

I stopped reading The Economist, and that makes my weekends somewhat free. For fifteen years, since the time I first left India and went on to live in Dhaka, fetching it from the shop and reading it from cover to cover was part of my Friday routine. There were early disappointments - such as its blood-curdling advocacy of the Iraq War, which clearly exposed its Western bias - but it was one essential viewpoint that I needed to understand the world. 

However, I increasingly found it disagreeable for its fundamentalist approach towards Free Markets. This is not a political left / right thing. Though I am openly delighted by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader, who I consider to be a vast improvement over the careerist politicians we see all around (alas, one of my favourite writers, Tristram Hunt, turned out to be one of them), I would like to think that I support free markets if they are really free. These are indeed my points of agreement with The Economist - we are on the same side in terms of open approach to immigration as opposed to David Cameron's political opportunism - and the reason I read it week after week is to enable my exploration what makes markets really free. 

And, this eventually became a point of departure. The Economist, founded to enable free market thinking, turned out to be less exacting in its approach to the world than it claims to be. Anything that liquidates the state - sale of public assets is something that they advocated, before the recently fashionable trend got under way - found its support. It took on itself the cause of advancement of American foreign policy, which, from my instinctive identification with Global South, looked completely misdirected. And, therefore, despite the great amount of time I continued to devote reading it, it failed to answer the three key questions that I grapple with everyday.

First, in context of the supposed panacea of the Free Markets, the question would be - Can markets be really free? I have noted that Free Market advocates are very much like the Marxists - if one could point to any empirical evidence that works against their theory that Free Markets solve all problems in the long run, they shrug and say that markets are not really free in that case. In summary, they take just the stance that the advocates of Perfect Government take - everything was hunky-dory but then Stalin came along - and while they think they are defending their thesis, they are really just proving that their solution is just as unreal as the other party. The stance of journals such as The Economist is more nuanced - they argue that free market is indeed the solution but it does not exist yet, and therefore, it is working tirelessly towards it. Apart from being Utopian, Marx would have been in complete agreement, this overlooks the reality of human institutions that must operate with compromises and adjustments, in a less perfect world. It presents a binary between governments and markets, and deliberately or not, obfuscate that governments enable markets and the nature of the markets are closely reflected in the nature of governments. 

Second, a part of this free market thesis is the idea of the flat world. The vision of the world from this corner is a world of free movement of goods, capital and people, with a few powerful nations keeping peace. But, then, as someone like me, growing up in India, know, flat does not mean a level playing field. The world system is highly tilted, the peacekeepers in the scheme of things are as rapacious as their positions will allow, and the borders are real when one has to cross over from, say, Syria to Hungary. The Economist and its ilk would shake off such problems as aberrations, temporary distortions in a world of free trade. However, anyone with slightly more perspective would perhaps know that this is not going backwards, this is just an ugly moment when reality dawns on us. The illusion of the free market exists only if you diligent read The Economist every weekend - consider that the dose of opium that the Chinese young men needed to keep their eyes shut as their world fell apart - but otherwise, in the harsh realities of a country like India, the world is only getting more divided and more desperate.

Third, the humanitarian tone of Free Marketeers is obviously misplaced. The Economist may celebrate week after week people coming out of poverty, and ISIS as the handiwork of few wicked men, but they fail to make the connection between the transformation of the traditional world and the disaffection that is currently sweeping not just the Middle East but also Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as parts of Europe. This is about people discovering the false promise of the free markets, the tilted playing field, the harsh facts of client governments and the rigged democracies fostered upon them. The humanitarian interventions of the West, which strangely looks like bombing whole cities aflame, have disabused people what the English word is supposed to mean. And, indeed, the free market ideologues got their priorities backwards - they are willing to incur human costs for perfection of the markets, rather than incurring market costs for the benefit of humans (their argument that this is for the long term counter their own stance that in the long term, we are all dead) - and this is plain to everyone who have stopped reading The Economist (and Wall Street Journal, and the like).

I am not sure I want to find a journal to replace The Economist, and I have taken on reading Isiah Berlin in the meantime. Here is one commentator who recognise the limitations of human ideas and imperfect nature of human institutions. Berlin, the great advocate of human liberty, would recognise the costs and trade-offs of liberty. He is not a cheerleader of free market in the abstract, and he does not confuse the freedom to buy with freedom to think or freedom to be. In his construction, there is a plurality of goals that human beings could pursue - and they may not be compatible to one another. This, in its directness as well as its nuances, is closer to my own instincts about how to live, and it clarifies those three questions. It allows me to see the impossibility of perfectly free markets and perfect governance, and that intentions and ideas matter more than ideals. It allows me to see the lack of freedom that the supposed Western freedom bring to many nations, including the slapping of the label - emerging markets - that goad them to priortise on economic growth at all cost. And, it allows me to put Humans first - this is not any woolly goal of national happiness and rather a way of making decisions on the basis of human impact - and arrange my world accordingly.




Thursday, September 17, 2015

Educating For Character

Conversations change. The idea of a Nineteenth century college education could be, with some generalisation, summarised as one to build the character of the student, with the assumption that with those character strengths, they would be able to learn and lead in different walks of life. But, as professions start to emerge, Character was no longer enough. In the professional society, technical skills came into prominence, and indeed, became the point of education. The conversation reversed - a good technocrat was understood to possess the character anyway.

These ideas may be at an inflection point yet again, but before we get into this, it is worth wondering what character meant and why we abandoned its quest for technical skills in the first place. I am acutely conscious of the gross generalisations that one has to make in a conversation like this, including the implication of epochal change - that one thing neatly went out of fashion when the other thing came in. For a fact, we always talked about character and one needed to know how to handle the sword to be a nobleman. But, at the same time, with the benefit of long view, one could perhaps see there was a switch at some point in history. Even if we do not, and can not, point to a specific date, event or a person when things turned, I am making the point that the ideas did change - and may change again.

So, why did the conversation about character become redundant? One easy explanation would be that what character came to mean become redundant. While it may have been the Holy Grail of the Victorian world, it died in the brutal test of great war (it may have died in America several years earlier, in the Civil War). Less dramatically, the new social structures emerging after the Great War, with an increasingly demanding middle class and working class movements, and the fragile and ever-changing collaboration between the two, social values and arrangements about who gets what changed. A new conversation about meritocracy was ascendant, a new professional class became the new elite. Industrial expansion - late years of Great War might have been the tipping point of industrial might over individual courage - meant a Professional Managerial class and bureaucratic hierarchies. The point of education became, more or less, effective participation in the economy through professional advancement, and this needed something else other than the character. In time, the professionals, Doctors, Accountants, Engineers, became the elite of the new society, defining the norms and what matters.

This professional society is facing an existential crisis now. Good professionals may be secure in their jobs, but two trends confronting us undermine the blueprints of the professional society we signed up to. First, the rise of the amateur, from filing the tax return to the rise of blogging millions, partly because of technological enabling and partly because the professional society became too restrictive, changes the professional boundaries and challenges the professional ethic. The institutional nature of the professions limited how these professions could change in time, and once technologies became available to bypass the traditions, they got disrupted. Second, this, and the increasing trend of automating professional jobs, limited the scope of expansion of the Professional Employment significantly. It no longer made sense for an Accountant's son to become an Accountant, or an Engineer's daughter to dream of being an Engineer, when the old men were struggling themselves.

In this melee, Character has acquired a new meaning. It is indeed different what the word meant for the Victorians, and some of my English friends would still snigger at the term popular in other societies - Finishing School - because it conjures up the image of preppy teenagers learning to handle cutlery and learning the rhetorical arts. But, finishing schools are back in fashion, and it stands for things other than table manners and politeness. The point of character in this late Middle Class economy is a derivative of those professional values that overcame the Victorian penchant for Character. So, a man of character today is not moralistic in the Victorian sense, nor with crusty manners and detached objectivism. Today's person of character is involved, a man of people, with professional honesty, commitment to hard work, work ethic and discipline, someone who is reliable, in many ways, an anti-thesis of what a man of character would be a hundred years ago (and, indeed, the change in the meaning of character is far more dramatic for women). 

These are different values loaded into an old, rather overused, word. In this Late Middle Class economy, when the limits of economic and technological expansion are visible, technology is not just augmentative but also disruptive, and faith in progress has been replaced by uncertainty, Character is being reincarnated in its professional avatar.

In this context, let us ask the question whether one can educate for character, and the answer would be a resounding yes. When we say that it is not possible, we are clinging too much to the old word, which has lost potency in the current context, and consequentially, the past failure in building character, while in clear evidence, is not relevant today. Today's educator face a different challenge, and educating for Character is one of her key objectives - or, should be.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Becoming Global

Whether being Global is desirable depends on which side of the fence you are at. But there could be a different approach.

The word Global has specific meaning in its current usage. It is no longer the descriptive word that it was meant to be, with all the idealism of universal brotherhood. Since the 90s, when money became global, it has one very intrusive meaning for the recipients of globalization, those who turned their world upside down. Becoming Global, in that sense, means being an agent of this change, with a negative connotation for those from Global South.

In this specific usage, the requirements are quite well defined. English is the language of this type of globalisation - indeed, more specifically, American English - and speaking the language of investment and prioritising on money-making is a must. Another rich country language is good - how about German - as is wide familiarity of power circles. The iconography of globalisation also includes a certain look, a certain dress sense, a set of brands, alongside a flair of talking about movies, cars and sports. It is a sublimely male subject world, which the global women happily participate in. 

Assimilating in this world has some specific routes. Apart from the advantages of birth, naturally favourable to those who are born at metropolitan centres and English-speaking countries, there is a route to this global self through Business Schools. That, in fact, is one of the key objectives of business school, and perhaps the only objective, to absorb one into this specific meaning of globalisation and immerse her into the culture, values and brands of it. (To be fair, law schools do the same, and Banks and IT companies too, sometimes attempting to implant a new identity in the person, but Business School stands out in intensity and focus on being global).

However, this model is based on what Professor Pankaj Ghemawat would call 'Globalisation Apocalypse', a flat world view that assumes all the social and cultural variations among countries would disappear with the magic touch of foot-loose money. But after two decades down the path taught everyone some lessons, which are just about sinking in. For a start, cultures refuse to die and national cultures proved more resilient than imagined. Second, globalisation lost its sheen as the disruption at its wake overwhelmed any gains it might have brought, leading to a resurgence of national sentiments and identities. The hypocrisy of the rich country rhetoric, when they try hard to keep people out and yet lecture others about openness, was exposed, staining the word 'Global' and all it stands for.

In this setting, a new meaning of Global may be emerging. Whether or not the world could become, would become, multi-polar, a new global archetype may be needed. This archetype may possibly be based on the old idea of 'International', a word stained by its association with Soviet hegemony, but in its original form, an identity grounded in one's national identity and culture, and yet, not limited by it. Becoming global, in this sense, may not be about embracing the surreal combination of American English, Finance Capital Values and Culture and icons of big money, but being authentic to what one is and yet have an open mind to the experiences different cultures and countries offer. In this new avatar, becoming Global still means being eclectic, and choices of some sort have to be made about values, cultures and icons, but the priority this time around is towards authenticity rather than assimilation.

My own quest of being global comes from this second view, and hence, I celebrate its possibility. I chose to travel, but never stopped being an Indian. I did not think, however, that commitment to being Indian should stop me from learning and accepting the most lofty and transcendent aspects of other cultures. I learned English later in life, but despite feeling, at some awkward moments, the need for hiding my accent, I went along with what came naturally. As I mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my project is still half finished - I wish to live in a non-English speaking culture and learn a language that is on the receiving end of globalisation, like Persian. A formula of being global - coming out of a business school, Thunderbird - caught my imagination. This is about, using the Business School lingo, having global intellectual, psychological and social capital, the Professors said. I, from the capital-starved South, get the message, but would rather interpret this in my own terms - knowing the world, being open to learning and connecting with people. That would be what I would call an Ordinary Person's recipe for Becoming Global.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Political Turn

Politics is back on the agenda.

For some, history ended in 1990. We arrived at a final, stable, interminable age of Capitalism, a vantage point of predicting the future where every next year was supposed to be better than the last, and constant progress could happen without changing the society. In fact, at that very moment, society stopped to matter, as the profound enabling of the individual meant that we can just pursue our own well-being, leaving the idea of progress to the workings of the market, which took care of itself.

It was not very unlike what people thought before the death of God, but a radical departure from the ideas of enlightenment, when, humans became political animals with the slogan of daring to know. It is paradoxical, as at the moment of complete empowerment of the individual, a logical progression of the enlightened ideas, we chose - choice being the main theme here - to give up our powers to transform societies any further and accept the autonomous workings of the market as the road of eternal bliss.

However, history is back, as we stare in the face of a breakdown of our carefully manicured world. It is time of the breaking of the states in the Middle East and Africa, and strange and remote as they may appear from our tranquil neighbourhoods in the West, they are not devoid of impact. The scenes of refugees walking across Hungarian motorways, or indeed the poignancy of the tragedy of dead Children washing up from the Mediterranean, jars our complacent lives. Human swarm, as David Cameron called it, has a Mosaic implication - it is the first sign of an impending profound change.

It is rather a long way from breaking of the Berlin Wall to the point when every country of Europe may explore building fences to keep away from each other, and the spirit of the intervening years, when expansion of economic activities, measured in the GDP became the sole indicator of our well-being, is already waning. As we ushered in the Millennials in public life at an accelerated pace of the celebrity culture and start-up economy, they brought their new ideas of politics and how to arrange the society. And, yes, instead of going out of fashion, the idea of society came back to conversation, perhaps because the surging individualism wrecked our family lives and gnawed at the fundamental human ability to cooperate and collaborate. On the precipice, we may be discovering the needs to go beyond the pursuit of self, an issue Plato sought to argue with Thrasymachus two millenniums ago, and interrogate these old ideas with millennial values.

Those who panic at the impending political turn, and arguing that this would stop progress, have got it wrong. The great periods of human creativity, from Ancient Greece to modern-day Silicon Valley, came after resurgence of political emotions and grand dreams of changing society. Stewart Brand and the Hippies were the true precursors of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, though they have borrowed the rhetoric of changing the world to consolidate a power status quo. In summary, apolitical humans do not create - they just vie for entitlements with each other within a confined existence. Opening of the genie bottle of politics upset the order, but allows possibilities of creation. Exiting the mere consuming selves ignite the producers in us, turn us from spectators to participants in life. So, history may not have ended, and the world may indeed change again.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Moment

Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour Leadership election with 59% of the votes. After the darkness of May, suddenly it is the season of hope again in Britain.

Many people are calling it the biggest upset in British political life in many years, and they are right. No one was expecting a 66-year old, steadfastly socialist outsider to win the leadership of a party, which has all but lost its ideological roots and connection with people they represent, under the years of careerist New Labour. It has become, over the last twenty years, a party of sartorial ambitions, smooth accents and middle class obsessions, a party which is sustained by the promise of cheaper mortgages than the hope of social equality. At every turn, under the excuse of being Centrist, the Labour Party became a pale shadow of the Thatcherite conservatives, offering no alternative in the election of 2015, where a coalition legacy of the middle-of-the-road policies won the day for the Conservatives who took the credits and the votes.

But the electorate was sending a message, not just in Scotland where SNP won by a landslide, but also in England, where UKIP and Greens both became significant political forces at the expense of the three mainstream parties. This message was - Centrism does not work! Indeed, there is no centrism in low tax regimes who mercilessly cut public services and claim the fixed game of allocation of resources a level playing field. The politics as usual, with politicians like career managers, who move like reeds in the wind, always trying to please public opinion and always trying to spin their deeps, is passe. 

The political pundits and the media in general did not get this in the run-up to Corbyn win, and this is why it looks so unusual. They did not get that the voters have now discovered the power of conviction, of a stance, good or bad. They are fed up with politicians who never seem to be wrong, who always change policies just in time or come up with justifications for their huge failures, just by looking smart. Their message now - if you do not want to be wrong, ever, you are not the leader I want. I would rather want a leader who would stick their head out, say things that need to be said, try to push for changes even if they are unpopular, and stay the course. Corbyn fitted this job description - his 40 years of unblemished, steadfast political career is a great model for the new generation of politicians - and now we know, he captured the imagination.

In the pathetic aftermath of the Corbyn victory, the New Labour hopefuls say whether he can win the general election is questionable. That lies in the future - 5 years hence - and a lot will change. At a time when we see a march of refugees right through the heart of Europe, we know that the politics will change in the next five years. And, we know that in their earlier avatar, Labour could not win. It is now Corbyn's  moment, therefore, as he has to battle with the institutional trappings of politics to keep his ideas alive. But, then, he did it for four decades, by eschewing opportunism. He is possibly the best man there is to offer a new politics, and a new hope for Britain.



Friday, September 11, 2015

Kolkata: In Search of A Creative City

I have written about Kolkata at regular intervals (see here). I can't claim to be objective and analytical about the city, but from the experience of Kolkata, as well as of elsewhere, I know Kolkata has a future. One factor is its teeming multitude, the source of much of its woes, which can transform into a great source of strength. The other factor is the transformation of the global economy, which will open up new opportunities by breaking down the old economic structures, and Kolkata may be the right place at this right time. While Dubai or Singapore may seek to import a labour force to maintain its creative economies, Kolkata may have an indigenous source, and therefore, can complete to be Asia's Creative Capital. That would need imagination, and courage, but Kolkata has it all. 

However, to discuss this, one must start with the obvious negative. The common claim is that Kolkata is a dying city - a label first slapped on the city by late Rajiv Gandhi - and the Indian media, which can not agree on almost anything, has accepted this rather gladly. When talking about Kolkata, one just thinks about decline, a poor, sad, gloomy place. And, this is a global impression. The recent BBC documentary, Kolkata With Sue Perkins (see review here), capture this stereotype rather well. The City's dire, unyielding poverty was portrayed in rich detail, with a sort of mocking kindness that is both infuriating and melancholic at same time. Where the stereotype creeps in, though, is the projection of the City's future in a few rich men trying out their racing cars and building their real estate empires. Mother Teresa, as always, becomes Kolkatas most famous citizen, solidifying the image of Kolkata as a city of slums, and just that. What remains unsaid is that this city took on millions of refugees fleeing the civil war in East Pakistan in 1971, particularly relevant when the extraordinary scenes of migrants walking through Europe is all over the news. What is missed is that Kolkata remains pivotal to India's commodity economy, producing, as commodity economies do, a few rich men and widespread deprivation for everyone else.

But, then, things are changing. Though the BBC documentary may claim that Kolkata is one of the fastest growing metropolis in the world, it is also perhaps the only one large city in the world which has seen a marginal population decline over the last decade. In this day and age, that would be a sure sign of a city dying, but Kolkata is far too large and diverse to die in such a straightforward way. The decline, statistically speaking, is more about what we define as a City rather than absolute flight of population, Kolkata is perhaps fast transforming into a Megapolis with large hinterlands as the road and rail transport improves, and perhaps a stable and gradually prospering neighbourhood is stemming the flow of migrants to the city. 

This is a good thing, I shall claim. Kolkata's strengths, its good schools and culture of education, lower prices, supply of drinkable water, young population, public transport, culture and culture industries, not to mention its strategic geographical location connecting India to Far East, are almost always undersold. Despite a populist government being at the helm, the state remains, in relative terms, less corrupt compared to its more economically dynamic peers. Its key problem, political dominance and retrograde decision making by an entrenched class of commodity traders and real estate owners, may become less vicious as the global commodity prices go through a correction and Indian real estate markets face a cyclical shake-up. In fact, this may create that crucial opening for the transformation from a city of commodities to a city of creativity, the one Kolkata desperately needs to leap forward into the league of cities.

One may say this is utopian, and Kolkata does not have an ecosystem of creativity. But, Kolkata has people, both well-educated young ones coming out of school and a large, successful, nostalgic diaspora to draw from. It offers a lifestyle, relatively safer, cheaper and culturally fulfilling than many other Indian cities. And, finally, it has money - we may have seen flight of capital in the recent past, but that may be more due to the perception issues that I highlighted above.

It is time, perhaps, to have a 'Coalition for Kolkata', a platform of a kind that brings entrepreneurs, educators, diaspora members from India and abroad, together, in conversation to renew the creative city that lies at Kolkatas heart. Its entrepreneurial ecosystem is already getting some attention, though the tone so far is one that of exception rather than a way of life. In a way, it is for those in Kolkata and attached to it to start believing in their city - that it is perfectly in alignment with what a global city in the 21st Century should be - and then project that confidence elsewhere. 


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Recalibrating My Skills

I wish to write about two mistakes. First, I thought I would not have a mid-life crisis. Wrong. Second, after everyone else, I think it is impossible to change course of my career as late as this in my life. Wrong again. It is harder, surely, but not impossible.

First, the interesting news - that I have a mid-life crisis. I know I am creating trouble for myself here by baring it. One cardinal rule for career building is perhaps to present oneself in a neat format, best things upwards, vulnerabilities folded away. Talking about the crisis I am facing is like turning up in the interview shirtless. But, I would like to believe I am among friends in this blog - no matter who you are, if you turn up to read my banter, you are a friend - and talking about vulnerabilities is fine, therefore.

I wanted to live a creative life. This is the motivation behind my journeys, my forays into different interesting things, my refusal to be grounded by affections or mortgages, my obsession with books and blogs, and my continuing quest of the next thing. Being an introvert, it did not matter whether I am with people all the time, because I did not need stimulation from outside. What I needed, desired, sought out all my life is intelligent company and intelligent conversations.

But, as I come to the middle of my life (I hope this is the middle and I have enough time left), my work gets more and more defined by my past than my future. So, I become an India specialist, a country I was born in and know well, but it is my past. My past experience of setting up networks of education centres across India becomes all important, notwithstanding my desire to move on. My ability to understand other people define me a salesman, prioritising style over substance. Again and again in my career, where I came from and what I did became more important than where I am going.

It is no crisis though if I just accepted it. If I settled, tried to cash in my expertise, and found the meaning of life in mortgages. But, as I said before and I say now, I am too attached to the life ahead. I seek the joys of creation, knowing new land and cultures, meeting new people, observing lives heroic and trivial, learning new craft, and all that. Where is the creation in rehashing my old expertise again and again in a slightly different context? And, this question causes the crisis - as I do exactly this for a living. And, always dream of an escape.

This escape brings me to the hard part of my enterprise, that of re-calibrating my skills. Despite all my adventures, I have failed perhaps to take chances with my career (though this is not exactly true, given my periodic forays into entrepreneurship). There is a touch of panic here too - I do not want to go down in the genealogical tables as a man of uncertain means - and I am attempting to do something which I can be good at. The chances I took are financial, and even when I started businesses, I took the safe path of being in territories I knew, education and India featuring prominently in my plans. This time around, though, I am seeking to do something completely different - learn about a new country perhaps, with its language and literature, go into work that I have not done before, build friendships outside my own comfort zones, and all that. 

As one could guess, I am drawing up new year resolutions a little early - vowing to make 2016 different from the other years. This means a few things in my mind right now. To start with, this would mean a break, a sabbatical, from this India business. I can not go away, indeed, but the detachment is needed, if I really needed to live a global life. This means a greater commitment to my writing, the only creative enterprise open to me at this time, and taking it more seriously than this blog. I am not sure whether I am going to start a magazine, research for a book or go back to school to learn creative writing, but it will be one of those things. I can not fully escape education, as I love what I do so deeply - but my next life will be to create the Creative School I so keenly want to create. This is a long journey, and I know there will be compromises on the way - but I have enough feeling of a crisis of meaninglessness to take the future as seriously as I can.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

What Employers Want

Employment may not be the only goal of Higher Education, as some educators will justifiably claim, but it is certainly one of the goals. 

A good Higher Education have a great impact in building character, making one free, able to appreciate beauty, cooperate with other people and bring change. Wesleyan's Michael Roth will say that the goal of education is to liberate, animate, cooperate and agitate, and Howard Gardner sum it up as the quest for Truth, Beauty and Goodness. But, beyond this ideal of education, the political nature of the education enterprise that also must be acknowledged. After a century and half of expansion of public Higher Education, Higher Ed has a clearly embedded political purpose, that of lending legitimacy to the governments as they thrive on the idea of a Middle Class society, where everyone has access to opportunity in life through Higher Education. Consequently, the enrollments in Higher Education have expanded rapidly, and in a way, what used to be the bastion of privileged youth has now been flung open to everyone. As long as one accepts this as a good thing - there are some, like Charles Murray, who think there are far too many people going to college, but that is a politically incorrect view - one must be prepared to embrace the new aspirations, of jobs and better life, adequately.

In order to do this, however, one must treat Employers as an important constituent part of education and develop a fuller understanding of their needs and wants. I use 'constituent part' rather than the more officious 'stakeholder', as to fully serve the aspirations of the students, one may integrate the employers closely enough into the process of education rather than keeping them at the arm's length and treating them as consumers of education. Given that the employers are used to this consumer role too, such a transformation needs active engagement from the side of the educators, reaching out, as they say. Indeed, many educators feel that there should be a reciprocal reaching out from the employers' side to make this work, as they struggle to find the right employees. In fairness, some employers are trying, particularly the large companies, reaching out to the good universities and designing innovative programmes to engage students early. However, these programmes are conceived to attract top talent rather than to educate the multitude and make them employable, a task that the educators are expected to accomplish by the Governments that fund them.

The task of the educators is, therefore, cut out quite clearly - develop a fuller understanding of what the employers want and find a way to satisfy these needs. This may sound like common sense, but there is a yet-to-be-resolved dilemma that muddies the water somewhat. Do employers care about good education, or they are focused on narrow skills? And, if they are only looking for narrow skills required for today's jobs, isn't it self-defeating for the educators to focus on those given the fast-changing nature of skills and jobs? Hence, comes the laboured distinction between education and training, knowledge and skills, university teaching versus professional qualification, etc. Justifiable as these concepts may be, the central point in all these ideas is to keep the employability question outside the university gates - leading to some kind of denial of the link between education and employment.

There is a simpler way, though. Having engaged with employers of various sizes and industries over the last five years, I feel educators should feel reassured that employers care about good education and all the benefits that brings. In fact, if I attempt to summarise the main problem employers have with the 'Freshers', it would point to their work ethic, ability to do professional work, ability to meet deadlines, ability to understand the requirements etc. This can range from just turning up on time to attention to details and doing one's best work, but these are things which a good, rigorous education should enable students with. In a sense, students become less employable because they are often getting an easier ride through the system - the central point of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's Academically Adrift - and because in their zeal to treat students as paying customers, universities are serving their demands, of getting a degree, a little too well.

What about technical skills and this claim that the employers only care about narrow technical skills required by their businesses and nothing else? Having spent time with employers, I believe the focus on technical skills is somewhat misleading. Most large corporations have facilities and programmes to train their new staff on the specific technologies that they need. But their recruiters, who are usually the people one gets to talk to when asking the question about organisational requirement, tend to over-emphasize the technical skills requirement. This is because the recruiter roles exist for the sole objective of finding the right fit (and reduce the organisational efforts to develop skills later) and in their world, perfect fit, often expressed in terms of a list of technical skills, is the only thing one needs. The message is very different if one engages at a different level, and particularly with business managers, because they face the problems of professional shortcomings of the candidates more acutely than anyone else. One does care for relevance of education at all levels - a job requiring technical competence is likely to go to people trained to do technical jobs, engineers, while a job requiring complex communication may go to rhetoricians - but the narrow technical skills conundrum arises out of a flawed engagement model solely focused at the recruiting end of the spectrum. The paradigm that education ends where employment begins, educators as producers and employers as consumers, dictates it to be such, but the model is essentially broken, as could be empirically observed within the twin phenomena of unemployable graduates and unfilled jobs occurring simultaneously.

Being at the sharp end of the education-employment interface, I reckon the key to solving the education-to-employment gap, as McKinsey calls it, is to see it not as a gap at all, but a false divide between education and employment. Good education does not end with school completion, and work ethic does not need to wait for the start of work. Employer engagement is not about merely taking employers opinions about curriculum, as it is done today, but working with them to eliminate the false dichotomy between education and employment. There are several things in the educators' toolkit that may help in changing the conversation.

For example, imagine how a university would certify a student, listing out the subjects and examinations s/he has successfully completed. A little more effort, and one could draw up a list of things that the certified student is able to do - can design, plan and execute large scale social research involving diverse group of participants and write coherent reports arguing clear action, would say a transcript of a good sociology student - and the employers would be able to assess the student better.

Also imagine what involving small and medium businesses can do in this context. The small businesses are amoeba of the world of work, both in terms of being the bottom end of the talent food chain and also being on the cutting edge of innovation. The world of small businesses is excellent as the in-between world, a world of work that can be integrated into the education as most small businesses would love conscientious interns who work for free. However, this work can help build the portfolio of real work as a showcase for what the students can do.

These are easy steps, but enough to turn the new hire into an experienced hire, and to escape the sieve at the recruitment end of the businesses, where definitions are far too specific, and engage at a more strategic level. Good education, work ethic and character matters there more, just as good educators predict they would. Apart from doing the educators' job well, which is a prerequisite, being strategic in engaging employers may help education-employment divide disappear.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Gandhi Method

As I wrote the earlier post declaring my intent to study Gandhi's life and death, contending that it is indeed a very 'Indian' life and death, I presumed that Gandhi mattered. It may seem too obvious a statement, but it is not the 'Father of the Nation' stature that we need to be talking about. In fact, this, and the vast cottage industry that sprung up on Gandhi iconography, can be seen in direct contrast to what the man stood for and what he wanted to achieve. We may celebrate Independent India as the great achievement of Gandhi, but there are reasons to consider this to be his great failure, though his legacy lived on. 

It was a great mystery to everyone how India became democratic from the start. Most people were dismissive about Nehru's plans to offer everyone a vote even before that happened in the United States, and predicted chaos. Political Scientists, accustomed to the vaunted correlation between per capita income and democracy, could never fit it into their theories, and commentators, from time to time, predicted immediate collapse of the state. Over the years though, as the Indian Republic survived and become stronger, the pundits swung to the other extreme opinion - taking Indian democracy for granted and claiming it to be irreversible! Even the rise of a Hindu Nationalist party, which the Founders always saw as the gravest danger for the Republic, is not seen with alarm, as the diversity itself - which an earlier generation of commentators thought to be the greatest hurdle to democracy - is now seen as a bulwark for plurality and openness.

This has no precedence, anywhere in the world. A poor, illiterate country, going through the democratic elections year after year, and going strong after 68 years. In the meantime, it has gone through everything imaginable - several wars, acts of terrorism, economic chaos, separatist movements, religious strife - and yet, the only short-lived experimentation with authoritarianism, played out in the authoritarian-friendly days of the middle-70s, were immediately, severely, but peacefully, crushed. One could now come up with a theory of Indians having a democratic genetic structure (some might already have), or the less charitable may see its roots in the quarrelsome nature of the Indians. However, this democratic tradition can only be explained by the way India achieved its independence, which is different from most other countries and in direct contrast with many European political theories, and can be attributed to The Gandhi Method.

One has to remember that Gandhi did not start the Indian Nationalist movement, but joined it in the middle of the Great War. He came with some track record - success of his non-violent methods in South Africa was known by then - but his impact was immediate. Nehrus poetic phrase - And then Gandhi came - seemed almost real in terms of the impact he had on Indian polity almost immediately after his arrived.

To understand this impact and the lingering legacy of Gandhi, it may be worth summarising the Nationalist politics of India at the time of Gandhi's arrival. With some generalisation, but not distortion of truth, one could say that the mainstream politics of nationalism in India, in the years preceding and during the Great War, revolved around the debates of two groups of leaders, one group seeking equal opportunities in jobs for Indians and the other group trying to go slightly further and arguing for greater home rule within the British Commonwealth. Outside the mainstream, however, there were regional activism, a revolutionary undercurrent in Bengal, various peasant and labour agitations, which confronted the English rulers and their agents in India, more violently than even the radical Nationalist leaders would like.

Gandhi, in many a ways, emerged as a radical politician who engaged in dialogues when there was an opportunity, a man of the people who brought the grievances of the street to the meeting rooms of the rich. He flung open the gates of Indian politics to those peasants and labourers following whom he dressed and spoke. His politics, not dependent on a Citizen Elite but everyone, changed the dynamic of political action of the country. This is a crucial departure from any theory of political action - the man on the street is unlikely to be politically disciplined and focused - but Gandhi made this work in India. His boycott of English goods, not a new one, was brought to bear upon the Commercial interests because of the massive participation. His identification of common man's causes, like salt, changed the focus of political action. The impact of this strategy, despite a large body of Gandhi literature, is insufficiently studied. In the immediate context of his politics, unleashing the political action of the Indian villages, numerous, largely outside British control and hitherto outside political movements, Gandhi changed the political equation of the country. That the English had to pack up and leave eventually may have various reasons, but this had created a different model of political action in India - and its legacy would live on in Indian democracy.

The other crucial aspect of Gandhi's method is non-violence, which is indeed famous. But the point of non-violence is not lack of violence itself, which requires great courage, but the rejection of the method of the powerful. Gandhi, indeed, famously said that if India had swords, he would have advocated lifting it. But the deeper message of non-violence is that the oppressed must not mimic the methods and ideas of the oppressor, but create a new way and meet him at a different ground. These methods would not work without the multitude, but Gandhi had them. However, on the other hand, the politics of violence can only work with a Citizen Elite in the lead, like in so many other countries. This had implications in the Indian Freedom movement, where various extremist factions and Communist Party largely viewed Gandhi as a collaborator, but this - employment of a tool-kit of the oppressed - became an inextricable part of the Indian political fabric.

So, my argument goes, Gandhi was not just fighting for independence, he was laying the ground, may be unknowingly, for democracy and republicanism. Political theorists may fail to see how a state that had to be led by a Citizen Elite can remain democratic without being rich. But, Gandhi already created a freedom movement with broad participation and leadership, using methods which anyone can use (violence needs weapons, and therefore, money). Structurally, India was already a Republic before it became independent.

This does not mean that Indias democracy would have happened without the actions of its post-independence leaders and of succeeding generations, or it should be taken for granted now. One of the key problems of post-independence India was its overt dependence on Citizen Elite, a class of leaders that will run the country, something that Nehru, above all, learned from the Soviet experience. But, many of the issues India faces today, lack of broad-based prosperity, bureaucracy and corruption at all levels, come from the dependence on this narrow elite. In this, Gandhi was a success and a failure at the same time, as the battles he launched, one of creating an India of the People, still rages on many years after his death.


Friday, September 04, 2015

About Gandhi and His Death

There are things that interest me, the stories of heroic and meaningful lives, the narratives of creative flowerings at certain points of time and in specific places, revolutionary ideas and why human beings, at certain points of time, degenerate into depravity and destroy their own achievements. These interests, as one could tell from my rather straight-jacket life as a business executive, lie outside my work, and only as a pastime. But, such interests are also the essence of my curiosity and creative pursuit, and define who I want to be.
There are times when I take these interests seriously and this is one such indulgent moment. My life is at a crossroad in many a sense, and a systematic enquiry is one way of uplifting myself from the compromises I have to make everyday to make a living and to be fully alive. Hence, the plan - to construct a series of essays on Gandhi - is more about my own life than about its subject. 

However, the choice of the subject requires some justification. Gandhi is, in my mind, the epitome of human leadership, an imperfect man on a journey towards truth and perfection, a political philosopher of our time without equal and, at the same time, a man of action full of compromises and flaws. He, already a subject of many studies, is one of those fascinating individuals, whose story, in the end a failure, is both tragic and uplifting, both human and ethereal, both limiting and limitless. 
However, there is another start point of my interest in Gandhi, and that lies outside his politics.

It is an Indian idea to treat ones whole life as a debt, to nature, to ones own forefathers, to all who nurtured and even to those who will come later and give meaning to ones own time-limited existence, a debt that gets paid only through ones death and return to the nature. One could say that it is a pessimistic view of existence, which brings the end of life to the fore and steal from us the agency to make life better. Indeed, this may not have any apparent common ground with the currently fashionable, mostly American, striving for a better future, a view informed by the poverty of the present and the meaninglessness of the past, and therefore, as Max Weber would say, it makes for an inactive and irrational world-view. One could, however, contend that this is only a limited understanding of the Indian life-ethic, and the context is subverted by an essential Western obsession, equating better life with more material possessions, even defining happiness with the acquisition of more. 
The alternate world-view, where life's meaning is not defined by material possession and happiness is defined by harmony with nature and with others, is at the root of Indian life-ethic, which is neither inactive nor irrational. Inactive it is not, as one would strive to pay one's debt as a responsible man, and it is not irrational because this, contrary to Western beliefs, puts human responsibility at the core, making us more, rather than less, responsible. This conception, rather than putting man at the Center of the universe and constructing an ethics of human exceptionalism, trests man as a social and natural  being, and celebrates the unique strength that made humans survive despite all odds and makes it the preeminent species on Earth. Indeed, it replaces the promise of the future with a reverence for the past, and accords greater priority to the known rather than the vast unknown, and therefore, may be accused with some justification, of stealing the agency that enlightenment and scientific revolution afford us. And, precisely this, at least this above all, calls for a re-imagination and a reconciliation with the reality of changing futures even before it arrives. However, the ever-changing future makes the present more, not less, important, impregnating the latter with more possibility than ever before and making us more responsible to those who will come after. 
However, I believe this new imagination needs to go beyond the rational-scientific, individualistic conceptions of Weberian world-view. The one or the other, dialectical nature of the ideas and all development, which put the past and the future head to head, and make the present a momentary interlude, can not fully meet the demands of what one should be and how one should be, when the future becomes transient and any morality based on future a suspect. I see Gandhi's life and work as a manifestation of a different ethic of living, and interested particularly in his death, an event which turns the indignity of falling to a bullet into a great moment of clearing ones debt, fully and unequivocally. The allure of Christian imagery is all too tempting in the context, the fallen man redeeming the sins of partition and the violence, a blood-stained homage to those who will come later, us, and the ultimate triumph of the message, of non-violence and peace, that needed to be tested to the very end by the trial of an assassins gun. But, my approach is to steer clear of the idea of a Christian death and the ideal of sacrifice for the future, beautiful as it may be, and treat this end as very Indian, consistent with the setting of a prayer meeting and the last call of invoking a Hindu god, not for forgiveness - whether or not that was intended, we would never know - but of surrender, to the nature and God.
Also, my intent is not to explore Gandhi as some kind of role model to be followed, but an imperfect man searching for an ethic of living through an inflection point in history. My studies are not biographical, but intellectual, and less about Gandhi as the person, though it would seep into everything, but as the idea. As I mentioned, the point of my enquiry is the questions of my own life - is it possible to have a different life-ethic just as we arrive at another, no less pivotal, inflection point in history - and Gandhi, and his quest, presents a very compelling model. Answering some of the questions the way he did unlock a whole new possible life, or, should I say, a vast array of possible lives, outside the existence as a consuming man, which we all are. 
Also, it must be said here, Gandhi was not an idealist, but a man of action, someone who got his hand dirty and operated very much within the messy realities of practise. Hence, there is nothing clean and sanitised about Gandhi, no perfect persona only to be known through the words. Rather, he as an imperfect man was always in full public view, going through the chores of life, appearing, from time to time, idiosyncratic, manipulative, attached to his favourites and unkind to some opponents, a fascinating stuff for biographers of all hues. While the temptation to extract the pure Gandhi of ideas is always too great, it is essential to remember that there is no such thing, and that is precisely the point of my endeavour. Gandhi as an idea is the summation of all the lofty aspirations in the muck of practise, the incessant search for truth through the imperfections of daily life, the quest for transcendence through vanities and failures - to climax in one perfect moment, of his death. 
So, I shall perhaps start at his death, that essential moment of repayment and redemption, that brought the political and the spiritual (of which he was always accused of) together in perfect harmony. It was an end and the beginning - end of a life that bestowed an identity to a whole nation. It was a triumph, a heroic end that summarise the courage that informed the whole idea of non-violence, and a failure, as the message got lost in the iconography of the emergent state. This poetic but macabre end that set off the debates that still continues, in both poetic and macabre forms, is perhaps a fitting moment to trace the beginning of the Indian Republic, rather than the more officious moments of gaining independence or adopting the constitution, which we celebrate after the Western-style nations. This death was the beginning, and I seek to start my journey to study Gandhi at this point.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

End of European Moralism

The current crisis with migrants has one, and only one, casualty - the European moral high ground! 

European governments feel uniquely entitled to lecture others about humanitarian issues. They project themselves as the keeper of morality in the world, often bombing or sanctioning against other nations when they think they are on the wrong side of the moral line. Once they faced the same test that some of the Asian and African nations face routinely, they failed though - and failed miserably.

Imagine what would have happened if Iran barred refugees from coming in. Or, India left them stranded in the shores. Or, a Pakistani columnist suggested that they send gunboats to stop the infiltration. Or an African President called them swarms. If they died in a locked truck in Egypt. Or, if Sudan limited the number of people allowed to come in every year to 50. 

There would be an international outrage, thousands of column inches of editorials, Hollywood stars descending on the nearest conference to denounce such barbarity, and privately smug citizens taking this on as another example of Asiatic backwardness.

But, when the challenge comes to Europe, all of the above sound perfect reasonable, and even politically popular. And, indeed, as one must add, everyone seems to think that people are coming to Europe because it is too soft, while the fact remains that it is happening because the European countries, particularly Britain, have intervened, on the humanitarian excuse, in various countries and helped destroy order. Even if the regimes in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were wholly unpalatable, what came in its place is worse. No wonder that people prefer taking their chances on rough seas rather than getting slaughtered, raped or maimed by ISIS. 

There are stories of generosities of private citizens emerging - from Iceland, Hungary and elsewhere - but they are as much a party to this shameful act as their governments. The fact that such generosity makes news means that these are man bites dog affair - exceptional! While such acts must be celebrated, they can not be identified as European. European is what the governments and majorities are effectively doing, trying to shut themselves down from the world, supporting extractive regimes and causing misery elsewhere and giving brownie points to those like David Cameron who intentionally sound hateful!

And, surely, one would need to call out the European media, so self-righteous and smugly lecturing and commenting on other peoples indifference to human misery, but intentionally blind, as if embarrassed, with the calamity in its hand. It is both pathetic and amusing to watch the documentary on Calcutta/Kolkata yesterday night on BBC, which highlighted the City's misery and the supposed, colonial, glories of the past, and, as the main message, highlighted the divide between the rich and the poor. Yet, that Calcutta has been a great centre of migration, and the waves of migration, as the residents will tell you, changed the city, is missed by the presenter. While she was eager to showcase the Asiatic indifference, she did not want to bring the story any closer home. 

This, and what comes next, would perhaps end the spell of European moralism. That Europe is a great humanistic project has already been laid bare in the Greek crisis, and the migrants would spread this message globally. The decline of Western influence does not come with the rise of China, but in the exposure of its own hypocrisy. 



Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Higher Education As A Business

I have been involved in the ugly end of the Higher Education - For-profits - for too long to not to detect the puzzle that lies at the heart of Higher Education as a business. Good Higher Education, if we overcome the cynicism to believe that there is such a thing (and overcome the claim that Higher Education is a mechanism to perpetuate privilege, and nothing else), needs elements such as a community, a gift culture, a long term vision and high levels of trust, which are not common in the business world. The investment world, which gets involved in owning and running Higher Education institutions, is really at the far end of the spectrum of values from what makes good education, and while they claim to reward innovative companies, they like regimented Higher Education, and while they want Google to be more college-like, they want college to be more like a factory. Recently, Professor Malcolm Gillies, the recently retired Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University, argued that the City (which is the shorthand for investing world in London) should learn from Academia's Slow Values (read his essay here), a suggestion that will be dismissed out of hand by the new Czars of Higher Education. However, what values matter come to the fore as For-Profits are allowed greater legitimacy, and Governments increasingly believe that getting businesses involved in Higher Education is the solution to expand Higher Education and solve the problem of Middle Class jobs. 

However, the problem is only getting bigger because the nature of Higher Education business remains directly at odds with the investment approach of the Higher Education Investor. And, this is poorly understood because this is such a contested issue - no serious researcher or commentator of Higher Education would ever examine For-Profits with an open mind, and the For-Profits and their investors would just be dismissive about what the academicians say. Caught in the middle are indeed people who wants to create new Higher Education institutions that innovate and move with time, and can only find money to do so from the investing world. In the absence of an unified theory of what makes Higher Education work, failing For-Profits become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Indeed, the ambition of For-Profits is to create a new type of university, but it is almost always self-defeating as a model. For example, most For-Profits claim that they exist to prepare people for the changing nature of work and careers, and yet, they must market themselves as easy avenues for yesterdays jobs, because these are only ones their prospective students have any ideas about. Their business models stand on minimising human interaction and contact, running directly against the serendipitous nature of human learning, and their focus, dictated by the logic of investment, on the outcome rather than the process of education denude the experience of the possibilities of chance encounters, detours and accidental knowledge. The oxymoron of result-oriented research should be more apparent, but the whole For-Profit teaching approach, focused on if-you-do-this-you-will-get-that ensures that the gift culture, of sharing knowledge and experience, of being of assistance to other people, is effectively undermined. And, while this industrialised process may produce industrial age machine operators, we are so far past that time and requirement that For-Profits only worsen the existential crisis of the middle class.

The other side of the coin is, of course, the Government bureaucracies that run public institutions, but operate with essentially the same business logic of measurability and control, in a time-limited way. The public institutions, therefore, face the other side of the same problem - there is nothing educational about a bureaucratic institution. The only concerns become Sex for students, parking for faculty and sports for the alumni (Clark Kerr's words - the last one only uniquely applicable to the United States) - and indeed, the culture of the faculty room become all too Machiavellian to entertain any idealism about education.

One may indeed point out that the idea of the college as a community of scholars and students united in the pursuit of knowledge is just an ideal, and such a college may have never existed. However, the point is not one of tradition but one of appropriateness - if we believe that the collegiate ideal is good for innovative work and attempt to replicate it at our businesses, why should we not attempt to create learning institutions on similar models? While we recognise the value of collaborative work, a gift culture, long term thinking in our most cutting edge enterprises and value idealism in world changing social organisation, why do we permit our cynicism to let our colleges degenerate so precipitously? And, since I invoke the accusation of cynicism, I must clarify that I see it everywhere in Higher Education. The faculty room culture in public institutions, a combination of patronising highhandedness and indulgent self-centeredness, is as guilty of cynicism as the charade of academic values put up by For-Profits with pretentious buildings (or virtual storefronts, as is becoming more common), luminous but never-present advisory panels and degree parade of the adjuncts who are all too busy simply surviving. This model simply does not work - it does not even make money when the subsidies and state support is withdrawn - and yet, all other ideas, any idea, is rejected out of hand, by both sides of the divide.

Higher Education has a future, simply because an uneducated universe is a self-destructive prospect. The need for innovation in Higher Education is urgent, but the solution is not just to embrace For-Profits (or reject it). The innovation would take a new form of business, socially engaged, long term and informed by the right values. Instead of just watering down quality standards and letting For-profits slip in, the Governments need to look elsewhere - innovating governance structures, which let such institutions raise money and operate effectively. Higher Education can be a business, but it is a different kind of business - a point we missed all along!



Popular Posts

How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

Creative Commons License