Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Great Indian Education Bazaar

Thomas Friedman gushed effusively in his book "The World is Flat" about the millions that graduate from Indian colleges. Given the excitement over outsourcing and getting "Bangalored" (yes thats a verb now) this truism stayed etched in popular imagination. An interviewer once asked Friedman "why do you write about Globalization only from the perspective of the CEO's and you never talk to ordinary people". Friedman smugly replied 'if I have to understand globalization I need to talk to Nandan (Nilekani) not to the guy on the shop floor". Then came an analyst's report on the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India & China) from Goldman Sachs that predicted India would be within striking distance of US GDP in 50 years. Indians went into euphoria. The death of IT in USA was predicted with glee. Its been 8 years since CNN"s Lou Dobb's ran his story "Exporting America" on outsourcing. IT is here to stay. Outsourcing in major financial industries is in shambles, only grunt work is sent to India, only 'productionized processes' are sent (euphemism for tasks for which instruction sheets can be written). Finally a McKinsey study blew a gaping hole that more than 50% of India's graduates cannot pass an interview at an MNC.

This being June its admission season in Tamil Nadu. Every news paper, every magazine is littered with ads in every page for courses, each ad flaunts some accredition or the other, many boast of liasons with universities abroad, flashy photographs depicting luxuriously furnished classrooms/labs/dorms are posted. Every college, including Government colleges now put out a board at the entrance listing courses offered like Udipi hotels displaying their dinner menu. There are even magazines that rank colleges.

I picked a magazine "Careers 360" that had a special issue of college rankings. All the deemed universities in TN were ranked AA. Two of those universities have been marked by Central Govt, in a case before supreme court, to be stripped of their deemed university status. I spoke to a person who claims to run an MBA program in Singapore linked to a UK university. He talked about how he has linked Deemed Universities in TN (all X-ian as he was, not incidentally, a X-ian) with that Singapore based MBA program. The MBA program does not require GMAT. One of the deemed university is in the list to be demoted as I said before. I asked him about that. I was told "oh thats nothing, they will just lose university status and instead go back to being a college as before". I was stumped thinking of the poor parents in that small hamlet in Tanjore who were duped into admitting their children thinking they were attending a "deemed university" which claimed that the autonomy gave academic independence. When that university loses its status and becomes a college it would need to get affiliation from a government run university which then could throw out the MBA program too (new beaurocrats).

When I stayed at the Taj Gateway I had an interesting encounter. We were having lunch and a family sat in the nearby table. Their manner of dress and speech clearly suggested that they were there courtesy of some ill-begotten wealth. The guy started talking animatedly to the waiter about a "hotel management" college he runs. As luck would have it that day's "Indian Express" carried an article on how admissions can be bought for money. A rate table for various colleges and various engineering courses was listed. The wife took a look at it and in Tamil, spoken like slang, chimed "why are these fools wasting their money on Engg courses, that too look at the prices". If this was a conversation held in Renganathan Street, T.Nagar CHennai, about potatoes being sold by a competitor, the tone of the conversation, the accents none of it would be out of place. The guy looked and acted like a vegetable vendor. His young son was exactly in his mould. I could imagine him sitting in an a/c room as "correspondent" hiring teachers with less care than he would give choosing tomatoes between different vendors.

Here are few excerpts from Narayana Murthy's book "A Better India, a Better World", the chapter is "A framework for Reforms in Higher Education".

  1. India's annual output of PhD's in Comp.Science is 25. USA - 800.
  2. Indian ranks 119th (among 149) in citations Index.
    1. A typical IIT gets 2-3 patents a year. Stanford gets 52.
  3. India spends 1.9 % (2006) of its GDP on education. Kothari commission asked for 6%, 38 years ago!!
  4. Beauracracy severely hampers visits by foreign academics, investments by NRI's have to jump through so many hoops that many times they fabulously fail.
  5. World bank researchers made random visits to 200 primary schools and found no teaching activity in half of them.
  6. "we have a tendency to design our standards based on the worst performers, and demotivating outstanding students". A standards based SOLELY on lowest common denominator. Lowering the bar as habit.
For his ideas on reforms I'd refer the reader to the book.

Casteim is rampant in both student enrollment (especially in Arts colleges) and faculty. It is not a surprise that Hindu colleges would refuse admission to Christians (and vice versa as compliment !!!). A Brahmin college (what a categorisation, sad but true) would have 99% Brahmin faculty. Likewise for a Nadar college and so on.

In the wake of Kumbokonam tragedy when 70+ children perished in a fire at an ill-equipped, badly constructed school the government stipulated that all schools must get a clearance from fire department (why should that have to be only after such a tragedy??). Now that is used to fleece money from schools. This is India, I am told. The harassed schools formed a consortium and negotiated "a price" for the certificates!!!!!!!

Yesterday's paper had an ad by a college flaunting its NAAC accredition calling for students to apply. Just beneath that ad it called for applications for "Principal, lecturers, professors". Now one wonders how they got accredition in the first place.

The Chairman of MCI (Medical council of India) was arrested by CBI on charges of corruption running to hundreds of crores. No wonder there are so many 'accredited' medical colleges.

All that I've written is just a tip of  the iceberg.

No comments: