Monday, August 26, 2013

Three posts on education

1) In the wake of India trying to welcome US-based universities to educate its future generations,
(http://chronicle.com/blogs/worldwise/how-loyal-are-overseas-branch-campuses-to-their-host-countries/32723?cid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en) here is a report on how loyal are overseas branch campuses are to their host countries? Some points are worth emphasizing:
"A couple of weeks ago, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business announced that it would leave Singapore and shift its Asian operation to Hong Kong. The reasoning seems to be strategic. Its contract with Singapore was concluding in 2015, and Hong Kong offers better access to the rapidly expanding Chinese market. Similarly, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas has signaled that it may be leaving Singapore after its last batch of students complete their study in 2015. In this case, the university couldn’t agree on the student subsidies paid by its host, the government-sponsored Singapore Institute of Technology. And, in the midst of its global expansion, New York University also recently revealed it was closing its Tisch campus on the island nation after it also failed to reach a new financial arrangement with the Singapore government.
...
Within a matter of a few months, three international branch campuses on one island signaled they would be closing or relocating because they didn’t like the financial deal provided by the government. This is virtually unthinkable back home. The University of Chicago is not tempted to relocate to Houston because of Governor Perry’s pitch that business is better in Texas. The University of Nevada at Las Vegas will not be leaving Nevada no matter how much it dislikes the financial arrangement it has with Nevada. And NYU would never have closed its New York campus, even if it didn’t get approval from the city for a controversial expansion in Greenwich Village.
...
International branch campuses, though, seem to have a more flexible sense of place. They are less like a university in a college town and more like a department store in a suburban mall. If the community declines or the market shifts, the university soldiers on; the store has a moving sale."
There you go, in simple English, overseas branches are BIG business ventures for a university. As long as the money cow can be milked, India will be a target for every university in the US and Europe. Which means, India will always be a target for these universities. Thus, it behooves the MHRD and GoI to not loose their senses (which they so far have not) in opening up the education sector. As much as future generations of Indians need to be educated, it is not like the overseas universities are being benevolent, they are just trying to take care of their own bottomline first and foremost. If any philanthropic act accrues in the process, while these universities would like to take credit, only the naive will bestow free credit to them.

 2) William Deresiewicz writes the following in his piece, "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education" (http://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/#.Uhv4B5JQFgo):
"Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it."
That last line quite caricatures the US and west-based Indian-origin peoples who find fault with most things that is India today and in the past, on both sides of the divide: leftists as well as rightists. When one takes themselves out of India, they should tend to judge less and accepting (in a non-flippant yet resigned-to-fate yet observational sense) of every possible stupidity that India and Indians display. The ones who want change by sitting outside and by influencing the proceedings inside do end up being the proverbial cats that run after their own tail. Quite amusing to watch for a show, not quite funny to have as a pet.

In any case, while admittedly a looong piece, the author belabors and rambles about the simple point that no metric can capture it all. Yet, there has to be a metric, some metric, any metric to measure things, even if incompletely, even if imperfectly, even if idiotically. The criticism of existing measures is not the same as an alternate/candidate metric that will meet these virtues and more. It is just a destructive criticism of things that exist as not meeting the imaginary benchmarks set by the author. A more constructive and far more difficult criticism is to propose a candidate that could be tested for being a useful solution to the problem at hand.

Nepotism and elitism are not new phenomena that have come about with Ivy League universities or their poor Indian copycats. Nepotism has existed ever since man has, every set of peoples end up subdividing themselves till they feel comfortable as a unit. To deny that these do not exist is to whitewash history. Given that these two traits do exist, the current solution is the best till a new one comes up. And when a new better solution is up, people do switch on to that bandwagon till another one turns up. To deride the course of history in the hope of building a better h metric is one, to deride that to endlessly circle around the same point without solving the problem at hand is quite another.

3) Buttressing the above claim that nepotism and elitism exist even in the highest circles, here is a report on how four of the key ideas in Obama's plan to control college costs bear familiar fingerprints (http://chronicle.com/article/4-Key-Ideas-in-Obamas-Plan/141239/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en):
"The president's plan dovetails closely with the agendas of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent $472-million to remake college education in the United States, and of the Lumina Foundation, the largest private foundation devoted solely to higher education. Many features of the president's plan have been advocated, too, in the research and analysis of the New America Foundation's education-policy program." 
There you go, even the only superpower's policies get made in Seattle, Bay Area or Indianapolis. Thank god that the Obama administration did not source ideas from the Heritage Foundation.


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