See Behind the Curtain of QS World University Rankings 2022

I will begin on a lighter note because what follows is serious and may be tough, harsh and unsavoury for quite a few learned people.

There is a joke about a man asking his son about his result in the school, which is narrated nearly in all parts of the country. Rendered in local dilect with local nuances and cultural flavour, the outcome is always hilarious.  This joke goes something like this –

Man (to his son Ramu) – tell me, whether you passed this time or have failed the exams once again

Ramu (replying to his father) – I have stood fourth in the class

Man – very good Ramu, but did you pass

Ramu – Gopal (Head master’s son) has stood sixth in the class, I have done better than Gopal

Man – Poor Gopal, he remained behind you, but did he pass or not

Ramu – only Dheeru and Golu passed, they stood first and second. Don’t get angry with me, I am better than 36 in my class. Only 3 are better than me.

Man (in angry and abusive tone) – Idiot, you failed again

Clearly, the result was only 5% (2 out of 40) pass rate.

Let us now look at the QS World University Rankings 2022. India has celebrated that three of our institutions – IIT Bombay (shared rank 177), IIT Delhi (rank 185) and IISc Bangalore (shared rank 186) continue to remain in the top 200 ranked Universities of the World even in 2022. The Prime Minister (https://twitter.com/narendramodi/status/1402628065474203650) and the Education Minister (https://twitter.com/DrRPNishank/status/1402559433259962371) also congratulated these institutions, and rightly so, rankings do give us a sense of achievement. We need to be careful however, if our euphoria (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-emerging-a-vishvaguru-says-ramesh-pokhriyal-after-3-indian-institutes-figure-in-top-200-qs-world-university-rankings/articleshow/83373333.cms ) is like that of a Ramu or a Golu?

QS World University Rankings 2022 feature 1,300 universities from around the world. There are 35 Indian Universities in this list of 1300. (https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022 )

Universities were evaluated according to a weighted average of the six metrics – Academic Reputation (40%), Employer Reputation (10%), Faculty/Student Ratio (20%), Citations per faculty (20%), International Faculty Ratio (5%), and International Student Ratio (5%).

The matrices are reported as measurements on an analogue interval scale (0-100) which are then aggregated into an overall score (weighted average). The overall score is therefore on an analogue interval scale (0-100).

The overall score was then ordered from high to low and discreet ranks awarded as 1, 2, 3, and 4 and so on. Universities tied at same overall score share the same rank and the next rank is then skipped to account for double cases at same rank. In such ranking, among the top 200 ranks, three institutions from India figured.

Let us try to see beneath the veil of these ranks.

  • MIT, which ranks first has an overall score of 100 (rounded up) composed of Academic Reputation (40% of 100), Employer Reputation (10% of 100), Faculty/Student Ratio (20% of 100), Citations per faculty (20% of 100), International Faculty Ratio (5% of 100), and International Student Ratio (5% of 91.4).
  • The overall scores are thus some kind of ratings for the Universities. Interestingly, as we go down the ranking list, the overall score drops very fast – Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh United States scores less than 75% but ranks at 53; Hanyang University, Seoul South Korea scores less than 50% but ranks at 156; Maastricht University, Maastricht Netherlands scores less than 50% but ranks at 156; and University of Missouri, Columbia United States scores less than 25% but ranks at 476.
  • Overall Scores for Universities ranked at 501 or lower are nor reported (they scored 24 or less out of 100)

Let us revert to performance by the institutions from India. There are 35 institutions from India in the list of 1300 ranked institutions, of which 3 are in top-200, 5 more are in the 201-500 group, another 14 are in the next 500 ranks while the remaining 13 are in the last 300 ranks. The top-3 institutions from India are rated and ranked as under:

  • IIT Bombay (Academic Reputation -51.3, Employer Reputation -79.6, Faculty/Student Ratio- 32.5, Citations per faculty -55.5, International Faculty Ratio – 1.5, International Student Ratio – 1.6; Overall score – 46.4; rank-177),
  • IIT Delhi (Academic Reputation -45.8, Employer Reputation -70.8, Faculty/Student Ratio- 30.9, Citations per faculty -70.0, International Faculty Ratio – 1.2, International Student Ratio – 1.7; Overall score – 45.9; rank 185)

and

  • IISc Bangalore (Academic Reputation -34.2, Employer Reputation -19.2, Faculty/Student Ratio- 48.8, Citations per faculty -100.0, International Faculty Ratio – 1.2, International Student Ratio – 1.8; Overall score – 45.7; rank 186)

The next 5 ranked institutions are:

  • IIT Madras (Overall score – 38.1, rank 255),
  • IIT Kanpur (Overall score – 36.4, rank 277),
  • IIT Kharagpur (Overall score – 36.3, rank 280),
  • IIT Guwahati (Overall score – 28.3, rank 395) and
  • IIT Roorkee (Overall score – 28.0, rank 400).

Here is what the rating data displays:

  • Only the public institutions of technology and science are able to find a place in the top-500 club. These are deemed to be universities but not a university in the real sense of the term. A university is multi-disciplinary, spanning across humanities, science, commerce and social sciences rather than being confined to a very narrow focus on technology.
  • There is no real Indian University in the top-500 ranks. South Africa has 4 real universities in the top-500 club.
  • As against 8 institutions from India in the top-500 club, Europe has 212 institutions, United States has 87 institutions while Rest of Asia has 117 institutions (includes 26 from mainland China, 16 from Japan).
  • These 8 institutions do not account for even 1% of the total university enrolment in India.
  • The best of best in India scores only 46% marks as compared to the best in the world score of 100%.
  • There are large variances in the scores for Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty/Student Ratio and Citations per faculty within the top 3 whose ranks are spread over only 9 ranks.
  • Employer reputation seems to exceed Academic Reputation for the high ranked institutions in India. IISc turns out to be an exception in reputation as well as in its Citation score.

Makeup is used as a beauty aid to help build up the self-esteem and confidence of an individual. Like NIRF Rankings (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350354434_NIRF%27s_India_Rankings_Are_Ludicrous) QS World University Rankings 2022 are a makeup for educational institutions. This makeup conceals the ugly pockmarks on the face of Universities in India. It is unfortunate that the Education Minister has utilized this makeup to beat the harsh lights and the glare of camera flashes which would expose the rot in education system.

By calling these rankings as a testimony for India’s “leap in the field of Education & Research and is emerging as a VISHVAGURU” Education Minister is only proving his lack of understanding and literateness. Surely, he remembers well – “Parde Mein Rehne Do Parda Na Uthao, Parda Jo Uth Gaya To Bhedh Khul Jayega, Allah Meri Tauba – Allah Meri Tauba” (परदे में रहने दो पर्दा न उठाओ, पर्दा जो उठ गया तो भेद खुल जायेगा, अल्लाह मेरी तौबा – अल्लाह मेरी तौबा) keep the curtain on, don’t lift the curtain, If the curtain is lifted, then the secret will be revealed, Allah is my repentance – Allah is my repentance.

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First published 12 June 2021

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Non-Academic Staff in Higher Educational Institutions

Non-Academic staff members are professional employees who contribute very significantly to the success of Higher Educational Institutions. They bring to the Higher Educational Institutions an important repertoire of professional skills, possess a wealth of institutional knowledge, provide essential resources, and work alongside of faculty and Administration in realizing the Institution’s mission. Many have served through several administrations and numerous leadership changes at the departmental level. This long-term experience gives them invaluable expertise and lends consistency to the daily operations of the institution.

The contribution of non-academic staff highly influences the student experience at Higher Educational Institutions. While faculty supports students academically and in research, the staff makes equally important contributions toward the success of students through many critical support and operational services.

There is evidence to show that the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at established Higher Educational Institutions in India has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty. The disproportionate increase in the number of staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in years that are more recent.

Those commenting on higher education often ask whether the proportion of administrative and support staff is higher than it should be, with the unspoken assumption that a percentage less than hundred is ideal. This is a good starting point; since without administrative and other support functions Higher Educational Institutions are always at some risk that they cannot adequately provide student services and high value research.

There is just an overwhelming amount of money per student that is being spent on administration. This raises a question of priorities.

Institutions have added these administrators and professional employees even as they have substantially shifted classroom-teaching duties from full-time faculty to less expensive part-time adjunct faculty and teaching assistants. Institutions have increased their hiring of part-time faculty to try to cut costs.

Institutions can undertake a critical examination of their costs to tell exactly how much the rise in administrators and professional employees has contributed to the increase in the cost of tuition and fees, which has also almost quadrupled in the last 20-years. This is a higher price rise than for any other sector of the economy in that period, including healthcare. The unrelenting addition of administrators and professional staff has driven this steep increase.

The continued hiring of non-academic employees belies the very idea that institutions are doing everything they can to improve efficiency and hold down costs.

While the rest of the economy has been shrinking overhead, higher education has been investing heavily in more overhead. Staffing per student is a valid way to judge efficiency improvements or declines. The ratio of non-academic employees to faculty has also doubled. There are now two non-academic employees at public and two and a half at private institutions and colleges for every one full-time, tenure-track member of the faculty. In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate; executives would lose their jobs. The doubling of administrative and professional staff does not seem to have improved the performance of Higher Educational Institutions.

In any long-term plan for Higher Educational Institutions, among other goals, the institution should learn to value non-academic staff as crucial for the central missions of the institution. This requires that the non-academic staff be supported as a crucial human resource for the institution. Careful attention needs to be paid to the creation and maintenance of a healthy workplace. Career development should be fostered through advancement opportunities. Internal mobility should be actively encouraged.

Valuing non-academic staff also requires the rational, transparent distribution of staff across units, and a careful consideration of their duties. Regular review of staff roles and responsibilities should be implemented.

As the institution advances, it must take care to maintain necessary staff levels and skill requirements. An institution should however never lose sight of the primacy of its purpose, functions of teaching and research, and not let the flab of Non-Academic Staff grow. The institution cannot be unmindful of the non-academic responsibilities, which it entrusts upon the academic-staff.

The financial stress on the institutions of higher education caused by COVID-19 pandemic has led to focus on productivity and cost-cutting, which in certain cases has led to denial of tenures to faculty and non-renewal of teaching contracts. At a so-called premier b-school in Gurgaon, the annual workloads for the teaching faculty have been increased by over thirty percent without any increase in their compensation. Of course, academics are the front line staff who provide the teaching and research functions that represent the institution’s core business. Unfortunately, there seems to have been no talk of pruning the non-academic staff by any percentage.

It is astounding to hear a very senior professor from the institution saying that non-academic administrators were a cancer in their academic system. It is more alarming to notice that many others are greeting such a statement with mutters of approval. It seems probable that eventually, there would be an open or covert warfare between academics and non-academics at this institution where legacy systems have sustained the covert bossing by the non-academics over the academics.

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First published 07 April 2021

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NIRF Rankings Are Ludicrous

On November 30, 2020, the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) invited applications for India Rankings 2021, the Sixth edition of this annual exercise. NIRF was launched in 2015 to rank higher educational institutions in the country. NIRF makes a loud claim of its purpose as “promoting competitive excellence in the higher educational institutions” and its process as “being based on objective criteria” is approved, endorsed and supported by the Ministry of Education of the Government of India.

Rankings for Educational Institutions are accorded great significance by institutional staff and leadership teams and when awarded by the Government itself, the outcomes of the ranking have significant material consequences. Year after year, NIRF has been publishing its Annual Rankings inciting excitement across academic social media. Nothing wrong in celebratory and congratulatory banter that follows; but what is unsettling is the fact that the academic scholars take things like a ranking as a confirmation, or evidence, of how good, or bad for that matter, they are having it as compared to everyone else.

Let me make it clear from the start that my intention here is not to criticise rankings. This is not a story about flawed methodologies or their adverse effects, about how some rankings, other than the NIRF, are produced for making profit, or about how opaque or poorly governed they are.  The intent here is to draw attention to a highly problematic assumption that there is, or that there could be, a meaningful relationship between a ranking, on the one hand, and, what an Educational Institution is and does in comparison to others, on the other.  

To avoid any embarrassment to the Indian Ranking Systems, let us take an example from three of the most popular rankings – Academic Ranking of World Universities 2020 (Shanghai Ranking), The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021 and QS World University Rankings 2021. Furthermore, to avoid any embarrassment to the Indian educational institutions, cases of educational institutions from our neighbouring country is taken.

Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad does not have a mechanical engineering department; in fact, it does not offer engineering of any kind. Yet the department of mechanical engineering at Quaid-e-Azam University was rated 76-100 in 2017. (http://www.shanghairanking.com/Shanghairanking-Subject-Rankings-2017/mechanical-engineering.html).

This placed it just below Tokyo University and just above Manchester University. Wow! Thereafter every year QAU improved its score and in 2020 it jumped into the 51-75 range putting it under McGill University but higher than Oxford University. (http://www.shanghairanking.com/Shanghairanking-Subject-Rankings/mechanical-engineering.html).

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021 declared the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan as Pakistan’s top university (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2021/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/locations/PK/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats).

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 did not even list The Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2020/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/locations/PK/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats).

The QS World University Rankings 2021, which were released soon after the release of The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021, put National University of Sciences And Technology (NUST) Islamabad at Pakistan’s number one and The Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan was not even on the list. (https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2021).    

There is nothing exceptional about these examples beyond them being striking examples of how arbitrary rankings are.

Most ranking organisations, including the NIRF, never send assessors to the thousands of educational institutions they rank. Instead, they simply design forms for the officials of the institutions to fill and submit. The ranking criteria are periodically adjusted (for whose benefit?). Everyone (except the student) has something in the rankings for them.

Across the world, ranking organisations have been exposed as inconsistent, changing metrics from year to year, and omitting critical pieces of information. Smart academics and administrators have also learned to game the system. This speeds up their promotions and brings in recognitions and rewards.

Rankings are artificial zero-sum games. Artificial because they force a strict hierarchy upon educational institutions; artificial also because it is not realistic that an educational institution can only improve its reputation for performance exclusively at the expense of the reputations of other institutions. The most ludicrous aspect of it all is the belief, which may seem like a rational explanation that when an institution goes “up,” this must be because it has actually improved. If it goes “down,” it is being punished for underperforming. Such linear-causal kind of reasoning is absurd.

One of the hallmarks of any rankings are the numbers of research publications and citations.

Hundreds (the precise number is 1494) of Indian scientists and academics have been chosen from nearly 160 thousand (1,59,683 to be precise) scientists in universities across the world, ranked by their number of research publications and how often they were cited. (https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/science-and-tech/1494-indians-among-top-2-scientists-in-world-stanford). Stanford University reportedly declared these Hundreds of Indian luminaries in the world’s top two per cent of scientists.

THAT IS A TOTAL LIE! Stanford University has not sanctioned any such report. This doctored news wrongly draws upon the enormous prestige of Stanford. Only one of the four authors, John P.A. Loannidis, has a Stanford affiliation. He is a professor of medical statistics while the other three authors are from the private sector. Their published work inputs numbers from an existing database into a computer that crunches them into a list. That list is meaningless for India. It does not represent scientific acumen or achievement.

Generating scientific research papers without knowing any science or doing actual research has been honed into a fine art by academic smarties at home and abroad. The stuff produced has to be published for which smart professors have developed many tricks including a membership to the cartel of international referees. The next and most difficult stage is to generate citations after the paper is published.

At this point, the smart professor relies upon smart friends to cite him and boost his ratings. Those friends have their friends in India, China, or elsewhere. This international web of connections is known as a citation cartel. Cartel members generate reams of scientific gibberish that the world of mainstream science refuses to even notice. Some of the individuals who made it to the exalted ‘Stanford scientist list’ would surprise people if they could pass a tough high-school-level exam for entering undergraduate studies in a decent university like Stanford. Others could certainly be genuine. No one would be able to tell.

Yet in India, the rewards are handsome, and the smart professor soon becomes chairperson, dean, vice-chancellor, or an influence peddler. One can expect nothing from the present gatekeepers of academia because fraud is a way of life for most. These gatekeepers shunt out all genuine academics lest they be challenged from below. This is creating a spiralling down vortex of mediocrity and upward spiral of favouritism. So many ‘category A’ NAAC accreditations of educational institutions are merely Self-congratulations and reflect the official policies that encourage academic dishonesty, all of whom have inflicted massive damage upon Indian higher education system.

Rankings are release and presented with much fanfare. Numbers, calculations, tables and other visual devices, “carefully calibrated” methodologies, and all that, are there to convince us that rankings are rooted in logic and  quasi-scientific reasoning. Rankings are made to appear as if they were works of science, they most definitely are not. However, maintaining the appearance of being factual is crucial for rankings.

The policy regime in India places a lot of importance on the rankings. That creates a problem, as more than a few educational institutions have started hiring consultants to help them raise their rankings. When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. This is the generalized Goodhart’s law which comes from Strathern’s paper, not from any of Goodhart’s writings [Strathern, Marilyn (1997). “‘Improving ratings’: audit in the British University system”. European Review. John Wiley & Sons. 5 (3): 305–321].

To assume that a rank, in any ranking, could possibly say anything meaningful about the quality of an educational institution relative to other institutions, is downright irrational. It is, however, precisely this assumption that makes rankings highly consequential, especially when it goes not only unchallenged, but also openly and publicly embraced, by the scholars themselves.

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First published 24 Mar 2021

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My take on NEP 2020

It is the irrationality in us, which makes us human beings. A completely rational human being is analogous to a computer.

There is more to human irrationality, as so brightly and rationally espoused by an Israeli-American professor Dan Ariely, the author of the three New York Times best sellers ‘Predictably Irrational’, ‘The Upside of Irrationality’, and ‘The Honest Truth about Dishonesty’.

Wisdom is the rationality of anticipating, comprehending and dealing with irrationality. Telling and teaching Wisdom, Intelligence and Acumen is not possible. Educators, coaches, psychotherapists and mentors can play a significant role, by assisting with the dissemination of knowledge and helping those searching for wisdom and acumen through challenging experiences and encouraging them to work on emotional awareness, emotional self-regulation, relational skills and mindfulness. Becoming wise is a very personal quest. It is only through our own experiences, learning how to cope with the major tragedies and dilemmas embedded within life’s journey, that we would discover our own capacities and learn how to create wisdom.

cocktail

Literacy is about information and knowledge, both of which can be delivered and acquired thorough formal and informal mechanisms of delivery. The mechanism of teaching in the process of educations is limited to delivery of information and knowledge.

Data is the simplest and the fundamental smallest unit that builds information. Data is natural truth. Data is like fundamental sub-atomic particles, electrons, protons and neutrons, which can build different information-elements. Forces of nature or the hand of divine builds elements out of electrons, protons and neutrons. On the other hand, living beings gather data, and build Information using such data. Obviously, information is coloured by the ability and the intent of the living being, leading to questions of objectivity.

Human beings aggregate information and encapsulate it into knowledge. They attempt to create capsules of uniform acceptance and applications, going up the ladder of conjectures, hypothesis, testing & validation, theory building and enunciation of principle. Each step up the ladder generates new information.

There are instances where the conjectures could be so powerful that one directly jumps to theory building and enunciation of principle stages and leaves it for others, to go down the ladder, at some later stage and verify the theory and the principle. Such a later day exercise, may validate, discard, or modify the existing theory and/or principle. Each step down the ladder also generates new information.

know

How is it that some people are able to skip the steps of climbing up the ladder and straightway reach the ‘theory building’ and ‘enunciation of principle’ steps? This is a human capability called Intelligence. It is the ability to perceive the missing information through a cocktail of intuition, anticipation, foresight, hindsight and wisdom to complete the larger picture. As if there were some missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, intelligence allows the solution of the puzzle without waiting to gather the missing pieces. Others, who wish to validate, discard, or modify such a solution to the puzzle, go searching for the missing pieces. If the pieces so found fit the gaps, and the emerging picture is the same as the solution that was previously advanced, the theory or the principle is validated. If they do not fit the gaps, either the solution is discarded or new search for the missing pieces commences. If the pieces found fit the gaps, and the emerging picture turns out to be different, the solution is accordingly modified. All such steps and processes generate further information.

While delivery of literacy and knowledge is an ingredient of teaching process, even upon successful delivery, we may have unsatisfactory results. Keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome refers to acumen. Acumen shows up as the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions. Not every literate has the acumen and the wisdom, two critical essentials for success. To that extent, the education remains incomplete.

The Indian government approved a National Education Policy or NEP 2020 in July 2020, making way for large-scale transformational reforms including restructuring the higher education system. NEP 2020, a blueprint for the development of education over the next 10 years, proposes a departure from the current top-down system to allow considerable autonomy to institutions.

This is the latest, and seemingly, one of the most elaborate, of an endless series of official reports and programmes aimed at improving higher education in the post-independence period. These documents, the first of which was the Radhakrishnan Commission of 1949, continuing with the national education policies of 1968 and 1986, the Yashpal Committee of 2009, the National Knowledge Commission in 2007, and most recently the draft NEP of 2019, have all said the same thing. They have all pointed towards inadequacy of funding, drawn focus to expansion in access and enrolments and the need for structural reforms. The needs have always been clear and have been articulated by earlier commissions and committees.

The fixation on success of delivery of education in terms of increase in enrolments and increase in degree completion rates is as loud as the lack of focus on the success of a learner in his life, as a citizen and as a member of the society.

In all spheres of life, education is an indicator of the potential for success; its opposite, ignorance; or worse, indoctrination in falsehoods, is an indicator of potential failure. Education has to ensure acquisition of acumen and wisdom, teaching of which is not possible. Clearly therefore, Education is more than teaching, it is teaching for learning. Education, which only teaches but does not facilitate and ensure learning is an enormous waste of time, effort and resources.

Education has to deliver ‘literacy and knowledge’ and enable the acquisition of ‘acumen and ‘wisdom.’ An ideal tool would be to put learners into an ambiguous situation and guide them find the underlying cause of it. Repeatedly dealing with dissimilarities of ambiguity and diversity of situations would facilitate the purpose of education.

In our policy, are we focusing on more people that are qualified rather than more people who are successful, success measured in terms of their standards of living and the quality of life they get to lead?

Lack of attention to Pedagogics for Wisdom, Acumen and Literacy in all the Education Policy documents including NEP 2020 unfortunately is not even a matter of concern or debate in any public discourse.

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First published 04 January 2020.

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COVID TEACHING

COVID Teaching is a new and evolving genre of teaching where the goal is to somehow complete the chore of teaching.

Genre is a way of doing things repeatedly that comes with its own expectations, rules, and structures.

Just because you are unable to deliver good and effective learning using COVID Teaching, does not mean you are a “bad teacher.”

It usually means you did not fully understand or address the conventions of the genre.

In this genre –

  • Interactive is different.
  • Community is different.
  • Group work is different.
  • Your role with groups is different.
  • Connecting with students is different.

You don’t have to feel that all your teaching experience has betrayed you. You can change your mind set to become a student of this genre.

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(First published 26 Nov 2020)

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Gains and Setbacks of Education Minister’s Plans

Education Plans of truncating the secondary school curriculum to meet the academic calendar timelines for the entry to tertiary education is fraught with long-term perils. He seems to focus on college entry when really we should be talking about school completion.

There is no denying the fact that 2020 brought untold and unexpected misery in the form of COVID-19 upsetting the end of academic year 2019-20 as well as the commencement of academic year 2020-21 for all secondary and tertiary education. Of course, access is critically important, since a task cannot be completed unless it is begun, but if we devise a plan to increase access without simultaneously working to increase successful completion, the waste of human and financial resources will be enormous. Trimming the secondary school curriculum to meet timelines is a compromise with learning delineated to school-level and this jeopardises the preparation and worthiness of a school pass out to enter the tertiary education.

These are the students who will be forgoing the planned learning at school level and enter higher education with inadequate preparation. Will there be remedial or additional learning planned at the entry point of Higher education in the academic year 2021-22? Or will this turn out to be a national disgrace.

Any plan to ensure timely enrolment of students at tertiary institutions, if it is to achieve its intended social purpose, must work simultaneously to ensure that the entry-cohort is not ill prepared. There is good reason to believe that the Nishank plan would have the opposite effect. Policy that shifts the focus from adequate completion to timely completion is self-defeating in nearly every realm of life.

The problem with this shift is that, were the institutions of higher education to control for selectivity and level of academic preparedness, a lot of school-leaving children at the end of academic year 2020-21 may find themselves failing to find an entry in such institutions. On the contrary, if the institutions of higher education were to offer an easier and less selective entry, they will be saddled with the task of making up for prior deficiencies in learning for the entrants as well as compromising on the so called ‘merit’ of the candidates. Policy should not be designed merely to preserve the existence of any particular colleges and schools or their academic calendars but ensure that they do well what they have been tasked to do.

The Nishank plan appeals to children and parents because it ensures timely delivery of certificates of Senior School completion. Hidden behind such alluring façade of minimising the temporal (time) costs are the long-term economic and social costs that would surface in future.

Any sustainable solution to the problems arising out of COVID-19 have to be an overall cost-optimisation rather than just temporal cost reduction. This will require sensible and responsible action by both policy makers and institutions.

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First published 29 Jan 2021

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Online Academies and their Self-appointed Educators

The amount of ‘GYAN’ being distributed freely on about every known issue, subject and discipline on the social media –Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and the like, is unbelievable. It is very difficult if not impossible for anyone to come up with questions which have not been already answered on Quora or SlideShare; and should such questions remain, one can expect to seek answers by posting the questions on such sites.

The depth and width of ‘knowledge’ being peddled online is unmatchable by any individual subject-expert or even a University. Truly therefore, these are the NEW universities which are exclusively online and distribute ‘GYAN’ in both the modes – synchronous and asynchronous.

The only problem is that there is no accountability or responsibility taken by these academies for the GYAN which they distribute.  These academies are totally democratic and non-discriminatory. They have free and open enrolment of faculty and students, with no essentiality of any prior learning of any sort. With no entry or exit hurdles for faculty and students, they also do not directly conduct any evaluations or certifications. Credentials are certified by ‘measurable metrics’ of the kind-  ‘clicks’ ‘likes’ ‘follows’ ‘shares’ or ‘comments’ – which are a manifestation of democratic votes for an educator of these online academies.

Such manifestation imparting itself so strongly into mainstream information seems harmless. After all, it is helpful and important to be clear about the kind of world we are living in and the kind of life we desire because that clarity shapes our values, decisions, and relationships to all things material, including money.

There is nothing that makes self-appointed educators qualified to sell the promise of a less ignorant life. It is easy for these people to step into roles of knowledge leaders on Facebook or Instagram because, now more than ever, youngsters in particular, want something meaningful to believe in and reach out for information and knowledge outside the conventional and traditional institutions. Youngsters are seemingly looking for information and community in combination.

One of the positive things about a wider array of people being able to access an audience is the kind of democratization of information and knowledge leadership, but without a collective protocol to determine whom we trust to answer life’s greatest questions, we also forget to consider the capabilities, credentials and motives of those who are answering these questions for us.

As mainstream information continues to be shaped by social media, criticism of those who profit from such ventures is fundamental to protecting not only our own well-being, but the future of truth itself. As they say, if you don’t have information, you are uninformed; if you have information, most likely, you are misinformed. The problem then manifests in your belief that you are properly informed and knowledgeable. Should we worry about expertise becoming a commodity and eluding accountability?

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Disclaimer:

These contents of this post may qualify as ‘GYAN’ and I, as the author of this post, may as well fit the description of a ‘self-appointed educator’ as meant in this post. This posting is intended solely for those readers who are discerning and matured enough to choose what is right for them and is not an unsolicited commercial communication or spam. This content of this post is not guaranteed to be complete or error free. No liability is assumed for any errors and/or omissions in the contents of this message.

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First published 27 November 2020

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Online Teaching exposes the Inequality between the Rich and the Poor

While moving lessons online may appear to offer the advantage of greater accessibility, that only applies to the people who can get online and COVID-19 has highlighted the depth of the digital divide and how complex and multi-layered that is. Online education may not be the most inclusive solution. Lack of supervision in on-line learning means the results for those relying on online lessons will vary depending on the home environment.

It is not just the divide between those who do and do not have access to the internet, but those who are and are not digitally-literate.

This might not seem to be such a big issue for the urban areas but it is a gigantic problem in the less urban and more rural areas of India.  School as an institution is more than just a site for formal education for the most vulnerable. It is a place where they can get health and food. The impact of COVID-19 on primary and secondary education has not only exposed the existing gap between the richer and poorer learners but has shown that this gap is likely to increase with every passing day.

In the case of higher education, colleges and universities have persistently relied on a classical Campus-Centric-Model. Simply put students and the faculty must converge to a central location where they engage with each other in classroom-based learning activities with libraries and related support services. The hosting campus may also provide housing, food, health and other support services. In recent decades, an increasing range of non-teaching services designed to attract and retain students has been introduced through big investments. Institutions have attempted to deliver a combined package which has included – instruction, support services and experience – in exchange for tuition and fees.

Over the years, remote learning platforms, correspondence courses, instructional television and, more recently, the move to online education have tended to be minor appendages at most institutions of higher education. Only handfuls have operated both in-person and significant online platforms targeting different market segments. Such a model has been remarkably resilient in responding to external challenges.

However, the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 has put this Campus-Centric-Model under stress as never before. Campus classes were moved to online platforms as institutions closed abruptly in March. Courses and faculty conferences, career counselling and related support services were fully delivered online. Rather than serving a few non-residents with under-scaled remote formats, online learning courses were hastily cobbled together by ill-prepared faculty and staff. Despite the good intentions in responding to the pandemic’s assaults, the response did not go well.

As of date, the primary and secondary school-education has commenced entirely in the on-line mode. Very many government schools have not been able to offer online lessons in the absence of both hard and soft infrastructure. In case of higher education, most universities have deferred the start of the new academic year. In case of higher technical education, the on-going lessons have been fully moved to on-line model. With the exception of some premier management institutes the fresh students entering technical higher education have yet to start their lessons and the new academic year in any mode.

For the academic year 2020-21, it is uncertain, as to what proportions of institutions of higher education are committed to – entirely and primarily in-person instruction; entirely and primarily online instruction, mixed models of in-person and online instruction and those which remain undecided to their ‘open or close’ dilemma. Full online instruction will minimise or eliminate revenue streams, including room and board, plus all other non-instruction activities that comprise the campus experience. Full online instruction is a poor substitute for a rich residential experience. Students will be the first to demand refunds.

Lack of connectivity is going to be a critical question facing the post-COVID-19 India. Estimates show that more than 50% of students in India, from childhood to university, don’t have access to the internet at all. Teachers also need supporting as they need to move from traditional classrooms to virtual ones. The quality of education delivered digitally is being questioned in a number of countries.

Post-COVID India can expect the inequality in education to widen between different social classes.

(First published 21 Sept 2020)

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Seventy Three Years of Freedom, without Independence of Thought

To look forward with clarity, we must sometimes glance backward.  For a moment, let us disconnect ourselves from our self and observe objectively, what all has been happening around us, with us and by us. Irrationality has been peddled as rationality and unfortunately, it has been winning.  Intolerance has been promoted in the name of tolerance, conformity has been sponsored as diversity, violence has been tolerated and ignored in the name of peace, history has been destroyed to preserve it, and lack of intellectual curiosity has been served as education; and all this and much more has brought us to where we are.

Television anchors and too many modern educators – often unable to think logically themselves – are afraid of different-ness.  They urge diversity as long as “different-ness” is the same as what they think.

Sadly, suppression of independent thought is the hallmark of a sick, unthinking society – one increasingly unsure in its underpinnings, ignorant of how it got to where it is, afraid of history and the future. Deep conversations get superficial, as citizens are unable to defend ideas.

Organized educators promote those “different like them,” while seeking to silence anyone different “not like them.”  The hypocrisy is, of course, transparent.  It is also coercive, anti-democratic, anti-free speech, and pits the “collective” against the individual.

Our media are corrupt, our youth unfamiliar with logic, ignorant of Indian and world history, blind to critical thinking. Why? Because we have somehow evolved into a society where “group think” is rewarded, sameness and conformity enforced, independent thought increasingly condemned.

In the case of politics, media, and left-lurching educational institutions, such behaviour suggests a society dangerously leaning toward socialism, communism, fascism, and centralisation of power; at the expense of independent thought and individual liberty.

Leftist groups and administrators ban intellectual discourse, labelling traditional, historical, different, and diverse ideas as anti-social, unsafe, emotionally violent, triggering, or – sweet irony – intolerant.  Likewise, University teachers’ unions insist on idea suppression and socialism.

How did we get here? Until the Muslim invasions, Indians and Hindus were synonyms.1200 years of non-Hindu rule may have failed to convert majority of Hindus into non-Hindus, because faith is more deeply rooted in the conscience of a society, this regime of non-Indians succeeded in eroding our education and thought. How did they do it? They did it by instructing our youth to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.

Integrity, liberty, and truth leaked from our society because we failed to defend them. The consequence is for us to see – dishonest government, educators, and media.

Needed is more honest thinking, blunt talks, and restored capacity to listen; a desire to learn and seek truth; not suppress it.  Needed is courage to accept that humans see the world differently, and that is good. By listening, reading, and thinking, we inform each other. That is rational thought. The opposite is dishonest thinking, and the end of integrity.

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Restructuring MBA

It is now 60 years since the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation report of the early 1960’s led to a new model for MBA programmes. This model widely adopted by top universities and still considered the conventional model for most programs today globally, introduced students to functional areas of business in their first year of study, whereas students then specialized in particular areas of interest in their second year. Just as a medical education without some kind of laboratory practice appears to ring hollow, the emerging MBA education model seemed unsatisfactory to the extent that it remained disconnected from real-world experience.

Whenever business schools or Management institutes, as they are more popularly called in India, have felt threatened by the heightened barrage of criticism over their irrelevance, they have taken ad hoc measures to counter this criticism, usually by adding new courses to their MBA curricula. While these types of curricular changes may appear responsive to the criticism that business schools have received of late, the fact remains that an MBA education as most commonly conceived of today fails to equip students with the skills, tools, and mindset that are required for them to succeed in both the current environment and the emergent future. Frequently, institutes have taken the “Social Butterfly” approach, attempting to casually expose students to as many disciplines as possible without spending time to develop deeper knowledge and understanding of the core disciplines. The result has been a widening of curriculum usually compensated by loss of depth in the core disciplines of business.

A study of the educational backgrounds of 2010’s Fortune 500 CEOs showed that only 174 of the 500 CEOs have MBAs, while 59 have law degrees. About 200 of these CEOs have no graduate degree, and 19 of these CEOs have not earned any college degree including 15 who are college dropouts. (D. Bradshaw in Financial Times, 15 November 2009, “The Business of Knowledge”). A  UK Commission for Employment and Skills study estimated that, out of 4.8 million managers in UK, only one out of every five managers had any kind of management education. [B.Burnsed in US News and World Report, 3 January 2011, “Where the Fortune 500 CEOs went to college”]

Most Management Institutes in India have tried to replicate the internal structures of the first set of IIMs which had imitated the then existing structures of their American mentors of the 1960’s. The world has changed over the last 60 years and the Indian Management Institutes have come of age in their own right.

Time has come when business management should become a profession analogous to medicine or law. Such professionalization would be based on a recognized body of knowledge and a wider commitment to the public good.

In short, a new conception of graduate business education is in order, as the current model for MBA programs, in all its different varieties, is widely perceived to be failing to deliver. If Management Institutes fail to renew themselves, then new educational venues will assuredly arise and meet demands that the large number of existing Management Institutes are no longer able to satisfy for students.

COVID-19 crisis provides a good opportunity to Management Institutes to reflect on their internal processes and structures and carry out the ever essential corrections, modifications and redesign in order to remain agile, lean, efficient and effective.

A Core of Academic knowledge which is essential for Conceptual Clarity of Decision Domains in Business Management needs to be inculcated. Management of Business comprises of comprehensive, integrated and entangled decision making encompassing the academic disciplines which are identified as –

  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Survival, Growth and Sustainability

These are Core Academic Disciplines which a management institute should focus on and in-source the delivery of knowledge.

Since business operates in a context and there are academic disciplines which can improve the efficiency in decision making, Contextual Awareness and some dexterity in Decision making skills may help. These would be Non-Core Academic Disciplines for a management institute though they are, in their own right, large and core academic disciplines elsewhere. Non-Core Academic Disciplines, essential for Contextual Awareness and Decision making skills are identified as –

  • Accounting
  • Behavioural Sciences
  • Data Sciences & Information Systems
  • Economics
  • Geo-Politics and Socio-cultural Systems
  • Language & Communication
  • Legal Systems
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Statistical Methods & Operations Research

A management institute should focus on borrowing and outsourcing the best possible knowledge delivery in these disciplines but refrain from the lure of growing its own timber in these domains.

Typically, a 2-year MBA programme attracts younger, inexperienced, fresh from college graduates who have not likely had any prior experience or exposure to the principles and practice of business management. A postgraduate course like the MBA, for such students should follow a BUILD-UP model; wherein, building of context should precede building of concepts of business management.

In general, a 2-year MBA programme can be structured as 960 hours of contact; of which nearly two-thirds should be devoted to Core Academic Disciplines and only one-thirds should be devoted to Non-Core Academic Disciplines. A design template for such a structure is as below:

tab1

Normally, a one-year Executive MBA programme attracts students with 5-7 years of experience at workplace, after a college degree. They come to the MBA courses equipped with direct or indirect experience and exposure to the principles and practice of business management. An MBA for such students should follow a BREAK-DOWN model; wherein, the prior experience is conceptualized and concretised holistically before being broken down to its parts and context. In general, a 1-year Executive MBA programme may be structured as 640 hours of contact.

tab2

The MBA as most commonly taught is outdated and does not provide students with the knowledge, skills, experience, and mindset they need to lead organizations through the complexities and demands that largely define twenty-first century life. Hence, it is time for business school faculty, administration, and advisory boards to engage in some necessary soul-searching and self-examination, so that Management Institutes may collectively determine their future direction.

Management Institutes or B-schools need disruptive innovations in the MBA industry that comprise fundamental, nonlinear changes, something akin to personal computers replacing mainframes or Smartphones replacing personal cameras.

Implementing this new model will not be easy, for it is replete with revolutionary change. Making this or any other new model viable requires dynamic leadership at the level of the management institute and the support of regulators, universities of which the management institute is a constituent, advisory and governing boards, and above all the faculty of the business school. The obstacle to innovation is the unwillingness of business schools to abandon their current programmes and attendant established practices of teaching, systems for rewarding the faculty, and pools of students that an institute attracts. Such change appears frightening to many within the academia.

In fact, the most difficult task would likely involve winning the cooperation of business school faculty, who often are comfortable with the inertia of existing arrangements. Nonetheless, the entrenched traditions related to faculty-department-structures and teaching norms will have to be challenged for the survival and growth of management institutes.

(First Published 18.06.2020)

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