The Fall of the Faculty Driven B-Schools

Over the past forty years in many different institutions (Indian and foreign), I have personally observed how the heads of institutions have used their positions to advance their individual interests, essentially turning the institution into a political arena and a personal fiefdom. The rise of such administrative corps and the fall of the faculty has resulted in:

  1. steadily increasing fees to keep the administrative bloat going,
  2. loss of faculty autonomy as casual labour (ad hoc and guest faculty) becomes increasingly prevalent, concepts of academic freedom, tenure and shared governance pass into relics of the past; and
  3. Educational institutions classified as non-profit enterprises using non-taxable income to facilitate the creation of material wealth rather than funding teaching and research.

In the contemporary scenario, the governing boards have distorted the core goals of traditional business and values of management education. The self-promotion and fluff associated with ‘governors’ or ‘board-members’ not to mention their dutiful and mindless staff, who actually carry out their tasks by applying rhetoric of excellence and diversity while protecting administrative interests (not to mention waste, embezzlement, insider trading and fraud, typifying the corporate world), mock the core academic mission.

Increasing administrative expansion in the once-faculty-driven institutional governance has nothing to do with amplified regulation or changing legislation. Personal glorification and professional advancement, rather than commitment to the institution, faculty and students, appears to be the focus of the heads of institutions. A continuous process of jockeying and self-promotion has become the norm, with many directors and heads of institutions using their current positions to advance to a higher ranked school. Heads of Institutions go through the motions, mouth platitudes about how great the institution is, and grease the right palms.

The heads of most institutions are not particularly qualified to hold their positions. Of course, this indictment does not apply to all heads of institutions, but one does not have to be at an institution long before learning that the mention of the names of certain administrators brings with it a certain amount of faculty eye rolling and groans. Why do we expect people who excel at being an academic to turn around later in their careers and lead the ‘business’ side of the institution? It seems like quite the bait-and-switch: faculty are hired for their skills in research and/or teaching, only to be expected later to shift gears entirely and employ a completely different set of skills — ones that they may not actually possess — in leading the institution.

Typically, heads of institutions identify the faculty members they wish to entrust with administrative leadership positions. These faculty members are “uncontroversial” and are seen as “team players”. Being a “team player” and “uncontroversial” in this context means not criticizing, shaming or opposing the head of the institution. This entails shutting down one’s superior instincts and common sense and never (heaven forbid) acting on principle.

Because of this tendency to select those who will not rock the boat, the heads of institutions are careful to exclude out those faculties who may expose their incompetence and real agenda. So there is no question of genuine discussion on serious issues with the administrators. Often, administrators see faculty who are constantly engaged in research on issues of shared governance as well as processes related to the functioning of the institution as very active threats to their heightened sense of authority. For example, the heads of some institutions are unaware of the contents of their institutional handbooks (the place where one finds out the detailed procedures for operating an organization), but do not care that they are unfamiliar with it because they are rule by executive fiat. In this strange world, the only rule that matters is who serves the head of the institution at a particular moment, enabling a creative interpretation of what the handbook actually says; or outright rejects that the booklet is incorrect or out of date.

Faculty members, who directly confront heads of institutions about how messy a particular administrative decision is, will face dire consequences. Even when such oppositions are well meaning and in the best interest of the institution, the head of the institution reacts defensively, insisting that they know best or are privy to confidential information that are beyond the comprehension skills of the faculty.

Heads of institutions are smart enough to know that they should avoid forums where probing arguments, debate and presentation of convincing evidence will be required. When all ducking fails, heads of institutions have used the allegation of “harassment” against faculty and students, who raise troubling questions about problematic administrative practices such as embezzlement, fraud and theft. At the end of the day, however, heads of institutions have many weapons they can deploy to avoid being held accountable for their words and actions.

It is not hard to figure out what this means for the advancement of innovative leadership. For example, in the context of searches for positions of heads of institutions, search committees choose the most boring and conventional candidates, making a point to stay away from those who appear a bit edgy or controversial. Search committees quickly identify preferred candidates based on traditional credentials and experience. Search committees know next to nothing about the world of higher education and are easily deceived by candidates who use the essential jargon of corporate buzzwords—”best practices,” “accountability,” “evaluation,” and “benchmarking.”

The move to rely increasingly on casual labour gives heads of institutions another way to control faculty. Since non-tenure-track faculty can be dismissed at a moment’s notice, heads of institutions do not have to worry about resistance from faculty when it comes to changing curriculum, eliminating meritorious research, or stopping successful programmes. Pretending to mentor faculty, heads of institutions will do what they believe is best. Financial necessities provide a simple way for heads of institutions to undermine the due process to dismantle academic programmes. When all else fails, the head of the institution may insist that an emergency has forced him to forego consulting with anyone in the faculty because time is of the essence.

The cunning heads of institutions understand that they can form alliances with minority activist groups on campus, by posturing as fans of multi-functional agenda being advanced by cliques of these concerns and perspectives in return for support of these activists for their own agenda. As part of this trade-off, heads of institutions look on the other hand to evaluate the low enrolment of some elective courses in certain functional domains, preferring to keep these courses afloat rather than appearing insensitive to the multifunctional agenda, which would result in withdrawal of political support from these politically active advocates on campus.

There is a reign of administrative terror which most of the faculties passively accept as unbreakable. The grip of this terror is ensured by the upper administration, especially the Board of Governors/Trustees who prefer to leave the institutional business to the heads of institutions. The Board of Governors works diligently to prevent faculty from communicating with them, clearly keeping a pleasant vision of the campus at the top of the minds of external stakeholders. Of course, some boards already have some faculty representation (perhaps a slot), but the jury is still out on how effective this representation is in combating administrative power.

Heads of institutions control the institution’s PR organs and, in turn, control public perceptions about their role in the institution. This administrative control over public perceptions of the institution’s functioning facilitates the covering up of administrative misconduct, except in the most serious cases when serious fraud is uncovered on the part of the institution’s head or financial officer. Why rely on the Office of Media Relations to tell where the organization is headed, when employees in that office have zero incentive to tell the truth about the administrative shirking, sabotage and theft affecting the long-term health of the institution?

There can come a particular watershed moment when some of the faculty members realise that it is becoming too unhealthy for them to constantly be managing their response to their head of institution. Such miserable set of people may be left with no choice but to leave the institution or to unionise and litigate to survive. The irony of such development lies in the fact that an institution, which boasts of its proficiency in teaching and researching organisational and human resource management fails in practising what it teaches. 

Those who aspire to become heads of institutions must abstain from any political controversy in their scholarship and public statements. They will have to excise even any evidence of past strong commitments to unpalatable causes and charged statements about relevant issues. They may even go so far as to discard these past allegiances as youthful errors. Then, they have to stay away from any critical assessment of the educational institution. In other words, they will stop criticizing the institution, as well as their place within it. In order to promote themselves as appropriate administrative material, they would portray their faculty colleagues as pampered, lazy and irresponsible, while praising the heads of their institutions as visionary and committed leaders. Of course, they will start talking the latest about “benchmarking,” “best practices,” and “accountability” while expressing their strong desire to attend an endless stream of meetings and retreats. They will dislike tenure, academic freedom and shared governance as irrelevances that stand in the way of smooth managerial control. Lastly, they will express interest in offering life skills courses on event planning and meditation, while imposing shadow courses on the faculty and disciplining those opposing them with appropriate civility training. One can predict with confidence that their rise to the status of heads of institutions is quite likely.

Those few, who are willing to take the battle to the enemy, must commit to do battle with administrators as administrators. This is however, the most difficult choice. One will need to be prepared to face, no wages, measly standards of living, years of darkness, success doubtful; but honour and recognition if successful.

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PYRAMID OF MBA BRANDS

While the concept of education, as a public good has long been a foundational principle of international education development discourse, is graduate business-education really a public good? The easy answer is no, as long as by “public good,” we mean the same thing economists mean. There is no primary responsibility of public institutions in the provision and funding of MBA educational opportunities. In fact, the increasing diversification of actors and sources of funding for MBA education reflect the current trends of privatisation and marketization of MBA education in India.

Since it is not a ‘public good’ or a common good or a commodity, MBA is amenable to differentiation, positioning and branding. When it comes to the pyramid of MBA brands, five different levels distinguish each brand and its position on the pyramid.


LUXURY BRANDS

This category describes premium US Brands and a few European brands of MBA. They are addressing a select few clients, much like grand pieces of art. Typically, these brands appeal to the wealthy such as celebrities, entrepreneurs, and other high-profile people. For some it is an opportunity to convert ill-gotten funds into a luxury good, an excellent degree, that burnishes their public images, legitimizes their family name, and positions their children to become reputable global elites.


ACCESSIBLE LUXURY BRANDS

Accessible luxury MBA, usually come in standardized formats, while they are still of high quality and high price tags, they are accessible for people wanting to purchase luxury brands. It is about giving customers a gateway to high quality MBA without the high expense of a Luxury Brand. These are aspirational luxury brands like most of the elite IIMs and a few of the elite non-IIMs.


READY TO GRAB BRANDS

Inspired by Accessible luxury Brands, they collectively have wider volumes of MBA seats. These brands are more casual and have a wider audience than Accessible luxury Brands. They have more retail availability, and regional dominance rather than national presence. Most of the elite University MBA programmes and a few of the elite PGDM institutions are in this business.


MASS BRANDS

These brands essentially bridge the gap between high end and the street market. They target people who are not prepared to pay too high for a credible quality. Most of the non-elite University run regular and distance learning MBA programs and popular PGDM institutions are in this category. Some of them have local dominance as well.


STREET BRANDS

These brands are at the bottom of the MBA Brand pyramid. These brands aim to reach as many people as possible by providing MBA at affordable prices. Most of the time, they claim to draw inspiration from Accessible luxury Brands but provide education that is made more cost-effective for the average consumer by cutting some corners. Lot of such brands are from University affiliated MBAs or non-descript PGDMs.


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We, the People of India

What does the term “minority” mean in a democracy based on equal citizenship for all? The term minority denotes “less-ness” compared to the “more-ness” of another entity. How could some citizens of a democratic state, which guarantees ‘equality of status and opportunity’, be considered ‘less’ than any other citizens?

For from being progressive, in a democracy like India, dividing the citizens based on castes is a reactionary position that belongs to pre-modern societies. Ancient Greeks understood the difference between ‘ethnos’ and ‘demos.’ The term ‘ethnos’ denoted community of customs and traditions of groups within society that, when coming together to create and operate a common space, would form a ‘demos.’ The talk in the agora (Agora, in ancient Greek cities, was an open space that served as a meeting ground for various activities of the citizens. The name, first found in the works of Homer, connotes both the assembly of the people as well as the physical setting) was not about ethnocracy (a type of political structure in which the state apparatus is controlled by a dominant ethnic group (or groups) to further its interests, power and resources) but democracy. Caste denotes human communities before the emergence of The People with a capital P. Thus, India is about “We the People,” not “We the Minorities”.

Republic of India began as a ‘SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC’ in 1950, whose motto became ‘Government of the People, by the People, for the People.’ Democracy is a melting pot, not a salad bar. In the melting pot are veggies, spices, condiments, colours, fragrances, garnishes, oils and what not; every ingredient added in different measures and sequences as per the recipe.

Article 14 of the Constitution reads: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

In addition, Article 15 of the constitution reads as: (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to— (a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or (b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

This is what WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, gave to ourselves in 1950.

Then came the very first and a very controversial amendment to the constitution in 1951, by the Jawahar Lal Nehru Government (Nehru was not the elected Prime Minister of India then but an appointed Prime Minister of India – appointed by Lord Mountbatten on 15 August 1947) which added [Added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, s. 2.]:

(4) Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 [Cultural and Educational Rights -Protection of interests of minorities ] shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

As if this were not sufficient, to break the very backbone of the “Right to Equality” another controversial amendment to the constitution in 2005, by the Man Mohan Singh Government (Man Mohan Singh was never elected to any public office by We, the people of India, but ‘appointed’ Prime Minister of India – appointed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi in May 2004, rendering 7 Race Course Road subordinated to 10 Janpath) , which added [Ins. by the Constitution (Ninety-third Amendment) Act, 2005, s. 2, (w.e.f. 20-1-2006)]: (5) Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 [Right to Freedom] shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.

Nationalism created the Indian nation, not the other way round. Progressivism is a secular religion rather than an ideology that could have its place in the competitive field of politics. Dividing citizens based on castes can have no place in a democracy. In Indian democratic secularism, the state is tasked with protecting all castes, and by extension, other communities, but not of relying on them as component parts.

In the Indian democracy, terms such as minority and majority can only have a political meaning. A political party or a political manifesto that has collected more than 50 percent of votes in an election represents the majority. In such a system, majority and minority do not describe a permanent state of affairs. Today’s majority could be tomorrow’s minority as it was yesterday.

Starting with the parliament, which is the seat of all legislation, to pretend that this or that member was chosen because of his or her influence over people of some specific religious faith or other “minority” attribution is certainly not a compliment. If the choice is based not on the individual’s competence but on salad-bar considerations, it cannot be justified on democratic grounds. If, on the other hand, such considerations played no part in the choice, why make such a song-and-dance about ‘reserved seats’ and progressive representation?

Fortunately, many members of the parliament have impressive academic and practical resumes. It is in everyone’s interest to hope that they see themselves not as figures in a game of ethnic tokenism but the servants of the Indian people at a difficult time.

India is about “We, the People of India” and not “We, the Minorities of India” or “We, the SC/ST/OBCs of India” or “We, the farmers of India” or any other sub-sets of “the People of India.”

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First published on 02 Feb 2021

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Customer Disservice in the Name of Service

What could be the height of customer service – this question was answered by a former Managing Director of LIC of India during an informal gathering – and he had described it as a hypothetical episode:

“A customer walks into the LIC office, a multi storey building in south Mumbai, gets his life insured, climbs up to the top, and takes a jump from top which would definitely result into his death. While he is falling down, an LIC official extends his hand out of the window and presses a cheque for his claim settlement, so that the claim is in already in his hand when he is hits the ground and is discovered dead.”

Howsoever macabre the narration may feel, the reality of expectations both from the point of customer and customer-service personnel is captured realistically.

Marketing chases growth through a combination of four basic approaches –

expand the possibility for consumption,

enlarge the number of occasions for consumption,

swell the number of consumers, and

increase consumption per occasion of consumption.

A simple example for any typical mouth-wash will show the above approaches in practice. Let us understand the product and its evolution.

We have probably been cleaning our teeth ever since humans began using tools. From toothbrushes made out of sticks, to dental floss made out of horse hair, we have always been mindful of our oral health. But what about a mouthwash and when did we start swishing liquid around hoping for cleaner mouths?

There are references to mouthwash in Chinese, Greek, Egyptian and Roman literature, but the most well recorded early instances of humanity using mouthwash comes from ancient Rome, in A.D. 1. The Romans used to buy bottles of Portuguese urine and use that as a rinse. GROSS! Importing bottled urine became so popular that the emperor Nero taxed the trade. The ammonia in urine was thought to disinfect mouths and whiten teeth, and urine remained a popular mouthwash ingredient until the 18th century. [So much for the modernists of the world who ridicule, deride, mock and scorn at the medicinal use of urine of cows and auto-urine therapists like Morarji Desai]

People have used some strange combinations – besides urine – as mouthwash. Tortoise blood was once thought to disinfect mouths and clean teeth, and mixtures of berries, mint leaves and vinegar or wine has also been used as mouthwash. In the 12th century, Saint Hildegard von Bingen advocated that swishing pure, cold water could remove plaque and tartar.

Known as the “father of modern microbiology,” Anton van Leeuwenhoek is credited for discovering oral bacteria in the 18th century. Upon his discovery, he experimented with a variety of solutions that could kill the bacteria. Leeuwenhoek discovered that he could immobilize and kill bacteria by dousing them in ammonia and/or alcohol. It is around this time that alcohol became the most popular ingredient used in mouthwash – and it is still used today!

In 1865, English doctor Joseph Lister became the first surgeon to perform an operation in a chamber that had been sterilized with antiseptic – a practice that was very uncommon. After Lister’s practice was discovered to reduce mortality rates, it became a more widespread practice.

Inspired by Dr. Lister, Robert Wood Johnson and Dr. Joseph Lawrence modernized surgical sterilization practices and established the iconic company Johnson & Johnson. In 1879, Dr. Lawrence created Listerine – a mouthwash used for cleaning mouths and sterilizing surgical wounds.

By 1895, Listerine was sold to Lambert Pharmaceutical Co. and dentists began to observe the cleaning power of the mouthwash. In 1914, Listerine became the first prescription mouthwash to be sold over the counter in the United States.

Today, we can buy mouthwash for gum health, to help with plaque build-up and to prevent gingivitis. There is mouthwash for just about every oral ailment that we can have. [expand the possibility for consumption].

We are advised to use mouthwash every time we brush our teeth but also before every social interaction [enlarge the number of occasions for consumption].

Mouthwash is for everyone, adolescents, adults and the elderly, with normal oral health [swell the number of consumers].

We are advised not to dilute the mouthwash, its pungency being an indicator of its efficiency and to use sufficient (more) quantity of mouthwash – as per the measuring cup provided free – every time we use it [increase consumption per occasion to consume].

In the pursuit for such growth in sales, more particularly in case of consumption of services, machine driven CRM software has had a field day. CRM specialists can be heard professing, “If you are not focused on receiving and using customer feedback, you are missing out on an amazing growth tool. Gathering customer feedback throughout the entire customer journey is of great importance to the buyer life cycle, marketing campaigns and the entire consumer experience. As focuses shift to improving this experience, continuous feedback will be required.”

There are other claims of the kind, “Due to the recent technology and digital transformation boom, an entire ‘customer revolution’ has taken place and a new breed of informed and socially engaged Customer 2.0 has appeared. No longer is price or product the reason why a customer does business with you. Today, it’s all about the customer experience. To be competitive, you need to go above and beyond expectations and deliver a great experience.”

While all such exaggerated statements are correct, the missing link is treating a customer as a human being with ‘individualized identity’ and not as a commodity.

A sad and inhuman experience a few months back is an example of how customers are undifferentiated items of a commodity. [This is not a made up story and I have documented evidence to prove it should the hospital in question wish to challenge it].

Smt xxxxxx Gupta, mother of my close friend breathed her last at a premier private hospital in Jaipur.  Since CRM systems of hospitals maintain Customer-records in the name of patients, their automated CRM system sent a message “Dear xxxxxx Gupta, Thank you for availing services at Fortis. Request you to spare 60 seconds to share your experience with us. Click here: https://tinyurl.com/y3pufy8n?id=FxBCHqV8a

The system did not capture that Smt xxxxxx Gupta was already dead. My friend, a higher-ranking vice-chancellor, was crestfallen with the experience. He responded, “on behalf of my mother in the heaven, I am sending you the following response… ‘your customer service manager is welcome to visit me here in this tranquil and serene place (cremation ground) for a feedback’ …”

The CRM system was at its best in replying to late Smt xxxxxx Gupta, “Thank you for your valuable feedback.   We are sorry to learn that your experience wasn’t up to your satisfaction. We have taken your feed back into consideration and shall take appropriate action. We wish you good health always.”

The counter-response to the reply supplied by my friend against the request for feedback from late Smt xxxxxx Gupta is rubbing salt in fresh wounds.

What has really gone wrong? The answer is simple – the CRM database refuses to acknowledge the difference between a customer and a consumer. In this case, Smt xxxxxx Gupta was a consumer while her son was the customer. The contact details captured were of the customer but the feedback was being solicited from the consumer. The CRM system did not know if it was seeking feedback from the consumer of the customer. This is a case where the consumer is dead and the post sales feedback has rendered a disservice to the customer.

I have had personal experiences of receiving unending trail of phone calls from Maruti Authorised Nexa Service Stations chasing me for feedback, so much so that upon my refusal to provide feedback, I have been chastened by the customer service executives that I was legally duty-bound to provide the feedback. I have evidence to prove that the nuisance did not stop much until after I had escalated my suffering and harassment to the senior management of Maruti Udyog Limited.

These days, I and my spouse are suffering at the incompetent, uncaring and arrogant customer service team at Axis Bank. They are very good at hitting the self-esteem of their customers. We have been their customer since last 25-years. I have taken up the matter with the RBI Ombudsman and hope that the service failure is now dealt with quickly and squarely. A similar unpleasant experience with Corporation Bank was dealt with by their management very quickly and humanely where I was treated with dignity. They have succeeded in retaining me as their customer.

It is unfortunate that many service providers use Customer feedback to soften and pre-empt customer reaction to lapses in service rendered rather than any genuine concern for better customer service or improved customer experience.

It is time for the customer to stop taking bullshit from marketers and service-providers. It is time for the customer to REJECT such marketers and RAISE VOICE against such disservice.

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First published 17 Dec 2020

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Little Clear Notes on Indian Education

In India, education is a subject matter of regulation both by the Central government and the state governments. Education providers are both, public as well as private institutions. The predictable result is that richer and urban areas have better schools and that students in these schools have a better chance of going on to high education.

While right to education is a fundamental right and providing education the responsibility of the state, children from economically weaker backgrounds attend separate and entirely unequal state-government schools in the urban areas. In rural areas, where there are no private schools, the rural-rich send their children to the urban elite and private schools while the poor have to make do with schools without adequate physical and human teaching resources.

Access to primary and secondary education was and is unequal. The same inequality continues or rather increases for the post-secondary education.

As per a report of Ministry of HRD, Government of India titled ‘Analysis of Budgeted Expenditure on Education 2013-14 to 2015-16’ Elementary Education accounted for 50.96% of the total expenditure on education in 2015-16, followed by Secondary Education, which was 30%. The share of University & Higher Education and Technical Education was 12.84% and 4.60% respectively.

State universities, for example, educate 65% of students but receive only 45% of the various higher education grants from the states. The perversity of this is seen in this statistic: at the elite schools, students pay only 35 paise of every rupee to fund their education while at the large state universities they pay 55 paise of every rupee. Not surprisingly, the graduation rate for the elite institutions is above 90% while it is below 50% for the other tiers.

Elite state institutions are almost as lavishly funded as the old-line institutions such as BITS. The defence of spending more on these institutions and students is merit, of which, there are two kinds. Both are manufactured.

It is not that these institutions do not turn out good education work. Rather, in the battle for funding, they up their rankings by inviting more and more students to apply for a limited number of spaces – which allows them to prove their elite status by showing the small percent of applicants they actually enrol.

Elite institutions also manufacture their status through their reliance on admissions testing scores or percent cut-offs. India is famous for IIT-JEE or CPMT or CAT. There are a number of studies which prove that such tests miserably fail in predicting how students will do during their first year in the institution.

Anyone and everyone interested in higher education in India may like to read – Odile Henry and Mathieu Ferry, « When Cracking the JEE is not Enough », South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online], 15 | 2017, Online since 22 March 2017, connection on 19 April 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/samaj/4291; DOI : 10.4000/samaj.4291; not because I endorse the views therein, but because there is a point of view.

That we as a nation have created a ‘brahminical’ class of institutions called the IITs and the tier-1’s whose priests seem to control every regulation, every accreditation, every ranking and every policy making body on education, is not a matter of pride but shame that even in the seventh year of its rule, the NDA government is unable to finalise an education policy for the country. On the other hand, the world of knowledge has moved many leaps over these seven years and in all likelihood, India may have an obsolete education policy right on the day it is adopted, if that day ever comes.

(First published 07 June 2020)

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Internationalisation of Management Institutes in India

In response to the wave of globalisation, B-schools reacted by promoting the idea of Internationalisation of Management Institutes. There were two major pitfalls in the idea – first, it was a delayed reaction and not a proactive action and secondly, in the name of internationalisation, higher education became a tradable commodity like any other commodity under globalisation.

While the central role of management institutes and universities was to help people understand this world and to improve their dealings with it, which always improved through multiple angles of viewing, different lenses and varied description, internationalisation brought in commoditisation leading to reduction in differentiation. The European accreditation systems, AMBA and EQUIS paddled internationalisation as one of the core drivers of excellence in b-schools or management institutes as they are called in India.

But the direction that accreditation systems gave to management institutes was one of copying the already prevalent commercially competitive approach of the United Kingdom – recruitment of international students, development of cross-border education for revenue, competition for teaching-talent (skilled immigration) and reputation (rankings). Internationalisation as a tradable commodity has become a crucial source of income for higher education in some of the countries like the UK, France, Canada, Australia and the US, compensating for a reduction of public support by national and state governments.

Indian management institutes, ever so eager to imitate the Whiteman, started signing up for international exchange of students, faculty, research and executive-education; of which the last three were more of flaunting and less of action. Statistics like ‘one in every four of our student gets a chance to spend a term abroad’ were plastered on every marketing material with no attention to the fact as to what became of the remaining three out of four or what was the imbalance between incoming and outgoing exchange students. The greed took some Indian institutions to create what was termed as ‘twinning programmes’ which was another way of selling foreign degrees in India. Western schools were too happy to sign up for twinning programmes because it gave them steady stream of international students and fees.

There was yet another model of imitative-innovation by the ‘jugaad’ minded Indians, where they recruited Indian students in India but took them abroad for off-shore delivery of content by Indian faculty peppered with some Whiteman here and there. Terms like ‘internationalisation of the curriculum’ for domestic students emerged as a favourite exaggeration used for consumption by public.

Campuses in the west are already worried about fewer Indians choosing to study abroad after COVID-19 and many experts have predicted that this will be the end of internationalisation as we have known it in the management institutes. Possibly a new thought around ‘internationalisation at home’ will replace the so far dominant thought of ‘internationalisation abroad.’ But this may be a pipe-dream because human greed knows no limits. The political and educational leaders may like to return as quickly as possible to the glorious days of international trade before COVID-19.

Will the craze of Internationalisation among the Indian management institutes survive the COVID-19 pandemic is anyone’s guess but for the moment the obsession is breathing through a ventilator support.

(First published 27 May 2020)

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Novel Corona Virus can kill the MBA Institutes

The COVID-19 pandemic has already cost management institutes a bomb. The shutdown has meant that the Executive-Education has vanished and the accommodation, catering, and non-tuition income has evaporated. It is estimated that non-tuition income of some of the top ranking management institutes in India is upwards of 35-40 percent of their annual income and this could be the first loss of a major revenue stream.

Universities and educational institutions worldwide have been forced rapidly to scale up online teaching, which has typically entailed unexpected expenditure. The same may become true for the management institutes in India. They will have to find money to continue paying their staff, as well as maintaining and cleaning the massive infrastructure facilities they have created.

The economic downturn will force thousands of youngsters to defer entering MBA institutes. Encouraged by successive governments, who wished to bolster commercial education in the name of realistically priced education, top-ranking management institutions have come to rely on unregulated pricing of their degrees and developing multiple revenue streams. A collapse in the student market, which seems probable, would have serious consequences.

Prospective students might also be put off by the physical distancing requirements that are likely to prevail on campuses for the foreseeable future. Much will depend on the dynamics of the pandemic. No one really has a handle on what will happen when it comes to end-June, which is the time when most management institutes are busy trumpeting their induction programmes for the new arrivals. Hesitant to acknowledge but very few institutes are certain that they will be able to open on time.

The shift to online learning looks set to continue at least until the advent of a successful vaccine for COVID-19. The mere act of listening to wise statements and sound advice does little for anyone.  In the process of learning, the learner’s dynamic co-operation is required.  Such co-operation from students does not arise automatically.  It has to be provided for and continually encouraged. During most of undergraduate education, thinking out original answers to new problems or giving new interpretations to old problems is assumed an adult function and, as such, denied to students.  The task of the student during that time commonly is taken to be one chiefly of familiarising himself with accepted thought and accepted techniques, these to be actively used later.  The instruction period, in other words, often is regarded both by students and by teachers as a time for absorption.  The undergraduate colleges turn out knowledgeable and informed students and teaching at the undergrad degree can be adjusted to on-line teaching except for the lab-work.

Thus, many student entering graduate schools have become habituated to the role of a passive receiver.  The time inevitably arrives, however, when young people must engage in practical action on their own responsibility.  This needs wisdom; knowledge alone is of little use.  Students at MBA School have a little time, at best two years, to achieve the transition from what may be described as a childlike dependence on parents and teachers to a state of what may be called dependable self-reliance.

MBA graduates are expected to take on the roles of administrative positions of importance. The qualities needed by people in such positions are ability to see vividly the potential meanings and relationships of facts, capacity to make sound judgements based on these perceptions, and skill in communicating their judgements to others so as to produce the desired results in the field of action. These facts pertain to persons and things.  MBA education is consequently directed to developing these qualities of understanding, judgement, and communication leading to action, amongst students. Teaching at the MAB degree cannot be adjusted to on-line teaching except for transfer and comprehension of content.

One 3-credit hour on-line course in the best US University, which usually means 45-hours of teaching, costs around $17-$22 per hour. This is lower than the fee charged for face-to-face teaching in a top-ranking Indian institution which is around $25-$35 per hour. This situation raises questions about whether institutions can justify a fee structure predicated and priced on a model of face-to-face contact. Students generally report that campuses of the management institutes are much more than just teaching—experience is also really important. If students are going to miss half of what usually constitutes the student experience, are they really receiving the same value for money? Furthermore, online learning is no substitute for face-to-face classroom.

Imminent recession due to the pandemic will diminish the prospects for MBA employment. For a downgraded student experience and for a downgraded value of the MBA degree; it is going to be difficult for institutions to sustain the same level of fees that they have been charging so far. Weakening of demand coupled with pressure to decrease fees, without any action, management institutes will be forced to make huge cuts, jobs could be lost, and funding for PhDs could be halted. Institutes will begin to look for redundancies and a lot of staff on short-term contracts may be cajoled to go.

Prestigious IIMs are better placed to weather the coming cyclone because they can dig into their corpus or look towards the government to support them, but institutes that fall lower down the ranking tables are vulnerable, especially if non-tuition income forms a big part of their receipts. Much will depend on the depth of the downturn.

Summer internship placements for MBA students in their transition from the previous to the final year and confirmed job-offers for the passing out MBA students have already seen the coal face of impending loom on the careers market in the last 2-months.  Some lost ground can be recovered if institutes are able to restart by September, but any further delay would be a real threat to graduating on time next year.

Many of the MBA institutes are unlikely to survive the pandemic. Others may have to sell their property. This is going to leave a huge impression on the MBA education sector in India and may be in the whole of the world.

(First published on 23 May 2020)

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Unclamping of Lockdown

Across the nation, sounds of protests and objections to the COVID-19 shutdown are beginning to get audible. As the rules drag on, they are causing job losses, bankruptcies and a feeling that people have no rights. Possibly the largest migration in the human history, where rural folks are returning from urban areas and Indians abroad are returning to their homeland is a deluge which no one saw coming. Let us not be so liberal as to call these protesters as fool-hardy or selfish, for they have science and the Constitution on their side.

It is neither common sense nor a sustainable situation to close down everything, close down the economy, and lock everyone in their houses. India has not shared demographic data of the dead or the infected or even those tested, but the international data show almost all the COVID-19 fatalities are among the elderly and those with serious health problems. Shutting stores and restaurants did not save them.

Unfortunately, social media companies are censoring any science that challenges the shutdown saying the platform’s policy is to ban content that “disputes the efficacy of local health authority recommended guidance.” YouTube also censors views at odds with the World Health Organization.

Shutting down schools and businesses was justified to “flatten the curve,” meaning buying time for hospitals to add beds and gather enough ventilators, masks and other medical equipment. The goal of the shutdown was not eradicating the virus. That is not possible. The virus will possibly last another 18 to 24 months, fading once most Indians have been exposed and have developed immunity.

When the shutdown was temporary and tied directly to hospital preparedness, and enforcing behaviour of responsibility and care, government had the right to protect itself against an epidemic using reasonable regulations using an archaic law – the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 – which no government bothered to review for the last 120 years. But shutdowns lose their reasonableness when they have no deadline or benchmark to meet and continue to get extended without any official rationale and justification in terms of the objectives of the state. Their vagueness tramples upon people’s rights and shows the government as being tentative in its approach and guided by myopic considerations on a day-by-day basis.

Uncertainty about reopening could convert the cities to wastelands of lifeless stores and shopping malls, abandoned commercial buildings, landlords defaulting on municipal taxes and soaring tax rates for the people still in the city. Consider this urban landscape – the upper class is into hiding in their cocoons, the lower class is on the reverse run, going back to their rural and semi-urban abodes from where they had migrated, but the middle class has nowhere to hide or nowhere to run back to?

It is time for India to lift its shutdown and strike a balance between keeping the virus at a level that will not overwhelm our hospital systems and allowing people to still try and earn a living. The word of caution however is that the clamping of lockdown was for a real objective, the unclamping too has to be for real objectives and not just to support any lobby or an ideology. Slow easing of restrictions since 20th April has shown little spikes in the ‘new cases’ and the relaxations should not let these small spikes turn into outbreaks.

Let us be very sure that the virus cannot be eradicated. The idea of having treatments or a vaccine available, to facilitate return to the ‘normal’ life before the pandemic would be something of distant possibility. Even at the top speed at which the researchers are going, no vaccine is likely to be administered to individuals in next few months. Testing is no panacea in mitigating the disease. When will everyone have a yes/no infection test?  The answer depends on layers of uncertainty, decisions made by individual state governments, national and international businesses, small producers of test parts like swabs and chemical reagents, availability of personnel and facilities that ensure prevention of cross infection, congestion within processing labs, and legal chain of custody issues. A negative test result is only good until the moment of taking of sample. Such result does not show that the person could not get infected after the test.

India is by constitutional design and operational reality, not a big monolith, not the Soviet Union, not China, but a federal structure of 28 states, plus eight union territories.  No central stockpile of perishable tests would have fit the virus or lasted long just as no central stockpile of hospital or quarantine beds can ensure most efficient service delivery. Each new case of infection comes a unique problem set, each problem set is different, which is why the right answer is allowing independent management of each problem case – with 24/7 central guidance and support, though interstate and intrastate coordination.

Some ministers, government officials and legislators, who get paid show no respect for working people who don’t get assured salaries but need to earn. Government officials should heed the concerns of the millions who want to get back to work. Shutting down won’t stop the virus, but it will destroy our rights and the nation we call our own. Let us not permit the feeble sounds of protests and objections to the COVID-19 shutdown escalate to deafening levels. Let us not look so tentative while unclamping the lockdown when we had looked so confident in clamping it.

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This article was first published on 13 May 2020.

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Indian MUSLIMS: NOT IGNOBLE and ALIENATED but BROWBEATING and STUFFY

For many young Indians, ‘secular’ is a word defining the very nature of what it means to be an Indian today. It is also a word central to the attitude of the Indian state towards religion. It implies a clear separation not only of religion and State but also between a citizen’s private life and his religious beliefs on one hand, and his life in the public sphere on the other. The growing visible presence of Islam in the streets, schools, shops (‘halal’ goods and restaurants) and public life in general is seen by many as an aggression against the Indian way of life.

The triple-talaq hullaballoo is, of course, just a symptom of a deeper problem; many perceive it as the symbol of an invasion by an outside culture into the public sphere. A society which had abhorred ‘talaq’ (Divorce) and ‘sa-gotra’ (same patriline) marriages is uncomfortable with the idea of ‘triple-talaq’ and cousin-marriages.

This behaviour seems to worry many Indians, who see it as a direct attack on their culture and identity, and a desire among the Indian Muslims to live separately from the rest of the Indian society and according to other values.

Behind the vociferous opposition to uniform civil code, Indians see the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood or religious ideologies, whose ultimate goal seems to be to propagate their values and impose them on the rest of the society. The Debate on Muslim Personal Law in India is not about Muslim Personal Law.

The Islamic distinction between ‘halal’ (authorized) and ‘haram’ (prohibited) has become a central question in the daily life of many Muslims in India. Many younger Muslims are getting drawn to their religious rituals and are publically flaunting their adoption of such practices.

The increasing Islamic clatter in society has seen growing display of conservative ethos as against a progressive culture. This has had consequences in schools. Some girls do not attend physical education classes; theories of evolution are criticized during biology classes; and it has even become difficult to teach the stories from ‘Ramayan, Mahabharat’ and ‘Gita’ – the great Indian epics in schools with a majority of Muslims pupils.

In the end, however, the commotion created by the growing presence of the Islamic headscarf and ‘burqua’ together with ‘namaz’  in public places hides the more fundamental issues of how to deal with the rapidly increasing presence of a foreign culture brought in by the aggressors, which seems to keep demanding an ever-larger space in its host society.

It is quite distressing that Muslims, who came to India more than 1200 years back; ruled this country for nearly 800 years and faced the Christian persecution at the hands of the Europeans alongside other Indians for 200 years; struggled against the British, shoulder to shoulder with Hindus, for Indian independence; who constitute the biggest non-Hindu chunk of Indians; are still seen reeling under a crisis of unwillingness to accept India as their “Home Land” and “Mother Land.”

Religion played a patent role in the creation of two independent states, India and Pakistan, defined within the binaries of ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ nationalism. Areas with concentrated populations of Muslims became Pakistans but many Muslims, who remained in India, were spread out geographically within the country and even within the individual human settlements called the cities, towns and villages. Most Indian Muslims have Indian ancestry and not the invaders’ ancestry.

Unfortunately, the remaining Muslims did the opposite. They began to live separate from the rest of the Indians, they started creating in ‘ghetto’ like neighborhoods designated for Muslims. They did not care to assimilate with India. They did not change so that they would be more like the Indians and so less different. They did not get involved in learning the languages of India, dressing the way Indians did or begin to look at the social problems in the way of Indian society. They did not make themselves more like the existing group in order to be accepted. This in spite of the fact that most Indian Muslims have Indian ancestry and not the invaders’ ancestry; and they only needed to revert to the culture and thought of their fore-fathers.

Politicians have had a field day because of this lack of assimilation of Muslims into India. Since a large minority always plays a significant role in determining the outcomes of elections by swinging their votes, some parties used politics of appeasement to win the favour of Muslims. The political opponents then used the Anti-Muslim sentiment to win more votes from the majority. Muslim leadership has connived with the politicians and turned the Muslims into a browbeating and stuffy lot.

Many Indians believe that if those problems are not addressed now, it soon might be too late. It will create a fait accompli and India will no longer be a single nation, but would become a de facto dual-cultural state where people live according to different values, history and culture.

 

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Voice of Reason

Been thinking about it. What makes a voice of reason? My understanding is that voice of scriptures, voice of traditions and voice of individual experience shapes individual’s voice of reason.

Voice of scriptures and voice of traditions themselves are not universal, there being no universal scriptures and no universal traditions.

While voice of scriptures and voice of traditions could bring in some amount of conformance and uniformity in the voice of reason within a small group of people, it is the diversity and dissimilarity in personal experiences which will not allow emergence and concurrence for any universal voice of reason even within the small group.

Remembering is eminently a personal experience. One remembers what one has done. Through memory one can appropriate and relive one’s past, and learn from experience. These processes of appropriation, reliving, and learning are often repeated by individuals which keeps creating changes in their voice of reason over time.

There is little chance therefore, that an individual’s voice of reason remains unaltered over time and there is no chance what so ever of a universal voice of reason.

No one is illogical or wrong or unreasonable in personal frames of reference. They appear to be so when someone judges them through their frames of logic or reason.

THERE GOES PROPRIETY, REASON AND LOGIC.

 

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