Wednesday, October 31, 2012

India 2020: Changing The Education Mix

Comparisons are indeed helpful: China and India, two countries with huge landmass and population, both trying to get out of poverty and build a prosperous future, make great parallels to be looked at. Dr Rahul Choudaha in his blog ( presents the comparative pictures of Chinese and Indian Post-Secondary education, statistics that by itself highlights the contrasting growth patterns of the two countries.

Here is the statistical highlights (I am quoting from DrEducation):

1. India (26.7 million students) and China (29.1 million students) are the biggest post-secondary education systems in the world, bigger than the United States (21 million students). 

2. India, however, has more students studying for an Undergraduate degree (19.8 million) than China (12.6 million).

3. In stark contrast, more students study for vocational courses in China (14.9 million) than India (4 million).

4. A similar contrast can be seen at the Post-graduate level too. India has more than double (2.7 million, or 14% of undergrad population) the number of students studying for Post-graduate degrees than China (1.2 million, or 10% of undergrad population), but China has three times more students at the Doctoral level (236,328) than India manages to get (72,202).

The statistics can be viewed in various ways and I am fully cognizant that comparisons with China, though useful, may not be the definitive benchmark. But, one can pretty easily highlight the weakness of India's vocational education sector as a cause of concern. As the economy grows, it will need professional workers at all levels, and that will include competent plumbers, builders, electricians, security guards and nurses.

India, in short, has a vocational training problem, a severe one given that annually 12.3 million people are added to the labour force. Indeed, the infrastructure has expanded in recent times, on the back of significant government investment, but how much of that has really worked can only be answered in the future. Given that the figure of 4 million includes all the students learning IT and Hospitality(often in parallel with their undergraduate studies), the number is indeed alarming. One could speculate that the apathy to vocational training may be linked to the deep-seated caste sensibilities of the Indian middle classes, and that the middle classes are continuing to develop in the colonial model of creating a pen-pushing (or laptop-typing) army of people, but this thinking will be widely divergent from the needs of a modern economy.

The imbalance at the top of the heap, the lack of doctoral students, generates more conversations, but has less to worry about. As Dr Choudaha pointed out, Masters degree studies are often a spill-over from the undergraduate mass: Those who could afford will continue to complete a Masters because their degrees will not get them a job. The Masters degree inflation is self-sustaining too: I have come across many students who would pursue a Masters degree just because other family members have done so. That such vanity effects do not translate into Doctoral studies isn't surprising. Besides, these trends should be seen in perspective with trends of students studying abroad, as education is indeed a global enterprise at the top. India sends a disproportionately large number of post-graduate and doctoral students abroad (in comparison to the number of undergraduates). Global research experience does not hurt Indian students and ultimately benefits Indian companies. One should indeed worry about the quality of India's research output, but we may not need to sound the alarm regarding the quantity as yet.

Instead, closer attention must be given to the imbalance at the bottom of pyramid in India. This also indicates the need to 'professionalize' in India, something that happened in western societies and the Chinese had a long tradition of it, though it has its own challenges at this late stage of economic development. The Indian state has done the opposite: instead of regulating the trades and facilitating a national dialogue involving employers about the skills requirements, it embarked on a system of hand-outs, in line with the crony capitalism that it generally espouses. This neither resulted in an expansion of demand for trained people, nor earned them a premium for skills: One can argue that this created a temporary system of disguised unemployment, which will further lower the demand for vocational training. 

In a way, this is inevitable: Professionalization of the vocations, while inescapable in a modern economy, goes against the middle class interests. They would not just lose the status of sole purveyor of knowledge in the society, but also have to pay more for the work they receive; in effect, this will mean a redistribution of status and wealth. Therefore, professionalization is difficult politically: All the naysayers will immediately jump in claiming that this will hurt the unskilled (though it does exactly the opposite - creates a skill premium). However, this is another of the difficult structural decisions someone in India have to take some day: The statistics presented here adequately shows the tip of the latent issue.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Breakpoint: About Starting It Over

I am starting it over again. It is a complete reboot, and I feel like I have gone back eight years, or even fourteen; the good thing is, I am enjoying it.

People love becoming younger without giving up the accumulated privileges. In my case, it is the other way round - it is indeed about starting from scratch while enjoying being older and hopefully wiser - a bit scary but thrilling nonetheless. Being young, I have come to conclude, isn't about the tautness of skin but feeling the weightlessness that comes with such a plunge to the unknown.

I have felt this weightlessness before. In 1998, when I walked out of my job to start a small company, I realised the weight my big company business cards had: Suddenly, even with people I used to deal with in my corporate career, I was somewhat of a non-entity. The feeling was hurtful at the time, but sobering and useful in the long run; I did go back to big company work in a couple of years time, but was never as presumptive as I would have been previously.

The same happened in 2004, when I left the privileges of an expense account lifestyle and a senior position to migrate, without a job or a plan, to Britain: That landed me up working in warehouses obeying orders and shifting goods. I didn't enjoy it at the time, but it had the same weightlessness of shading my presumptions and starting over again. 

I know being able to reflect on these experiences is a privilege in itself, and this may even sound smug to others; I am saying that I have managed to escape the fate. However, the sobering bit indeed is that I am back at Ground Zero in many sense, having walked out of a job yet again (though there was not much left in it) and sticking it out to start a business. It is that sort of time when I get to see what I am not good at more starkly than at any other time. This is also the time to do Dream Benchmarks, a game I play with myself often.

That is, I sometime imagine that I have gone back on time. For example, I am imagining now that I have just arrived in the UK - that takes me back to my time in the warehouse - and having to start all over again. I am older, indeed, and have lost two of my closest persons in the meantime; but I am wiser too, have gained skills and certification, and have become a naturalised citizen, all of which can be counted as positives. This, in short, is my dream benchmarks, counting the blessings from time to time, and acknowledging that our presumptions don't live long; If this means nothing else, I shall claim, despite my various transgressions, this philosophy of life makes me a true Indian.

Through this game, I also become aware what my persistent problems are, or seem to be. Embarking on near-Quixotic enterprises must be one; I am one for big dreams, and in my approach, too chivalrous to be ruthless when needed. However, this has still worked for me, even if in a roundabout way: My life, never a straight-line, moved forward in spurts and jumps, and indeed plunges, but moved forward nonetheless. Also, I realise I am quite naive in terms of playing the system: Those who know me remind me that I am not just ignorant, but sometimes obstinately so. I can safely pass the blame for this to my schooling in life by my grandfather, who ran his small business as straight as he can, without trying to play the system and even scoffing at any suggestion that he could. However odd this sounds, and I am painfully aware that he lived in a different day and age when he could get away being the way he was, I just can't see these short-cut opportunities; my mind remains obdurately focused on the long-winded path of doing something grand, and right.

Surely, it would be honest for me not to try my hand in business once I have become aware of these shortcomings. Yet, I am equally driven by belief that business is not just about taking opportunities, but creating some new ones, a process which is inevitably long-winded and inescapably demanding. Besides, I have taken time to find someone to work with, who has more business sense than me while being on the same page on key values. This is also part of my starting over, and benchmarking my abilities against what is needed to get this done.

I am treating this time as an opportunity to start over in many other things. I am in the final phase of my Masters in Adult Education and devoting my time to complete the dissertation. I wish to complete it this side of Christmas and start looking for new academic opportunities in the new year. I am also planning to step down from my position of a Trustee in a South London charity, where I served for last three years but felt constrained by its scope of operation and what I could contribute; again, in the new year, I shall find new opportunities to volunteer and use my spare time more meaningfully, perhaps with a more international context this time.

For me, all of this must lead to, over long term, to one defining objective that I have - to help create a global education network, where global meets the local, and we can finally discard the narrow national assumptions handed down from another era and build the basis of a true global democracy. I know this sounds suitably Utopian and quixotic as declared, but then, at some point in history, clan fights between European Barons made perfect sense and seemed to have gone on forever; people would have laughed the idea of EU if one had the courage to talk about it. And, indeed they did, the idea originated right around the time when Europe was being torn off in fratricidal wars. Indeed, all progress depends on unreasonable man: And, I am nothing if not unreasonable.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reimagining Higher Education: Making Global-Local Education

All Higher Education is local, because of its structure. Most of it is still delivered in attendance, which limits it to a locally resident community. Its funding is deeply anchored in alumni handouts or government grants, again with a mostly local orientation than not. However, the world of work has changed, and is changing further, and local comfort and global confidence have both become critical parts of skill set for most professions. I shall argue that most Higher Education do not address this need at all.

In fact, truth be told, Higher Education often does more harm than good as far as these global-local balance is concerned. College creates prejudices rather than dispelling them. Students are told to see their classroom as a microcosm, a reflection of the wider world, and often impose the stereotypes thereof. The liberal end of this view is a rich country backpackers' view of the world, benign but flawed; at its other extreme, it is bigoted and dangerous: The Higher Ed view of the world is often that the campus is the center of the universe.

The world is semi-globalized, indeed, as Pankaj Ghemawat and others show in the recent DHL Global Connectedness Index. And, indeed, in the recent years, most of the gains of the Nineties and early years of the millennium have been reversed, and the buzzword of our times have become 'localization' as if we were global at some stage. However, our experiences of the Great Depression, and the subsequent milder ones, show that reversing global connectedness is a common reaction to economic woes, but a giant mistake, which makes the economic contraction worse. At a time when we have given up on our politicians to get us out of trouble - indeed they seem to be part of the problem - and looking, in desperation, to other institutions, such as our universities and businesses, for rescue, the message of Higher Education must be counter-cyclical and steeped in global values. But this is a bigger challenge than it sounds.

Globalization of education, however, is happening at the margins and have challenges of its own. There are global networks of higher education emerging, very small and marginal at the time, but growing at a furious pace. These are mostly part of international chains funded by private capital. The challenges there are somewhat the opposite - the near-complete neglect, or even contempt, of the local. These sit uncomfortably beside the entrenched local, mostly despised, mostly marginal with their tiny population and narrow course offerings, and in the end, mostly irrelevant.

We, therefore, need a new paradigm, a system of balance between global and local, 'glocal' as some observers started calling it. It is not just a matter of curriculum but of values and of delivery, also of outcome. It is in sync with what's happening at work and careers, and indeed, lives. This education is what is needed to create global connectedness, the panacea of our economic woes and the resolution of our narrow-minded politics, the basis of our human future, which is the goal of modern higher ed. I shall argue that today, all education should be irreversibly global, as well as unmistakably local: The new Higher Education must live up to that ideal.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Does India Need A Different Higher Education Model?

Kapil Sibal, India's Human Resource Minister, estimates India needs 1500 universities, almost three times as much as the current 564, to serve its young and aspiring population, and meet the economic growth expectations of the pundits. This oft-quoted but unofficial observation reflects the scale of ambition of the Indian policy-makers, and the direct connection they make between Higher Education and Economic Growth. Consequently, India is the only major economy in the world where the Government is still spending money on setting up new Higher Education institutions, and building up capacity in the old ones. This effort will get a further boost by the recent appearance of three of the IITs (Kharagpur in 226-250 bracket, Bombay in 251-275 bracket and Roorkee in 351-400 bracket) in the Times Global 400 league table, though none of them made it to the top 200, yet.

Some effects of this additional investment, as well as the government's enthusiasm on getting private sector to get involved in Higher Education, is visible in rapid expansion of Higher Ed provision in India. The number of colleges, mostly private sector, have grown by 150% and now reached 33,000. The student numbers have expanded too, though this has been slower than the expansion of school capacity. The most intriguing part of the statistics is that despite the student growth, the Gross Enrolment Ratio, the number of people moving into tertiary education after leaving school, remains stubbornly below 20%. This is partly because of the rapid expansion of literacy, as observed in the current census, and the expansion of school level education. However, it is also observable that some of India's new Higher Education institutions are already struggling, if the number of empty seats in the Engineering and MBA colleges are any guide. It seems that while the investment has poured in and seat capacity has been expanded, the students are not interested in what the schools have to offer and overall student numbers in Higher Education, while growing, aren't going up proportionately.

This observation will be accentuated if we see this in the perspective of demography. For plain demographic reasons, there would be 5 million more students in the college by 2015 than there is now, a growth of 25%. Also, less than 20% Gross Enrolment Ratio is way lower than a comparable country, say China. By historical precedent, a country's GER tends to grow alongside its income, levelling off somewhat as it approaches 40% level: It needs a somewhat bigger leap in income thereafter to take GER grow again. The Indian model, therefore, represents an anomaly. The student numbers have grown, but this can be solely attributed to demography and growth in income. Once we have considered the impact of these two factors, there is little to show for all the extra money that the government is spending, and for the huge expansion of capacity in the private sector. In fact, it seems there is an apparent  supply glut in the private sector, and unused infrastructure is more common than not. Colleges are up for sale, and this trend is likely to accelerate in the coming days. It surely seems that the current model of Higher Ed expansion is somewhat out of sync with what the Indian students want.

This is a key issue, then, which needs to be addressed before Mr Sibal's aspiration could be met (which is modest, given that United States has 4500 degree granting institutions for its 300 million people). Higher Education isn't a burning issue for the government, but this is purely because this government was struggling with so many other burning issues. It is likely to be the biggest thing in the agenda soon, definitely after the next election, when the attention returns to getting economic growth back on track and employing the population gainfully. This is a good time, therefore, to reflect where the model is going wrong.

Since countries like India often model their Higher Education systems after the United States, it is a good place to look at what really happened there. A quick parallel can be drawn to the United States in 1940, when the high school enrolment jumped to 73% of the school age population but the college-going population was at only 16% of those who completed High School, somewhat the level India is at today. The wartime American government wanted an expansion of the system as they planned for the returning personnel after the war: They wanted to find gainful employment for these young men after the distasteful treatment of the Great War veterans, which resulted in a stand-off between American troops and disgruntled veterans in Washington DC in 1932. The resultant Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944, popularly dubbed as GI Bill, was the biggest act of mass expansion of Higher Education in human history: It enabled 7.8 million returning veterans to attend college by the end of the validity of the act in 1956.

Indian government should feel similarly besieged, and scared, by the rapidly growing young population of the country, and the fact that a march on Delhi is no longer an unthinkable prospect. If, at this stage, the government is wondering why the public investment and private initiatives are not lifting the participation in Higher Education, they need to look closely at the American experience of this expansion: Faced with the expansion of the student population, President Truman appointed a Presidential Commission, which came back with the recommendation for an expansion of two year colleges, which they called Community Colleges. This was the rapidly expanding bit of American Higher Education system which absorbed the demand, served the growth of the knowledge economy and drove up the Gross Enrolment Ratio; but, indeed, in the glitz and glamour of the American Research universities, this is the bit of the story that rest of the world misses.

New millennium India isn't similar to post-war America and India's policies are likely to be different. But there is an important lesson in the American model (and subsequent developments of this thinking, as exemplified in Clark Kerr's vision of the Californian Higher Education system) and a clue to Indian Higher Education's current malady: The growth is misdirected and top-heavy, which is neither addressing the issue of quality nor quantity. The public investment is primarily going to create more High Prestige national institutions and private investment is directed towards creation of provisions in Engineering and post-graduate provisions in Business, leaving out the large swathes of general education colleges to disinvestment and neglect. Despite the success of India's IGNOU, which has grown into the largest open university in the world with more than 3.5 million students, and various other Open University systems across the country, the Indian government has treated these as below par offerings and wasted a great opportunity of expansion of Higher Education provision. In summary, India's expansion of Higher Education has been directed at a sliver of its expanding middle class, and failed to take into account its rapidly changing nature and composition.

There are a number of things which need to be done to create a Higher Education model that may work for India. The starting point, the obvious, is to overhaul the regulatory model, to make it friendly to private investors (and even allowing For-Profits, which is needed to expand capacity) but make it robust at the same time, more focused on student experience and outcome and less on the buildings and infrastructure. As it stands today, the imperative of legislation is political - that the providers must not make a profit - and this has to be replaced by something practical, the students must learn and enjoy the experience, et al. 

The public investment may be directed towards the top and the bottom, i.e., in creating excellence in research and teaching in select national institutions, which is already happening, but also to those colleges which directly serve the new demand. In the last few years, the government has spent millions in creating a vocational education system, but the money, from the sound of it, was mostly squandered: So far, there is little to show for the money spent, except that the foreign advisors and providers have mostly pocketed the money. One may wonder why the government embarked on creating a parallel system when the public institutions, ITIs and local colleges, are starved of investment. Besides, the government's quest to create a vocational education system, mostly following the British model, is probably already antiquated - a rapidly rising Middle Class is unlikely to favour a two-tier system of higher and lower education. The government must bring its investment in vocational competence in line with the need to rejuvenate the public institutions and local colleges, as these are the institutions best placed to reach out to the local population in need.

Lastly, the government must unleash private enterprise. As is common, Indian government so far curbed private activities in education and kept For profits out altogether (which is absurd, as some of the best educational work in India was carried out by For Profit companies like NIIT, Aptech and Educomp), but then handed out subsidies and contracts to a few favoured providers to create a parallel system of vocational education, which has proved to be mostly wasteful. Market-based solutions work perfectly for an aspiring Middle Class and the government should withdraw its subsidies and let private For-Profit universities to form in India, which will greatly expand high quality provisions and re-establish the cost-to-outcome link as appropriate in a market situation. This is indeed difficult, and the vested interests, both political and business, would want to keep the doors closed as long as they can. However, with the pending collapse of the Indian Higher Education model, they may not have much time left.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reimagining Higher Education: Case for a new Paradigm

It is so fashionable to talk about this being a moment of discontinuity that it must be true: In Higher Education, such discussions have reached a fever pitch. All the forces that make today look different from yesterday are bearing on the change of Higher Education: The recession is transforming the careers and aspirations, the technology is changing daily lives and the institution meltdown is challenging the notions of authorship and knowledge. In the middle of all this, the demand for Higher Education is rising, in fact by so much that it is filling up the institutions and pushing them to expand. But at this moment of supposed glory, most institutions look definitely downbeat and out of sync.

I shall argue, this is because the times are discontinuous. For all the talk about creation and dissemination of knowledge, writes Louis Menand, the purpose of the system is to reproduce the system. At the moments of discontinuity, such as this one, there is nothing much to reproduce. The commentators and policy-makers may continue to search for an answer, and the sector may settle for various panacea-of-the-day solutions, but no definitive solution is in sight for it to rediscover its purpose and regain its vitality. 

It is not that I am claiming that we are seeing the onset of an irreversible decline. Quite the opposite: The Higher Education space is full of activity and new talk. But most of the energy is directed to piecemeal, more-of-the-same efforts. Employability is a big thing, perhaps rightly so at a time when the links between college education and middle class prosperity are being irretrievably broken. Everyone seems to love the Online Technologies, but as the new TV, so that the lectures can be broadcast far and wide. And, at the time when the demand for Higher Ed seems to be at the all time high, an elaborate reputation industry, complete with its own journals, conferences and pundits, seemed to have taken off.

All of this is great, except that this makes current Higher Ed even more a thing of the past. When middle class careers are breaking down, institutions are croaking about employability of the last century variety. Online technologies have been stripped to become TV with quizzes, and the field is littered with failed attempts to transfer the broadcast mentality of the current teaching into the brave new world of peer-to-peer conversations. And, the institutional presumptions, buffeted by 'Oxford Pretense' (which can roughly be the British equivalent of American 'Carnegie Creep' or more contemporary 'Harvard Envy'), run amok, missing out on all too obvious 'feature fatigue' as evidenced in growing enrolments in no-frills For-Profit schools across the world.

So, in a way, Higher Ed is an engine heading in a meaningless direction full steam. The sector believes that public reverence about institutions guarantees it an irrevocable role in modern society; indeed, the Higher Ed leaders must talk more frequently with Church leaders and Bankers how well such presumptions hold true. With institutions, Press, Police, Politicians, falling off the mantle all around us, walking in sleep, as the universities tend to do, isn't a good idea any more. It needs an update, a new paradigm - okay, a new purpose: When the system is broken, it is incumbent on the Educators who come up with new ideas. The sector must look beyond snake oil of middle class jobs to see how it can equip pupils to adjust and live in the modern world: What new values, as opposed to the old ones, do they need to espouse to be successful? The sector must take the lead to understand what it means to have the technologies that we have, how does it change the conversations not just in societies but about them. And, it must offer alternate ideas than just blind faith in institutions, indeed the same cloak behind which it hides itself, and redefine how one would find a moral living even within the atomised anonymity of the modern life.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MOOCs: An Alternative Business Model for Higher Education

Let's face it: Higher Education needs a different business model.

What we have now is what has been handed down to us from previous generations. This is a model based on reputation, based on the demand for the aspiring classes to be like the previously (and still) privileged classes. But this is snake oil in a sense as no such pathway exists anymore. And, besides, one can't mass supply exclusivity: The more education there is, the less special degrees are.

So, we have had an onward and forward arms race, and sadly, this was mostly about things which matter less for plain old teaching and learning. There were things about research, which creates knowledge and informs teaching, only if it is humanly plausible to do a full year's worth of teaching and maintain high research productivity: More often than not it proved very difficult. And, then, the features race descended, or should we say ascended, into absurd - heated swimming pools, professional athletics facilities, et al - and indeed, to pricing. The point was, when nothing else matters, charging a high price for your courses may make you look exclusive.

This is typical, though. It happens in many industries. The competition results into features arms race, and what the customer needs - plain good meaningful teaching in this case - is mostly forgotten. The meaningful bit is meaningful too: What's being taught must create a realistic expectation of one's life chances, and not be situated on some dated promise of solid middle class existence, which isn't valid anymore.

Online Education was touted as a game changer, but hardly was it so. This was about cheap and cheerful degrees and selling more, not less, of the promise of middle class jobs. The providers were non-selective, because they had to be, but they were undifferentiated too: Mostly this was about getting credentials and hoping something will work out. If it didn't, most people blamed themselves or their aunt: The schools got away.

The problem is, online education was trying to play the same game, perhaps on the cheap. It was about adjunct faculty, no frills teaching and virtual presence, but it was still about credentialing, value chain thinking that when one emerges on the other side of the process, enough value was added to him/her to get her a middle class job. It was a welcome departure from the ivory tower, solution shop, mentality of great research universities, not ready to take on the mere mortals, but this was factory age thinking of processing individuals for a steady future which did not exist anymore.

The point, then, is to prepare students for what matters. What matters today is continuous learning and search, knowing people and places, being nimble and flexible: It is counter-intuitive, but for most of us, life is different from what's shown on TV. The condo is missing, but it is not all bad news: There are many possibilities if we explore and have the spirit to connect and keep learning. For most of us, pensions are for ghosts and retirements are what our fathers had, as we have to keep doing things all our lives and keep producing one way or other. Whatever the shape of our lives are, in summary, it looks different from what it seemed in 1950s, which TV shows still depict and what the universities still prepare for, offline or online, selective or non-selective.

To do so, I shall argue, the schools themselves will have to change. They will have to alter their factory character - that they are repositories of knowledge which they inject into students as they go through the curriculum - and connect up to the possibilities outside. The only way to do it, and this is where the promise of Online Technologies can be fully realised, is to become Network Universities, where the value the students get is by connecting, and they also create value in turn. This is User Network thinking, so alien to our factory-like universities but native to many modern industries, such as telecom, social networks or all the crowd-sourced fields (Airbnb or crowdfunding), where the users are not just consumers but creators of value themselves. 

What I am talking about is a diverse global community of learners and tutors. Universities were just that before - communities - where the like minded came together; we created them into factories of knowledge in the industrial age. Hence, this much-needed update, made possible by online learning and teaching technologies, that will bring education up-to-date with what's happening outside. In this model, a global network of learners will pursue learning with a global network of tutors, creating knowledge as much absorbing, and where connections and conversations will be as important as content and credentials. In fact, I shall argue, that these models will crowd-source credentials: Being part of a global peer-group will become a badge of honour as much as being part of the Harvard's class of 2012 would be. 

That may sound crazy now, but it may not be in a few years time, as our conceptions of authority is changing. This is where the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses, for the uninitiated), the new breed of online education, represent a point of departure. This is, in my view, their missing business model: Creation of universities as user networks, where communities generate credentials. The various services will be spread along the spectrum, some more open and some less so, but they are new and ancient at the same time: They will spawn the user network thinking befitting our age, and will be based on knowledge communities like the ancient universities. They would restore the spirit of the universities: It would no longer be processing houses for sales people for the industries and would not be selling themselves on the promise of middle class jobs and careers, but instead be about learning and connecting to global communities, and be about mobility and openness, and for careers of self-creators fit for our age.

It is now time that online education will change our world.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Notes on Employability Training

Employability, in Higher Education, seems to be that one thing that everyone wants but no one knows what it is. Therefore, how to train for employability remains both open to interpretation and a subject of intense debate. I have had the privilege to see two sides of the debate in close proximity: Being in the For-Profit Education sector for many years, where employability is the key selling point, I have noted the disdain for such a trivial thing from the other side of the education divide. Things indeed have changed over time: However, sitting through a focus group on an employability training product very recently, I witnessed how uncomfortable university lecturers still are in acknowledging that it is something that their students may legitimately want as an outcome of their education.

To be fair, employability was never a Higher Ed thing: Degrees, at a different time, almost always got a job for those willing. The professors, mostly a product of that era, is slightly perplexed about why students worry about it so much. As proud professionals, they would usually think that what they do in the classrooms are relevant and would get students a job, and sneer at the possibility of the whole notion of employability training, with all the near-absurd ideas such as creating an 'employability certificate'.

The employability enthusiasts miss a few points on their own as well. While employability should be one of the outcomes of education, the latter should not be reduced to the former. Besides, employability isn't straightforward to define: There are variations of employment. Most people would define employability the convenient way, in terms of an employment that the students can get to at the end of their education: Incidentally, this is the way employability is measured in different countries and indeed, marketing claims are made on this basis. However, educating for an employment could make the whole educational enterprise incredibly narrow, not to mention the immediate loss of relevance that the education may suffer at completion as the job market changes with time.

A more meaningful way to define employability is to define this as the creation of choice of employment, rather than an employment. This is what employability indeed is - the ability to escape unrewarding or deadend or seasonal jobs, and to be able to create opportunities for oneself. It isn't hard to measure: In fact, it should be easier to check whether an educational credential gets people calls to interviews or not. I have known education companies which defined its employability outcome in terms of the number of interview calls within a certain time frame and it is not at all difficult to measure or provide. The problem indeed is that this may not be what the students really want, but I have seen that this seems, for many, a reasonable yardstick.

Now, if we accept the second definition - that employability is about the ability to create suitable employment opportunities for oneself - how one must approach learning/ teaching it? The common practice is to focus on the process of searching employment, like writing CVs and preparing for interviews. Most of these efforts are sincere, but I doubt whether they really improve employability. Making a students' CV professional looking, or talking about common courtesy and dress code for an interview are useful, but these wont really create choices of employment, which is the main point. I have known people who did not get a job because they were not appropriately dressed for an interview, indeed, but taking this to an absurd level of discussion, such as why one should wear white shirts and not coloured ones, which is what some of the employability gurus indeed do, is pointless. This is employability for the dummies, which may be a starting point but does not go too far.

So, what could actually be meaningful employability training, which enables the student to have choices of employment over a long period of time? The problem, particularly for Higher Education, isn't that the students can not write a CV, which is a problem relatively easily remedied, but rather they don't know what they want, what is expected of them and many of them end up in jobs which isn't suitable for themselves. My suggestion is that this is about training the students think like an employer. This is a departure from the usual focus on CV writing and interview techniques, but essentially the same thing from the other side of the table: Appreciating what employers expect from an employee and how to create economic value yourself. An understanding of how one can contribute, make a difference and what those different opportunities are out there, are the key elements of employability; and indeed, what kind of life does one really want.

 I have read recently this wonderful little book called The Start-up of You, by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, which I shall make it a required rewarding for all such endeavours. This book is all about creating economic value, and various strategies for doing so. I don't necessarily see all of life as a business, and as long as one accepts that employability is only one of the several goals of education, the thinking presented by Reid and Ben come pretty close to being a standard curricula. Indeed, I shall ask the students to do a few more practical things, one of which is to sign up to Reid's very own Linkedin, as well as to travel, or read travel journals and literature, so that their horizons expand. In many ways, different phases of life are different territories/ countries, and the transition from school to work is somewhat akin to leaving your homeland, where you have support systems and transgressions are somewhat tolerated, to a foreign land, where you are left on your own, measured and judged all the time and errors may snowball quickly.

Governments across the world are now making employability central to their Higher Ed agenda. For-Profit schools always sell employability as the only thing that matters. But all of them seem to miss, somewhat deliberately, the point about employability being the choice of employment, rather than a job: It is surely because the thinking about mass Higher Education remains centred on creating cheap labour for various knowledge industries. However, the world has moved on and creativity, choice and intellect has taken the center-stage at the new knowledge work; the professionals today need a different set of skills than they needed even twenty years ago. Therefore, it is time to update our thinking about employability training and create an agenda that serves the students and make them able professionals in control of their lives.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

India 2020: Fear of the Foreign

Mamta Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the agitator-in-chief against the current proposals to allow Foreign Direct Investment in various sectors in India, writes on her Facebook page (I have underlined some portions):

"I want to relate to you a tragic experience of an Indian working in a well known IT company in California, which explains the real life impact of allowing FDI in Pensions. This is not just a stray case, but one among millions of sufferers in USA where pension funds are invested in stock markets. This is what is being attempted by UPA II. Here is an Indian who was putting his savings into a Pension Fund to secure his future at old age. Pension Funds were a part of much celebrated 401k scheme, one of which was operated by the well reputed Mutual Fund company listed in US stock exchange. It is shocking that when US stock market crashed during 2008-09, our Indian friend lost 50 percent of his entire savings. He was left high and dry without compensation and an uncertain future. Do you want this to happen to you and fellow countrymen on introduction of FDI in Pensions by UPA II ? With introduction of FDI, the future of Pensioners will crash. Let us be united and oppose this move."

This is ridiculous: She is arguing that FDI means pension funds getting invested in stock markets. The whole statement is pointless, probably false (that big round number of 50% stands out as phoney) and confuses the issues: Are we saying that pension funds should not be invested in stock markets, which all pension funds do in some proportion, or that it should not be invested in US stock market, which is not going to happen even if there is FDI? Does the writer of the statement know what they are trying to say, other than - let's make an important sounding statement and people wouldn't bother with details?

Despite the apparent nonsense, I chose to quote this statement to highlight how unreal the debate about Foreign Direct Investment is in India. After years of crying out for Foreign Direct Investment, which creates jobs and companies, rather than the Foreign Institutional Investment (FII), the sort India used to get, which inflates asset prices and creates prosperity only for the asset-owning classes, it is fascinating to see how India's political class is siding with the middle men, the entrenched interests which have so far kept the Indian economy inefficient and corrupt.

There are two other explanations of Ms Banerjee's behaviour, other than that she is hand in gloves with the traders who earn a monopoly profit and who are afraid that Foreign investment in sectors like retail would spoil their party. She may be a naysayer by default, just like the regional satraps before her was: But then she would soon be isolated as India becomes more prosperous and even the most delusional of the regional leaders knows that unless they deliver economic growth for their people, they will be washed away without a trace. The other alternative explanation is - and strangely this is the most plausible - that Ms Banerjee has no objections to FDI and would let it happen: She is just creating noise to let people know that she exists, just as any good politician past their sell-by date should do time to time.

The problem is Ms Banerjee is not alone and going by cacophony, it seems India is full of politicians without idea or character, yet it is they, through the omnipresent state, take all the decisions that affect the lives of people. The main opposition party, BJP, made a big fuss about the proposals surrounding FDI, though their own economic plans stand on the prospect of attracting foreign investment, and most of the states ruled by BJP candidates, most notably Gujrat (ruled by Narendra Modi, their most plausible Prime Ministerial candidate), go out of their way to attract FDI. Even Congress, the party in Government and the main and only sponsor of FDI proposals, was going after FDI deals retroactively only a few months ago, before such efforts were struck down by the Supreme Court. India desperately needs to affect a structural change in the economy, allowing efficiencies to emerge in infrastructure and logistics, if the huge wastage of capacity and leaking corruption have to be contained. However, the current political class, so wedded to the old structure, isn't fit or even willing to take the responsibility: They are content in thinking that they can get away by fooling all the people all the time.

It is undeniable that these structural changes will cause some pain: Structural adjustments always do. The government must do enough to soften the blow. The relevant debates in India should be about these - healthcare, social security, education and reduction of poverty - and all political parties must sensibly contribute to the debate. The state of Indian economy, and the world economy in general, precludes cheap politicking - it is time to get serious or face disastrous consequences. But the fear- mongering about foreign investment is pointless. First, it is unavoidable, if India has to remain a competitive, open economy. Second, Indian companies are good enough to invest abroad and compete globally, and there is no reason to think that foreign investment will sweep away Indian competition. 

Having worked myself in an Indian company engaged in IT training, which is not a 'native' sector, I know how good the Indian companies can be and how the bigger foreign competitors failed to dislodge it from its dominant position in the local market. Indian businesses, in most sectors, are good enough to compete with any global business, and in any sector where it is not, it is best we get global competition - as in aviation and retail - so that the consumers are benefited and even the game of Indian companies are raised. This also means creating a globally skilled pool of people in India, which will invariably diffuse across sectors and regions. The point is clear: Indian politicians are trying to shield only those businessmen who are inefficient and mostly corrupt, who wants to shy away from competition, at the expense of Indian consumers and workers, which is everyone.

Monday, October 08, 2012

India 2020: The State in Trouble?

Indian politics has just got interesting in the last few weeks. 

Anand Mahindra, a leading industrialist, was quoted by The Economist recently saying that 2012 was possibly the worst year for India's economy and polity for a long time. He is indeed right: For much of 2012, Indian economy was bumping along the bottom and the Government was frozen in a policy paralysis, mired in corruption scandals and unable to do anything at all. The economic growth rate plummeted to 5% mark, which meant, in effect, that more people will remain in poverty and the middle classes will take a lot longer to get the commodities they covet than they previously expected: A recipe for disaster in a country like India. Modern India presents a classic illustration of Ernest Gellner's point that the modern state draws its legitimacy from economic growth and the lack of it may cause an existential trouble for the state. That moment surely arrived in India in 2012.

In many a ways, India's democracy was seen as the culprit. There were always doubts about Indian democracy and theories that it can't work for a country with so many poor and illiterate people. Besides, there were such deep divisions, along the language, religion, caste and regional lines. There was always a risk that Indian democratic system will be taken over by demagogues, who will buy votes with cheap promises and eventually drive the system towards failure. This looked very real in 2012, particularly with West Bengal's Chief Minister, Mamta Banerjee, losing her bearings completely and her party of sycophants blocking everything that the government at the centre, run by a coalition in which it was a senior member, wanted to do. It was political dysfunction at its worst, and coming in the middle of a global economic crisis, it was indeed a very risky game to play.

The warning signs were all there. The rupee started plummeting, driving up the energy prices and along that, everything else. The current account deficit widened, and the borrowing costs of the country was steadily going upwards. The government's policy of investing in rural India, while bringing in many benefits in terms of literacy and social mobility, created structural inflation, which was difficult to contain with interest rate rises, which the Central Bank kept trying out, raising the cost of credit and dampening the EMI (Equal Monthly Instalment) culture which the middle classes so coveted. There were asset bubbles visible in Indian cities, gold prices kept going up and unemployment among middle classes were becoming common again. The gigantic corruption scandals made all government projects a suspect, and froze the bureaucracy into inaction as they feared any decision will attract the vigilante crowd with their secret cameras and freedom of information requests.

The democracy is in danger too. The parliament has hardly worked in the last session, with the opposition and even the governing coalition members resorting to walk outs and other measures rather than the legislative ones. The progress as opposed to freedom argument has been rekindled, with Gujrat's authoritarian Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, trying to position himself as a Prime Ministerial candidate on the development agenda. Leaders like Mamta Banerjee made the political process look silly, forcing her party leaders into hopeless submissions to her own whims and reducing the political process to a kitchen table drama both in her own state and on the wider national stage. The middle classes, reduced to vigilantism by the corrupt government practises, dismayed by obstructionism of regional chieftains like Ms Banerjee, and squeezed by rising prices and interest rates and vanishing jobs, have started blaming democracy and the state for all their woes - or it seemed. The fear-mongers such as Mr Modi are clearly enjoying their moment in the sun, and Indian state, as it stands now, is facing its worst existential crisis since India's independence sixty years ago.

However, India's democracy worked because of its diversity, not in spite of it. There were always dangerous demagogues lurking in the regional politics, but they were contained by the democratic requirements. If anything, the Indian constitution, with its centralising tendencies, stands vindicated at moments like these (despite the benefits of greater devolution of powers to the states) and the fact that Indians can't agree on hard measures, a key problem for pushing through the economic reforms, may just spare us from the horrors of a dictatorship. 

Finally, the government has also finally woken up from slumber. In the last few days, a range of unpopular measures allowing Foreign Direct Investment in different sectors and partially withdrawing energy subsidies, moves that will help plugging Current Account deficits to some extent and help the Central Bank to start reducing interest rates, have been put in effect. This was a rare show of courage from an otherwise lackluster government, and though it has resulted in Ms Banerjee storming out of the coalition, it has allowed the momentum to shift in favour of the government somewhat. 

The interesting thing about this latest political drama is that even the regional politicians with a caste/ religion agenda are quickly learning that it is economic growth, and that alone, can give them legitimacy and create a sustainable political base. The spectacular fall from grace of Bihar's master demagogue, Lalu Prasad Yadav, is a case in point: His successor, Nitish Kumar, very much a caste politician, has learnt hard lessons and turned his focus on delivering growth rather than playing the vote bank politics. The shift is discernible in Gujrat, where Mr Modi, after his riots and rampages are over, reincarnated himself as the 'development guy'. Even in the UP, India's biggest and one of the most backward state, a traditional playground for vote bank politics, the message of development is clear and unambiguous, ironically championed by a caste-based party: But it is trends like these which indicate that Indian politicians are capable of learning lessons and they may be able to turn things around, even if this happens only at the precipice.

There are people like Ms Banerjee who may never learn the lessons, such great is her megalomania. The politics of West Bengal is rather atypical, dominated by upper castes, urban traders and middlemen interests, but rest of the country has indeed moved forward. The new generation of regional leaders are pragmatic, and they are likely to be nimble in forming coalitions and pushing their agenda. The state in India may look fragile, but this may be the inflection point rather than the setting of a catastrophe: This may be the time when a coalition of regional interests, focused on the economic growth agenda, may emerge as a dominant force in national politics. Despite its apparent limitations, this may be a good thing: This will preserve democracy and the Indian constitution as it stands, but at the same time, promote growth and bring governance closer to the people. In the middle of this crisis, modern India's golden age may be about to begin.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Start-up Life: The Week of Imagination

One week into my start-up life, I feel much happier than before. Lighter, to start with, with no legacies to steer around, or no politics to deal with. Indeed, old habits die hard and I spent the whole of yesterday trying to look into a potential acquisition of a college, a just-in-case option to smooth the investment process. But, in the end, it gave me the same creepy feel: While I am flexible and an enthusiastic practitioner of the art of the possible at all times, some compromises are bigger than others, and getting mired into the wrong acquisition deal can completely scupper the dream of institution building that I intend to pursue hereafter. 

If I am honest about it, I have already been here before. This was the story of my last two-and-half-years, when I was trying to transform a college from inside with the hope that I can turn this into the platform to create the Global E-School. While I don't regret trying, as this has given me the experience, exposure and the networks that I needed to turn the plan into reality, I spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to make people see the bigger picture. The key lesson I took away from the last effort is that bigger picture isn't relevant when people are used to short cuts and they think they can get away: They may not in the end and they may get badly caught out, but they keep trying.

In a way, my efforts of buying into a college was my turn to succumb to short cuts, to make the capital raising process slightly smoother. However, in the end, it left me with a poor feeling: I knew I am better off taking the more circuitous route - try to create a high quality platform first and then gain scale through acquisitions.

In my mind, educational institutions are an 'all value' entity - in fact, there is nothing of value in an education business except what it stands for - and therefore, defining the business assets in terms of buildings, licenses and even students is a mistake. Even if it's difficult, and means, for me, living on the edge for a few more months, I am inclined to build an institution first and only work with investors who sign up to that idea, rather than putting the cart before the horse and trying to go uphill all over again.

I must also admit there is another, psychological, reason behind my temptations to buy into a college rather than doing things from scratch. While I see the huge potential of the global education market, and want to use learning technology to facilitate delivery of education, I am not trying to set up another Online college. I see Online learning technology as an enabler, not the thing we do: I am sure people shouldn't label us as a chair-and-table company if we only created a college as we know it. But most of the conversations I have these days start like, 'oh, so you are trying to set up another Online college', as this is a convenient label for the discussants to jump into. This is where the idea of buying into a college with doors-and-windows appears so attractive, even if momentarily.

And, yet, I must return to sense if we have to pull off what we set out to do: We are in the business of creating an educational institution, which will offer business and technology training globally, fusing together key values of creativity, enterprise and technology: We see technology as a key deliverable, technology as a delivery mechanism, and this is all part of the plan. But at the heart of our plan remains the values we stand for, dynamic, global, innovative and enterprising, a place of learning, a community of scholars who want to build a 'better' business training. I am aware that this isn't something new or novel, but it does not have to be either, as the global demand is so huge, almost infinitesimal from the perspective of a stand-alone entity like ourselves.

Other than this elusive hunt for an acquisition target, I spent rest of my time this week managing the transition out of my previous job, which required work throughout the week in dealing with partners, employees and students, and working on the business plan for the new one. Some of it was about writing recommendations and giving references for my ex-colleagues, but most of it were more complex discussions that come with the goings-on with the merger of the college, my ex-employers, with another one. The business planning bit was complex too, though more pleasurable, given the forward focus and the possibilities inherent in it. I am fortunate to be working alongside someone who is very focused and determined, and he indeed ensured that we keep to a timeline and completed the work as planned. I recognize one of the greatest dangers of working on our own time is to drift and lose the sense of urgency, but Mike's constant focus was the perfect anti-dote to any sort of complacence that could have crept in. 

As we enter the second week, it is time to start developing the products. We have some interesting discussions starting already, mostly in the non-accredited training space, but can lead to more accredited offering. My focus next week is to get the Online Learning platform working, and may be get at least one course designed and working. We still don't have a website, and it is on the list for next week. Regardless of the outcome, this is surely going to be an interesting journey: I am well into it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A New Curriculum For Business

We are working to construct a new curriculum for undergraduate business training, which will sit at the heart of the new education project we are pursuing.

The key premises are simple:

1. We don't see undergraduate business training simply as a mini-MBA. Rather, this is an opportunity to situate business in the wider context of social life and knowledge. The students, rather than thinking 'everything is business', should understand the different domains - family, community life and government - in their own variety and complexity.

2. Accordingly, this training is less about 'how to' than 'why' and 'what' of business life and career. The undergraduate students, who still have many important life decisions ahead of them, would need this broader perspective than the graduate students who may have already made their choice.

3. Additionally, we shall put a great emphasis on the emerging realities of the business - the disruption of business as usual with new technologies, new ways of doing things with increasing global integration and the new realisation that our resources are not infinite - because the undergraduate students, again in contrast with graduate students, need to apply their knowledge and skills well into the future.

Indeed, we are not trying to build an elite business school. Our idea is to create a school of middle income, middle ability individuals, who are both most ignored and the most numerous among all the segments in search of education innovation. It is somehow assumed that the existing, dated, public provisions are enough to serve their needs, and the private education companies would deliberately stay away and serve the High-fliers or the stragglers instead. The reasons for this are clear: The middle segment is the mainstream, a game for the incumbents. However, this is not a normal time: This is a time when the Great Recession is wrecking a havoc of mainstream jobs, careers and ideas of life. This is that sort of time when the solidity of mainstream breaks down, and new pioneers emerge in their middle. This is the modern equivalent of potato famine which will make a land-locked Irish farmer board a ship to an unknown land with no promises of return.

Another pioneer metaphor: I see this new business training as equivalent to 'pickaxes during a gold rush'. This is the skill people need now. Let's face it: There is no promise of a stable job in a stable company does not exist anymore. Today, it is all about search and develop after one steps out of college. You can indeed still strike gold, but you need an education that teaches you how to. What good is spending a lot of time on knowing a trade with a last century perspective when that does not exist anymore. It is so simple even the mainstream seems to get it now.

This new approach to training is, as I mentioned earlier, at the core of our new E-School. This is about creating your opportunities rather than just following the footsteps of someone ahead. We want to bring together three great disruptions of our age - technology, globalization and ecological concerns - inside our classroom, and train a new generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and dreamers who will create the possibility and lead their communities. It is a willful departure from the employability tune that colleges love to sing, even when it is only a fairy-tale promise that if you do your CV right, you will get a job: There are not enough jobs out there and all we are selling in its name is snake-oil. We need a new generation of people who push the boundaries of possibility and create new wealth, not just in money terms but in terms of ideas and linkages: The curriculum we are putting our time in developing is focused on nothing but the realities of this brave new world.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Higher Education Business at the time of Cost Disease

The biggest challenge for serious entrepreneurs in Higher Education business is to confront the cost disease. As the American student debt exceeds credit card debt and the cost of American college tuition increased by 440% compared to a 110% rise in average prices and 150% rise in average wages since 1970 (The Economist, Sep 29th, 2012), this may be the biggest challenge the Higher Education sector faces as a whole. For-Profit Higher Education has expanded significantly in the United States during this period, and indeed, hasn't done much to depress the upward spiral of costs as evidenced in these figures. 

Yet, other countries such as the UK has now embarked on following the American model: The British government, through a series of pointed policy initiatives, has made it clear that they intend to encourage the business of Higher Education. The reason for doing this, if we discount the conspiracy theories, is to keep costs under control, and yet meet the aspirations of social mobility of the populace. However, the roots of the cost disease lie outside the public-private divide. 

William Baumol, the man who brought the term 'cost disease' in the realm of public discussion, treats Education as a specialist labour intensive industry, where the costs keep going up but productivity doesn't. The theory states that the better paid professors, and they must be paid more and more if the brightest people have to be attracted into the profession, can only teach a certain number of students, and therefore, the costs will invariably go up. Baumol sees the Higher Education enterprise as an extension of his celebrated String Quartet phenomenon, where skilled musicians can perform live only to a certain number in the audience, and as they are paid more and more, the costs go up. 

The issue indeed is that in its current form, where Higher Education is seen as a key to social mobility and therefore, there is a political consensus regarding the democratisation of higher education opportunities, Higher Ed is very dissimilar to live performance of classical symphonies. Despite Baumol's explicit warnings against knee-jerk reactions such as privatisation to the phenomenon of cost disease, the governments across the world have tried to do exactly the same - open the doors to all sorts of private enterprises to tackle the problem - and in turn created a plethora of divergent offerings but failed to control the cost problem. 

One would wonder why the cost problem persists, because the learning technology has improved in leaps and bounds during this period and private competition has proliferated, factors which should have changed the structure of the industry from being like skilled music performance live to something akin to the telecommunications, where these two factors drove down costs to near-zero. I shall argue that this is due to how we view Higher Education, where reputation, and not outcome, is coveted. Increasingly, additional costs are incurred in playing the reputation game, and indeed higher prices help reputation and lower prices diminish it, and all the private players have done so far is to sign up in this reputation game rather than trying to genuinely change the structure of the industry.

The interesting point, of course, is that Higher Education, despite its apparent cost spiral, may have a completely different reason than being a 'skilled labour intensive' enterprise for its own cost disease. Despite touting Higher Education as a democratising force, governments across the world have maintained and promoted a reputation-based view of Higher Education and a whole industry of rankings and commentaries have sprouted up around the phenomenon of reputation in Higher Education [commentators such as Anya Kamenetz elaborate this clearly - see DIY U]. There is indeed nothing wrong with high quality higher education except the fact that this reputation game is a self-serving enterprise - best students go to best universities - and this is unlikely to have any positive effects on social progress or intellectual excellence, except the preservation of existing social order and a pseudo-meritocratic affirmation of social privileges. In summary, Higher Education is being turned into a luxury good, where prices must go up and it must remain scarce commodity, because of the whole reputation game.

I believe the entrepreneurs in Higher Education should seek to disrupt this model. One inescapable consequence of the reputation rat-race is the 'feature creep', where the schools are forced to spend more and more on things not directly relevant to the quality of education, such as heated swimming pools and plush lawns, but which push the costs ever upwards. Besides, the schools, to keep their success rates and rankings intact, have only become increasingly selective. The progressive disappearance of student aid and pressures on government subsidy mean that the Higher Education is increasingly unaffordable to a large number of potential students: A vast pool of 'non-users', which is something like a precondition of an industry disruption. 

In the end, therefore, this is time for industry-disrupting higher education enterprises to emerge. We are already seeing some of the new and novel, the emergence of MOOCs, which is about democratizing knowledge and expanding access. More than current For-Profits, which mimicked the public education model and fell into the reputation trap, these enterprises and those who follow them with the sole objective of tackling the cost disease, will lead the global higher education industry in a few years time.

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