Saturday, June 30, 2012

India At the Faultline

India is facing a crisis in credibility. Right at the time when the world economy turns south, the Indian leadership continues to fiddle and confuse, and is allowing the country to drift aimlessly. After years of abundant jobs, swelling salaries and cheap credit, suddenly the Indian middle class arrives in the age of redundancies, penny pinching and ever-rising rates of interest: The end of dream may have arrived, so it feels.

This may be the time we all feared: This is like putting a car on reverse while zooming ahead at 100mph. Much of the prosperity in India was only the feel-good kind, only a few people did really well. The others read about them and had a feeling of progress. Suddenly, all of that disappointment may all surface, tearing the country apart. Unless, indeed, everyone's attention could be diverted with something compelling.

Like a war, perhaps. This is a classic setting for jingoist, misanthropic leader who can find someone to blame. This is not a time for reasoned discussion and self-correction, but an easy explanation - some villains lurching around the window - would do our wounded selves much good. A war is mostly like a movie in the imagination of a post-war middle class; in that, only heroes die in such wars fighting the villains who brought collective misery. It is only during war the real blood, sweat and tears, the actual person down the road who goes missing and other horrors, are discovered. And, it is only in the defeat, the hollowness of rhetoric is finally understood. In summary, it will feel mostly like a video game relieving the tensions of a hard day, with the difference that we may all have to die without spare lives in hand.

Indeed, we have convenient, known villains all around us. The minorities in India, Maoists, Pakistan, China, even America - who knows how our collective psyche will shape up. We may just fight each other, because we may not agree on who the villain really is. It all depends on the new leader, and his advertising agencies, and a few script writers, who has to decide what sells well. We need a collective hardening of the Indian identity, someone patriotic tells me, because what India stands for isn't clear. Surely we need such talk, just to soothe ourselves now.

But there may be another way, another possibility. After the selfish middle-class get-ahead drive comes to a standstill, we may suddenly also discover the enormous possibilities of our Indianness. Not hardening, this, and therefore less appealing perhaps, but we may actually discover the values of family and family homes at the time our mortgage-backed addictions get over. In a collective softening of our daily lives, we may discover that there are other possibilities in life than just running to the nearest big city and spending the life trying to match up the consumption habits of our neighbours. We may suddenly discover new friends, the generosity that is truly Indian, the beauty of our local railway stations, which we forgot in the years of budget airlines and airport crawls. There may be a leader who does not egg us into destruction, but finally calls us to the mirror.

May be, but may be I am too optimistic - India's hour has finally come. This inflection point in global history when we finally come of age and diverge from the path of tycoon-fuelled development typical of our third-world fate. This may be the time to return to our family dinners, and escape the allure of our new pubs and disco joints which defined our prosperity during the last decade. This may be the time to feel safe again, within our own communities, rather than peering out to backless attractions of the muses of globalization.

And, this will, I shall hope, unleash India. It will discover its own demands and prowess, the possibilities of reshaping the world inside, and may be outside as well. It may be that we discover ourselves only at the precipice; but that's the way we have always done.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Among the Believers: My Adventures in For-Profit Higher Ed

I wrote about arriving at a break point a couple of weeks ago, and I intend to follow it up with more concrete plans now. I am fast arriving at a point of crisis, when I have started questioning the worth of my day-to-day activities, even if they are financially rewarding. The desire to do something meaningful gets me out of the bed every morning, and after spending twenty years in For-Profit education companies in various sizes and forms, I have started questioning whether I have always been barking up the wrong tree. I have a theory about commercial enterprises - that companies can only make money serving a socially useful purpose - and I shall claim that my early career spent in IT education proved that this was indeed the case. However, as I traveled, I have started discovering the other side of the coin, progressively, encountering in various opportunistic enterprises with business models founded on exploiting arbitrage and extracting the advantages of regulatory failure. I have remained true to my original premise and tried to steer the course, wherever I worked, on the 'greater purpose' thesis: I must admit I had only a few takers.

I shall claim that this may have resulted in underachievement, at least in financial and career terms, on my part. I was never playing the game I was in. I was almost always too idealistic, and often, ridiculously so. There were moments of self-realization when I would think of giving in and adjusting to the 'spirit of the age', but I have failed. To give an example, most of the For Profit higher education industry thrive on information asymmetry, the opportunities presented because educational opportunities are never exactly comparable and because the students don't know what to ask for, but I have missed this point (though I understood it to be a common practice) and believed that a sustainable profitable education enterprise can only be founded on openness and transparency. I have been laughed at, and indeed lived through the moments of crisis of confidence believing I got it all wrong. However, so far, another theory, which I developed along the way, that sustainable commercial education companies can only be built within a robust regulatory environment, which creates the right incentives by discouraging information asymmetry and insisting on students' rights, not in the absence of it. 

However, in most of the For Profit education sector, such talk is taboo. The denial goes under the label of 'action orientation', that one would rather do things than think about it, or more crudely, make hay while the sun shines. Modern entrepreneurship seems to have borrowed more from robber barons than the honest traders who built foundations of great businesses, at least some of them. I have spent most of my growing up years with my grandfather, who was a businessman who believed in paying taxes, hard work and honest dealings, of whom I have written previously (How I Got Here, Lessons I Never Learnt, and Entrepreneurship Redux), but he obviously taught me business lessons which were no longer valid. Now, while I obviously understand this, the question is what to do: Whether I sign up to what's around me, or keep resisting (and preaching a way of life that is apparently impractical). 

I remain convinced, however, that the For-Profit Higher Education has an unique social purpose (see here), and it should exist alongside other forms of Higher Education. It is not one or the other question, but it is about developing an ecology of education institutions serving different segments. I believe one needs to think what the right ownership structure is to serve this social role appropriately. Owner-Operator models, as in Britain, have their own limitation, and it sits uneasily as a poor cousin of public universities, who, with their publicly funded infrastructure, scoff on the sector for the lack of it. Private Equity often gets it wrong too: They are usually very smart people with a hammer, which presents a double problem, as they not only see nails everywhere, they can even reason why it should be nails everywhere. In short, their squeeze the margins approach does not work, because it is not about squeezing the margins in Higher Ed that makes it profitable; it is being able to create long term value. Companies driven by public capital markets do no better, as the quarter-by-quarter growth requirements fits badly with education's capacity-first business model. 

However, one must remember that most of the world's finest universities are private universities. In the US, land of universities, public money only contributes less than 20% of even a state university's budget. There are obviously successful business models in the sector one needs to look at. Agreed that all the universities that I am referring to are not for profit, but they generate surpluses which will make any for profit salivate. My key point is while For Profit may remain For Profit, getting rewarded for playing their social role, they must also learn from successful business models in the sector. There could surely be socially accountable (not just financially accountable) governance structure - it is a no-brainer if one accepts that profits is a reflection of social value the institution creates. There are buzzwords like social enterprise which gets thrown around for such formations, but we can simply call them purpose-driven businesses (strangely, not all businesses are purpose-driven), which puts customers first, employees second and shareholders thereafter, but operate on a win-win principle. 

It is important to recognize that For-Profit does not have to be Profit First, and maximizing margins is not the best way to run an education business. Rather, maximizing social contribution, which then feeds the reputation, which in turn creates profits, is the way to go. It is as measurable as anything, if that is a problem for fund managers coming out of business schools; one can easily construct a milestone driven business, which embeds the financial drivers into it. For example, 90% employability of graduates within the first 90 days after completing the course may mean 30% margin in the next operating cycle, and if these jobs offer at least a 30% premium of average graduate salary, that may mean a 50% margin. Starting with a dumb assumption that education businesses should have a 50% margin, which is exactly the kind of assumption fund managers do, is really, well, dumb, and not in line with the business realities of the sector. 
 
While I continue to live inside the sector, and sadly, deal with owner-operators or fund managers, I shall continue to research and talk about sustainability and social responsibility. I hope some day I shall be listened to, and I shall be able to create the college with a difference. I am conscious that there is a long way to go here; but I am also not planning to retire just now.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Does For Profit Higher Education Institutions Have A Role?

There is an easy way to look at For Profit Higher Education - a huge conspiracy by global capitalists to bring down the last vestiges of the Welfare State. It is a way to make money, as a colleague and a Higher Education Researcher puts it, out of people's aspirations; he implies, but does not say, that this is achieved through selling them unattainable dreams. All profits of private education sector comes from public subsidies, a noted commentator claimed, and projected the public subsidies going to For Profit education sector in the UK as one of the biggest swindles of modern times. The furore in America, about the high default rates of student loan repayments by the students attending For Profit schools, has created a sub-genre of journalism of its own. The critical question then, does For Profit Higher Education play a socially useful role?

It may seem idealistic and mundane, but this is important: An industry (the hated word) or the sector (amen!) must have a socially useful purpose to be sustainably profitable. I do believe the For Profit schools serve a purpose, having spent more than 15 years in their midst, and having seen the good, the bad and the ugly. However, there is very little understanding in the public universities, and consequently in the research circles, about the social role of these institutions, apart from a feeling of distrust and a total failure to understand why they should exist at all (apart from being part of a conspiracy).

Here is my answer: They exist because there is a legitimate, and mostly correct, expectation among populations of various countries that higher education is the surest path to social mobility, and the public higher education institutions are, by design, incapable of meeting such aspirations. The public universities, despite their claim of benevolence, are funded by public money, of which there is never enough. So, at the core of public university model sits selectivity, of one kind or another, the shape of which is driven by the political class of the day. The attendant system that has grown around it - the league tables, the college athletics, the research culture - embed the focus on selectivity. It is justified in the name of meritocracy, which would have been perfectly acceptable if life was fair and everyone really had an equal chance. However, the inherent problem of meritocracy argument is exposed as this is most often used in Britain, a country where public schools, which only the wealthy middle class parents can afford to send their children to, dominate the public university admissions. Such a closed system is intuitively biased against social mobility: This is where For Profit schools can have a lasting social value.

Before someone jumps into an argument that how can a working class student afford For Profit school when they can't go to public universities, remember For Profit schools are often no frills and therefore, cheaper than the universities. Besides, this is why there should be a public subsidy to students who wish to attend For Profit schools, because one's life should not be decided on what one's parents really did. 

I think the fundamental argument underlying the Public versus For profit debate is reflective of the wider debate in the society about social mobility and privilege. The public universities, by design, are focused in input and on the most academically able students, in turn a tool of social reproduction of privileges; the For Profit schools are the odd challengers, servicing those who missed out, those who aspire to have a better life than their parents. All the lofty talk of critical thinking and high intellect, seen from this point of view, appears an arbitrary system of maintaining a fossilized society. Indeed, science, research and scholarship from the public universities are making the world a better place, but so far, their impact on democratization of knowledge, social mobility and change, has been quite limited.

Public universities have not failed: Social inclusion fitted their agenda only badly. Or, they may have - because the model of excellence they have pursued have created a society of 'stepford wives', white male middle aged bankers who all seem to think the same way, and who, through collectively pursuing the same logic of closed room brilliance so favoured in the universities, brought about a social and economic meltdown of the scale we are experiencing now. I am sure my claim that For Profit schools offer a panacea sounds odd; but I am arguing that one needs a higher education system with different sorts of institutions to have a society reasonably balanced and diverse.

I think the For Profit institutions will add another, further, value proposition over and above democratizing access to education: The innovation in learning, particularly involving modern technologies, will primarily happen in the For Profit space. Given the funding models, the public universities have very little incentive to experiment, and most people at these universities are mortified with the thought the technologies can be used to supplement the learning communities. Indeed, most of the research on collaborative technologies are happening in Public universities - unsurprisingly, because that's where the funding is - but because of the focus on output, student attainment, success, employability, For Profit schools are expected to invest and innovate more with the learning technologies. Besides, their diverse and non-traditional clientele is expected to push them that way as well. 

So, in summary, I believe For profit Higher Ed has a socially useful role, which is different from the roles played by the Public or Publicly supported institutions. Indeed, this is a contested area and these arguments are only the starting point. However, we must move away from a monolithic view of the higher education system, which invariably allows for complacency and closed group thinking. For Profit schools  makes the higher education system more responsive to the needs of a modern society , and in fact, bring students in who would have been otherwise excluded. The current, limited understanding of For Profit institutions in the policy making circles must therefore be challenged and improved: These institutions are there to stay and to help transform the sector as a whole.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Building A Private Higher Ed Sector in India That Works

India needs 1500 universities, Kapil Sibal, its Human Resources Minister, muses, and follows it up with some complicated statistical comparison with the United States. This is still a long way to go from its current 564 degree granting institutions. He is obviously making a subtle argument in favour of more private participation, even investments from foreign companies. However, his problem lies elsewhere: The challenge that lies ahead relates to quality, not quantity. None of the Indian universities feature in the global lists, whichever list one may refer to, including even the lists that get published for young universities. Private sector investment isn't going to solve that problem. Not even getting some of world's top universities into India will help: That, if it ever happens, will only create the additional problem that some of India's best institutions, chronically underfunded, will end up losing their star talents, making the problem of quality even worse. 

As Mr Sibal would acknowledge, there is one thing worse than inadequate provision for higher education: It is bad higher education. India badly needs to expand its Higher Education capacity in order to absorb its growing young population into the productive workforce; however, getting them to schools that teach them nothing and creates misfits will mean creating a huge swathe of population who can't find appropriate work and meaningful life. This is a terrifying prospect, which should keep every Indian policy maker awake at night. There is evidence that India's Higher Education system is heading towards failure: Despite the great expansion of higher education institutions, 33,000 by the last available count, the Gross Enrolment Ratio refuses to budge, and remains far lower (less than 20%) than any major nation in the world. In fact, if anything, the government's attempts to solve the problem through encouraging private investment is failing spectacularly. Last year, more than 100 private institutions filed for de-recognition, and the first few failed colleges got snapped up by private equity and foreign funds. Judging by the emails floating around inviting buyers for Indian colleges, a second wave of failures seems to be around the corner, and this time, it may involve disenfranchised students and greater pain.

The higher education policy is failing to work primarily because of India's complicated politics and because of the vested interests that block all possibilities of innovation because higher education is a great money-making machine. The sector, though usually left alone by the media, is one of India's most corrupt, and going by the country's current reputation, that means something. However, it makes sense to recognise that corruption and meddling by politicians is not the only problem, and de-regulating the market and bringing in free enterprise will not be the panacea.

The starting point of arriving at a solution is to look beyond statistics and recognise the demographic challenges of Indian Higher Education. The oft-repeated observation - from outside, India looks a huge multiplier effect; from inside, it is a game of infinite divisions - remain true for education. Besides, India's education challenge lies at different levels: The current coinage of a two-tier system of vocational and higher education may not be sufficient, or even effective, to address the diverse requirements of its growing industry. If anything, such approaches are informed by India's past, its ingrained caste system, which treats the physical work (vocational) as inferior to work of the mind (higher ed). In fact, India needs to create a system based on inter-operablity of these two paradigms, and to create a Higher Education system which is vocationally relevant. It also needs to recognise its regional and economic diversity, the continuing need of affirmative action, its largely constrained female population (where the Higher Ed challenge is even greater and possibilities are world changing) and create an education sector which is diverse in its offering, structure and reach. Private sector alone can not solve the problem: It needs to be met with a coordinated policy to encourage public, private and third sector participation in creating the sector from scratch.

Let us think for a moment how this could be done. Government is investing in creating new universities and elite technology institutions, which should continue. It should also make an enhanced commitment to research funding, funding more research facilities and even supplementing private sector research with matching grants. The government should also actively invest in building the Higher Education infrastructure - Mr Sibal usually ducks the question how a sufficiently large pool of academics to be found if the country suddenly has three times as many universities - and particularly in training and setting standards for teaching.

At the same time, it should unshackle the private sector from its current regulatory burden, and allow them to tap capital markets or foreign funds more effectively. Private sector tends to remain in the realm of vocational and professional education, as the investment horizons of higher education is often unpalatable for their investors. Beyond this, the government should actively encourage not for profit educational institutions, which may be set up by religious or other special interest groups, as long as they conform to certain basic values of fairness, diversity and secularism. All the three sectors should be free, and even encouraged, to invest heavily in lifelong learning and distance learning programmes, as this is where the demands for the missed generations will need to be absorbed.

In conclusion, my view is that private sector education works, but only when a sufficiently diverse system has been devised around it. The profit-maximising motives of private investors usually makes it focus on narrow areas of professional and vocational education, which leaves out the task of creating education infrastructure, building research excellence and developing softer subjects to public or not for profit institutions. A policy that recognises this can create a Private Higher Ed sector that works for India. However, this needs boldness in thinking and imaginative problem solving, which Mr Sibal and his colleagues in government are failing to provide. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reverse Migration: A Personal Note

I have written about this before, once rather optimistically (see here) and then, after couple of years of emails and dialogues with people who could or could not return, with more caution (the second article here). Since then, a number of things have changed, including an worsening of the economic climate worldwide and slowing of growth and employment opportunities in India. In fact, the conversations about India has become significantly downbeat, even despondent these days, and the enthusiasm about return among Indian expats, if the microcosm of a community that I live inside is any reflection, has somewhat waned. Hence, it seemed appropriate to return to the conversation one more time.

Admittedly, there is a personal story here. I personally maintain deep links with India and would want to return. My story is somewhat typical: My father lives alone in India, and my brother, who used to live with him allowing me the independence to travel, passed away. I feel worried, guilty and simply unhappy to leave my father on his own, though he may actually be enjoying his unattached life. Besides, I carry around my Indian identity with me - talking about India and spending most of my time with other Indians and travelling to India very frequently in the last few years. So, that I shall return to India, regardless of the challenges involved, is almost decided.

However, in another sense, my story is also slightly different. I came to Britain as a Highly Skilled Migrant, but my intent was to study: I just could not afford to study full time and pay the punitive fees British universities charge overseas students. So, I had to find a way to come to Britain, earn a commensurate income, get the opportunity to study by only paying the 'home' fees and part time, all of which has now happened. There is a bit of unfinished agenda - that of travelling around the world - but my mindset remains more like a student residing in a different country than someone who has come to settle. 

In summary, it is easier for me to go back to India in comparison with many other migrants, who has transferred their identities more fully to their adapted countries. I could not: My personal life was so turbulent during the years I lived in Britain that my focus remained firmly on my family in India during these first few, crucial, years of the migrant existence. What I wanted to do, work towards creating a great education institution, remained more valid in the Indian context than Britain's, where the education landscape is far more matured. And, my thinking was almost always shaped by the Indian opportunity: When I worked for an e-learning company exclusively focused on the UK market, I would plead the case for international partnerships and expansion, thinking how we can unlock the opportunities in India with the methods and technologies we employed here. 

Despite all this, when I think of reverse migration, I have come to expect little. While I talk about return, I have come to expect this to be as challenging as migrating to another country. I have realised only by taking nothing for granted, I can possibly make this journey a success. I have understood that the opportunity in India is actually its domestic demand, and hence, the returnees like me may have to learn the trade all over again as we adapt to that market. I have also understood that most Indians are almost contemptuous to the returnees (unlike the Chinese): People who never left project it on account of love for their country rather than their particular family circumstances or desires, and treat people who travelled as mere opportunists who wanted to return only after India became interesting.  There is indeed double standard in this thinking and I used to get angry with it: However, over time, I have learnt to live with it. 

A frequent complaint I hear from those who returned is about the lack of professionalism in the Indian workplace. This is particularly visible to those who worked in North America and Western Europe, and they miss the easy informality and professional respect of the work culture. Indeed, there are companies in India which have made conscious efforts to develop a more meritocratic and equitable culture, but most companies, including educational institutions, remain hierarchical, arbitrary and dominated by one coterie or the other. Also, Indian workplaces are more dominated by personalities whereas in the West, it is far more rule-based. Indian approach to rules, deeply relativist, sometimes makes people who lived and worked in the West for a long time frequently uneasy. Indeed, I have a slightly different take on this from my correspondents: I have lived and worked in India for ten years before migrating and I am acutely conscious of the issues involved. I am also conscious that there is very little point in complaining about these things, which is based on the assumption that the workplaces in the West are 'better' than Indian ones. Personally, I regard this as a flawed assumption, as every country presents a different working culture (contrast that of France and England) and one has to adapt to the hist culture and not the other way around.

My approach to return to India has changed over the years significantly. Once I took it as another journey, and expected less and less of homecoming, it became an easier idea: It was going to another country where I could contribute with lessons learnt, a country which I know and understand, where my skin colour does not stand out and I can be fully comfortable walking the streets (am I?), but increasingly I am also comfortable with the idea that I have to start all over again. My idea of creating a college of new media and enterprise is particularly relevant in India, which is indeed education hungry at this time, and the impact of good education is far greater both on people's lives and on the society as a whole. However, I have learnt to be patient: I want to pursue my idea by building a community of friends first and then working with a few of them who would share a similar vision. I am indeed building those friendships, connections and conversations first: My long engagement leading to eventual return has already begun.

Friday, June 22, 2012

'Corporate' Higher Education in India: Panacea or Problem?

A new trend in Indian Higher Education is that the big business houses are entering Higher Education sector by setting up schools themselves. Usually, this is to be expected: India's thriving industry requires people, and the Higher Education sector can't provide it, not with the right skill level or in adequate numbers, hence one would expect investments from large employers in propping up higher education. However, as things stand now, the corporate involvement in Higher Ed is driven by commercial considerations and bandwagon effect, everyone thinks it is a good business, rather than skills requirement or philanthropy. While this means shiny new schools and increased private investment in Higher Education, this also brings education within control of India's 'tycoon economy', and may be detrimental to education innovation in the country.

It is usual for big employers to support Higher Education: Some of the best universities in the world have been set up with support from Cornells and Rothschilds. Famously, both Yahoo and Google were incubated in William H Gates Incubation Centre at Stanford. Motives behind such support have traditionally been philanthropy, driven by a sense of national service, and may be an implied aim of nurturing talent, in the oblique hope of getting commercial benefit at a future date. Most of these support has come in the form of endowments and scholarships, and while many of the benefactors maintained some from of control as or through trustees, academic freedom was allowed - leading to creation of some of the best universities in the world.

Corporate intervention in Higher Education in India, in contrast, looks, at least mostly, a mad scramble to make a quick buck. The corporate institutions, unlike those in America, are directly controlled by the business houses. Though constituted as not for profit entities, they are very much part of a greater For Profit scheme. The owner, as India's patriarchal business culture always have an owner, takes most of the decisions anyway, and most academics, without tenure, are left at the mercy of the owner and the managers, not just the academic ones, but also the 'group' managers who are invariably hoisted on the academic layer. Most institutions, therefore, operate with an academic layer subservient to a 'trading' layer, and most decisions are made in line with the dominant trading culture of the business group.

In this framework, one would most commonly find two categories of students. Because of India's regulated education system, most such education institutions admit three-quarters of their students through a competitive examination system (which is not fully meritocratic, as the affirmative action quotas govern at least half of these admissions), who pay a regulated fee. Most institutions will then top this up with 'non-quota' students, who do not come through any admissions system at all, and would usually pay the full fee, often 10 to 15 times as much as the regulated fee, along with a donation of some kind. These students, understandably much richer than the rest of the class, are usually treated differently by the institution, allowing them far greater access to the top managers and preferential treatment where possible. 

Admittedly, this practice is worse in an owner-operator set up than when a larger corporation is funding the institution, but in the end, it is still the trading logic - of that of focusing on most profitable customers - that trump the academic notions of justice and fairness. India's restrictive education regulations, which excludes for-profit institutions, in reality crowds out philanthropic interventions in the field, as everyone masquerade as a not-for-profit venture. Such restrictions obscure the fact that not-for-profit isn't just a trading form, but a particular way of approaching the social challenges, and, as a consequence, make things worse.

It is also unclear whether corporate higher education is the panacea for Indian higher education. There is quite a bit of enthusiasm and new investment in the sector at this time; however, while the available seats have expanded, there is very little variety in the educational offerings, and the gross enrollment ratio, low by any standards, have failed to lift off. In fact, it seems that there is excess capacity at this time in the Indian Higher Education sector, as more than 100 colleges have applied to the regulating body for closure. Besides, India has to address the qualitative issue in Higher Education: Whereas Korean and Chinese institutions are making great strides (not to mention the Japanese), Indian institutions remain firmly at the bottom of all world league tables. Indian corporations so far failed to infuse any of their world beating glory in their higher ed interventions: One may now look elsewhere for a solution to a sector India must fix quickly.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being Global

It is always fascinating to talk about globalisation, because it is never real or sincere. Embedded in popular imagination with metaphors of a flat world, it only represents an ideal few bankers would like to believe in.

There was a time when the poor was global, and the rich was local. Global was called International then, as the nations, aligned with their landowning rich, were still at large. The changes in the last thirty years, as the Western nations claimed an irreversible victory in the battle of ideas, and we allegedly arrived at an 'unipolar' world, happened primarily through the rise of global money and global media, undermining the nations as they had to queue up for financiers' money. In this new world, Rupert Murdoch could tell a British Prime Minister to go to war in Iraq, or George Soros could bankrupt a nation overnight. In a strange reversal, suddenly the poor is local and the rich is global, and international became a somewhat out-of-use concept.

However, the term international, much favoured by many modern writers, isn't exactly an equivalent of global: It had an underlying conception of a human future which is missing in the way global is perceived. International was about rising above the differences, of languages, religions, and climates, and forging bonds across borders; global is about reducing the differences in a factor of money and applying them on that great level playing field, the spreadsheet. One could say if international was driven by modernity, an expansion of our perspective to embrace complexity, global is post-modern, atomised, reducible to consumption habits and simplified to the level of our basic needs and desires. So, being international meant understanding the beauty of Indonesian cuisine and relishing it alongside the Thai, the Burmese, the Malaysian and the Vietnamese, but in a true global sense, these should all be flavours added to a Big Mac.

I am indeed old school: I was born in the wrong decade, and grew up in the wrong city, steeped in the wrong ideology: I never learnt to love globalisation. In fact, it never arrived before I forced myself into a journey - of being international, of connecting with other people and of a search for common humanity. For me, this was about freedom - of being free of narrow perspectives that localism invariably impose. Being a traveller was a badge of honour for me. Living and studying at different places was the height of my ambition: This was about being more of the human I wanted to become, and getting rid of some of the pretensions that invariably grows if one never travelled. 

However, it is an issue of timing that I got caught in the globalisation creep. My international journey, unknowingly, became a global career, something that is portable not in the sense of diversity but commonality, not for its flexibility but invariability. In short, this is just the opposite of everything I believed in. In this construct, even being human meant something different from what I started with: It was not about having the universal and noble sentiments to rise above our physical limitations, but the opposite, the very absurdity of noble sentiments, usually shaped by our unique cultures, at a time when our physical innards are similar and the way to meet their requirements could be universal. In short, I ran away from my parochial comfort in search of an international experience, but ended up in a world of global money.

As with many things, I should accept this now as the spirit of our age. There is no escape, it seems, from globalism. Not at least as long as one's world is limited by the English language media; the world outside seemed to have been obscured by an Anglo-American ideology which has won, self-declaredly, the bid to define what globalisation should mean. It is a strangely varied simplicity, a Rumsfeld-Dimon-Murdoch complex, unified in a common code but infinite entertainment. Signing up to this, whether in a shop on Oxford Circus or in a small town shopping mall, is the best one can do. The margins, those not yet into the party, are crushed into despair: Witness in my small suburban community just outside Kolkata, where the mechanically reproductive music and culture now dominated its local life, alcohol changed from being a symbol of non-conformism to a symbol of status, the local art of making pancakes gave way to enthusiasm about consuming burgers, and where, a disconnected minority, mostly old, are left out to ridicule and irrelevance. The aspirations of reaching out have been crushed to acceptance of a way of life, defined at a distant centre, and conformism, particularly at the margins, seems the safest way to live a life.

At the same time, however, I make the opposite journey. I have travelled from periphery to the centre, but as with Jules Verne's characters, it is only after reaching the centre, one truly appreciates the varied beauty of the periphery. My interactions with globalisation give me, hopefully, the escape velocity to return back to periphery: Once the commonality of human consumption has been understood, the variability of human experience should, must, be explored. Becoming human no longer remains about coming over to find commonalities, but, in an age of ubiquitous commonality,  doing just the opposite, of discovering the human strains in the boring provincial lives, of leaving for an endless return journey, a discovery of humanity in its variety and richness.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Return to Faith

As we collectively stare into the abyss, but are saved, maybe just, the grand narratives make a comeback. Last twenty years, which seems to have lasted forever, wiped out any memories of the past, and we have lived in the twilight of history. The fragmentation of the world was complete, and we were reduced to ourselves - just us as individuals - atomised, without beginning or end, and absorbed in various middle class pursuits of mortgages and video games. The destruction of credit - of trust in the invincibility of the system we live inside - symbolised in the mad panic of those Greeks and Spaniards withdrawing money all day from the ATMs, leaves us with the end of end of history; a new beginning of some kind.

Let's face it: We have a problem. We built a money economy which has assumed a life of its own and got ahead of itself. It is not that we have run out of money; it is just that some of us have too much of it. Not everyone, indeed; in fact, not even the nation states we built for running the affairs are in charge. A superclass has emerged, who benefit from everything everyone does in the world, without having to do anything themselves. They just sit around computer terminals measuring lives and desires, indeed setting them at will. Grand narratives did not disappear; just one grand narrative made every other alternative invisible. The only thing that made sense was to give up on changing the world.

However, history unwinds itself yet again, as it must. The visible hand reveals itself as if a gathering storm, with a step-by-step unwinding of trust and unravelling of institutions that make our world. The domino is unleashed: The civil war of capitalism has begun. Nation states and liberal politics undermine itself; democracy looks bare with a hand-in-gloves media and other compromised institutions. Too much trust results in the disappearance of all of it; suddenly very similar men can't agree on anything at all.

Charles Fourier saw history moving between organic, times of continuity, and critical, when new forms emerge, phases: We seem to be living at the fault line, just as the rules change, and what seemed obvious seems dated and duff. A new critical phase is emerging. It is also a time when alternate views about what's desirable or not, and how we should live our lives, need to be explored. To have a different view about how the society should operate isn't revolutionary anymore: We seem to be all revolutionaries now.

If that sounds extreme, read the newspapers perhaps. There is incomprehension, and a painful admission: We all got it wrong all along. We are still clinging to old certainties, trying to live in the fantasy world where Ten Commandments seemed to have been written on Microsoft Excel. However, we all know the futility of ceteris paribas world view: This is a time to throw away all assumptions. By living in denial, we are bringing up the revolution bit by bit, tea cup by tea cup, error by error. The death of this final certainties mark the death of the epoch of all-knowing certainty that we lived in.

How ironic is it then that we celebrate the return of history in the midst of this ruin of certainty, this funeral procession of middle class life? This is the point when the stories spun to keep the populations across the world glued to fantasy lives of soap opera characters breaks into melodrama themselves, the imagined that became real looks absurd all over again: In the midst of this, however strangely, one returns to faith, of goodness of human nature, of the redeeming possibility that we can arise beyond the selfishness that we were all condemned into. That discovery of humanity may be the greatest discovery of all, and this faith, of our own human selves, is what this journey may be about.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The End of Incredible India?

This is exactly how The Economist puts it (See article). The significance of this is immense: First time a major international publication is writing off India and blaming it squarely, and rightly, on its leadership. The everyday despondence of the aspirational Indian middle class is now official. 

Indian leaders, as The Economist puts it, continues to show 'Brezhnev grade' complacency. There is something in the Indian psyche, which always believes in eventual rise of India as a major world power. This is not about an Indian version of exceptionalism, but more of a manifest destiny, a deeply irrational expectation that this would happen regardless of any efforts as this is 'written'. Deep down, India's leaders seem to believe in this too, and they are blaming everyone else but themselves for the recent slow down.

However, a country's economic future, and indeed its global power, is crucially dependent on its leadership. Alan Beattie recounts the story of Argentina in his excellent False Economy. Indeed, in the 1950s and 1960s, the BRICs of the day were Brazil and Argentina, only to drop out of world's view on the back of bad governance. Despite the demography, India may follow that path. However, because of the demography, such a fall would be catastrophic.

I have recently read Jim O'neill's The Growth Map and have become reasonably familiar with the story of origination of the BRIC model, and its follow-up, the N-11, model. At the core of the economists' optimism lies a fairly simple belief that a country with lots of young people will, if it can manage to improve the productivity of its populace, do well. The simple equation of demographics and productivity lies at the heart of this model, and all the government needs to do is create the opportunity and facilitate the rise in productivity. As long as the governments can create the opportunity and facilitate the rise in productivity, the rise of big countries like India and China is a no-brainer. However, on the same token, if the government gets in the way, as the government in India is indeed being an obstacle, the demography becomes a problem: The sea of human resource turns into a multitude of disaffected revolutionaries. That point, the only thing the governments can do to save itself from violent retribution is to find a common enemy, as was the case of Jews and slavic people in Hitler's Germany. If we allow India's growth story to degenerate, it will not end up in just pessimistic newspaper stories; it will lead to violent social upheaval.

It is clear that India has a leadership problem. I watched with fascination a Q&A session by West Bengal's Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, supposedly one of the most influential politicians in the country. She stormed out of this session on Live TV (Watch it here), possibly a first for a leader of that pre-eminence, as she was unable to handle simple queries from college students about the conduct and performance of her government. I watched this with a god-help-India kind of feeling: One knew about Mamata's volatile nature, but the apparent onset of fascism - where any question is labelled to be anti-state - and the relative indifference of people to this alerted me of not just the economic problem, but also the political problem Indian democracy seemed to be facing. What makes this worse is that the apathy of Indian citizens in involving themselves in the political process: Most people want to think that the politicians do not matter and want to live life oblivious of what they are doing (and, some, like me, want to stay away and believe that the problems won't affect them). This is indeed the reason why the state is handed over to the incompetent, intolerant and dishonest politicians, such as Ms Banerjee, and this is precisely the reason we are where we are.

Is there a silver lining that we are missing? In the current global climate, the price for populism is going to be high. India indeed looks rudderless, and even the usual fascination with Nehru-Gandhi clan is also fading. India's democracy, and indeed its very survival as an unified state, seemed to be in existential danger. All of this seems indeed very negative. 

The only positive trend, however feeble, is the emergence of some local politicians who are willing to be accountable to their people. They are still very marginal, and are often crowded out by the big and the connected. However, the democracy, in its chaotic form, is a strong, self-sustaining system, and at the very moment an existential danger is posed, it is developing itself a defence by bringing forth people's expectation and reconstructing the local politics, somewhat under the rudder of the bigger bosses. It is this trend which deserve all our support and all the media attention - of politics that is delivering rather than the circus that Ms Banerjee's lot runs - and this is what will, if India has to succeed, deliver it into prosperity. Let's keep hoping.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Going Forward, Going Backward: My Next Life

Two years into a career in Higher Education, it is time for me to take stock.

I have been working in education for last twenty years, starting with computer education in India, but also spending time in e-learning, management training, vocational education and finally, English language learning. It is in the course of my previous job, which involved setting up English Training and Vocational Education outfits in different countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, I became convinced that Higher Education is the next 'killer app', the 'thing' that can improve lives of people and create prosperity and progress. It was simple demography plus productivity kind of realisation, and travelling around Asia is the best way to see the scale of the opportunity and the scale of the challenge: That's exactly what I did.

It was a no-brainer that I left my job to take the circuitous way into Higher Education. Britain, with its predominantly publicly funded higher education and a distinct way of doing it, isn't the ideal place to start thinking about innovations in Higher Education for an emerging mass market. So, I did three things: I started reading American books, enrolled myself in one of Britain's top universities to study Higher Education and went to work with one of the British private sector colleges. It was like three parallel lives together: The Americans indeed built a country on the strength of a Middle Class powered by Higher Education (a model rest of world seemed to want to follow), and saw Higher Education as a great enabler of the economic productivity, a message, having spent most of my life in commercial education space, I could identify with. However, my studies, in University College London, alongside colleagues from British Academia and the Anglican Church, centred around an ideal of Higher Education modelled around the primacy of the great tutors and free exploration of knowledge through reading around the area and critical engagement, a wonderfully stimulating experience, but greatly dissimilar to the American model driven by clear end objectives and clever design. Finally, at work, the real muddy waters of international education, where a sprinkling of bright and ambitious students jostled with, and mostly got crowded out by, a great multitude of ambitious but less academically inclined students who had chosen the study route to immigrate and seemed to have their priorities shaped that way: This is where the ideal of free exploration and clever instructional design meet its match, Higher Education as a commodity, and I learnt a great deal sweating to engage students in critical discussion when all they wanted is exam questions and a degree in the end.

These two years was meant to be my apprenticeship. To figure out what works and what may not, to understand the nature of the demand and the challenges of the delivery, the values of a good education and the mechanics of money. If this was about developing a 'world view' of higher education, this effort has been quite successful. For example, I came from For-Profit education background but came to appreciate the need for alternative models for Higher Education. With first hand experience of the feeling when our business became other people's numbers, I learnt that a world view built around spreadsheets is as fragile as my native, 'tacit' optimism (in the end, I discovered Michael Polanyi). Being at the sharp end, I discovered the idiosyncrasies of the money men, and their arrogance that they must always be right because they have the money. This was a significant shift of perspective: Suddenly, innovation was no longer the preserve of education as a business, but I started seeing at as an integral part of the practise of a committed educator. This also became the background of my graduate work, which is meant to be a study of what the students want. With experience, I could go beyond the crass consumerism that I experienced in my classrooms, and saw its origin not in the intellectual limitations of the students, but the institutional expectations of higher education, carefully constructed through a multitude of means, including through the messages given out by the higher education sector as a whole and the individual colleges in particular. I came to see institutional power shifts - from the church and its trustees to the professional faculty to the fund managers and their appointed managers, all appropriating the power in the name of students. In a sense, I started as an incorrigible idealist and ended as an incorrigible idealist, but the journey was rewarding in building a more informed perspective.

As I move forward to the next phase of my life, which is, as it was meant to be, about setting up a Higher Ed institution which draws its reputation from the lives it transforms rather than pupils it rejects, one that is aligned to the future and carries the message of creative enterprise, rather than of the past, which was about being a company man (or a public servant) in context of a largely predictable world. This two year exploration of Higher Education was meant to be my enquiry into the art of the possible, of the practises of financing, organising and delivering higher education, which could be used in the enterprise that I wish to pursue. Indeed, there are many things I learnt not to do: Like Higher Education is indeed a matter of managing details, as well as having a bold vision, and lack of one can not be covered by excellence in another. I have learnt that the market driven financial model that works for other businesses may not work for Higher Education: The financial planning horizon of the investor must be in alignment with the financial cycle of the business. And, the trouble is, the financiers think, with usual arrogance, that they know the best in everything and can override the financial horizon of the business. The biggest task for an educational enterprise is to seek out an investor whose plans are in alignment: This is possibly why philanthropic organisations usually do a better, and profitable, job in Higher Education than the state-owned, or for profit ones do.
 
I am making today a break with the past, and a new start. I have done this before, taken on blind turns, and on each turn, life turned out better than before. This time, there is a difference: I have prepared for a while. I am hoping this will give me one thing I always truly wanted - a life of the mind; this may be less financially rewarding than what the other avenues promise, but if there is one thing I can be good at, be happy with doing, this may be it. Finally.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Fear of the Foreign: Indian Higher Education and Policy Paralysis

India's higher education is fast approaching an inflection point, as demographic changes and increasing affluence alter the nature of demand for higher education. The 'new' students will be more discerning, demanding higher quality of educational experience, meaningful knowledge and not just a certificate, and global careers not just employability. The current structure of the sector, failing general education structure, narrow private sector offering and a few world class institutions, is not fit for purpose to handle this demand. New thinking is indeed needed to bring about the changes and create educational opportunities that this new, dynamic, global middle class needs.

The Indian policy-makers, mostly products of elite institutions themselves (in many respect, India's ruling classes resemble France's), can anticipate the problems but are clueless about how to solve it. They are acutely aware that India must open its doors to foreign education institutions, like China has now done to absorb at least a part of the new demand, and have been fiddling with legislation on how best to do it. They have taken more than a decade to get agreement on a bill to allow foreign education providers, and still couldn't get it through. However, last week, the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India announced that they would allow twinning and partnership arrangements between Indian universities and any of the Top 500 global institutions. The announcement was concluded with the threat that anyone tying up with any institution outside the Top 500 will be severely penalised.

This is typical of the Indian state, which refuses to give up its paternalistic pretensions. This new announcement is a step forward and accepts the urgent need to allow foreign collaborations as the only solution to meet the rising middle class demand, but shows an intent to control the flow. This is bad judgement, though this is untypical. Nowhere in the world such faith has been put on University rankings. The UGC chooses two rankings, Times Higher Education Ranking and the Shanghai Rankings, but ignore the rest, including the ones done in the United States. It overlooks the problems of such comprehensive rankings, eloquently argued by Malcolm Gladwell (read the article here).  And, finally, be focusing on the Top 500, UGC also shows how they mis-perceive the nature of Indian Higher Ed demand.

The starting point for such regulations should be that Education is no longer about what the state can provider, but what the students and their employers need. If that demand is global, and it is, then India needs more globalization, not less. This notion that allowing any global institution will result in unscrupulous operators duping Indian students is nonsense. In fact, trying to put up ineffective regulatory barriers have resulted in just that. This charade of regulating out bad foreign providers usually keep the serious foreign providers away, as they would want to work within the regulatory framework. The bad ones don't care anyway: After all, India is a country where the education regulators not only publish a list of of approved providers, but of 'unapproved' providers as well (see list), bizarrely. The fact that some of these unapproved providers are quite profitable, like ICFAI, and the approved institutions are struggling to make ends meet and more than 100 institutions have recently filed for closure proves that the students are voting with their feet on the regulatory regime. One institution, IIPM, operates without any kind of approval at all, and makes all kinds of claims about accreditation and even ranking: The regulators failed to act on them for over a decade (Read story). All this points to the pointlessness of more regulation, but the pretension is hard to kill off. The Indian bureaucrats love to meddle and unwittingly, they end up meddling in areas where innovation is most needed.

Besides, despite the talk of protecting students interest, it is really about protecting those politicians and businessmen who park their idle black money and real estate in education enterprises. This is only to create a protected area where rent seeking can be permitted: Indeed, that's exactly what happens in Indian Higher Ed. While there is a danger of foreign providers cheating on Indian students, the students are cheated nonetheless, with sub par education handed out to them by local henchmen. Opening the gates, at least to the institutions who are approved in their respective home countries (and one could draw up a list of countries and include US, Europe, China, Japan and Australia, but exclude such places like DR Congo and Chattisgarh) can reduce rent seeking and corruption and may lead to better deals for the students.

In summary, the muddle continues, but there is clear need to emerge sensibly out of it. This is the only way Indian can get investment in the sector, and develop the great institutions it needs for building the country. So far, it is doing poorly on both counts.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Inflection Point in Indian Higher Education

2015 will be something of a watershed year in Indian Higher Education. This is the year when the children from new middle class families, as opposed to India's predominant 'government' families (meaning where the primary breadwinner worked for the government or a government supported entity), starts getting to college age. This is exactly a decade and half after the great expansion of English medium schools, call centre jobs and a sudden mobility in population enabled by the rise of Hinglish, the mixed dialect Indians invented and made their own. With China's college age population falling, India's will grow by 5 million in five years. The trouble is - their expectations of higher education will be entirely different from their predecessors.

This is the third wave of modern Indian Higher Education, if we count the nationalist expansion of higher education after the Independence as the first, and the expansion of corporate higher education in the nineties as the second. The difference between the second and the third is the emphasis: The earlier expansion was driven by the demands of the Indian industry, and the rhetoric was about employability. This suited the government families. However, the first generation corporate higher education failed to deliver this stated goal completely, as they did not understand or anticipate what the industry's requirements will be, and had to mainly work with academics steeped in the values of the past, of that of nationalist, public sector education specialists.

The coming third wave will be different as this has to now meet the requirements of the new middle class. Relatively affluent, the college applicants will look beyond employability: It will be something around meaningful employment rather than just any opportunity. The students will now demand greater freedom to choose their subject areas, and will look at diverse careers, not just engineering and management. If there is a watershed moment for this coming transformation, that was signified by the application of closure by more than 100 MBA colleges last year, led by lack of demand for hat they offered.

Indeed, the point is that not all of this will suddenly happen on 2015. This trend was already under way, if the global mobility of Indian students is to be taken into account. The numbers have grown manifold, but this went largely unnoticed in India as the regulatory regime tried its best to keep the foreign providers away. However, the students are now growing more numerous just to go away from India: Besides, a number of countries, primarily the UK, are making it very difficult for students to come. The Indian HE now must absorb the new demand, which means it must now change.

The history of India's schools may have some pointers to the coming transformation of higher education. From few excellent English medium schools to unrestrained proliferation of low quality, privately owned English medium schools, to the advent of world class, expensive schools, indicate the same shift of demand which the Higher Education must now capture. Indian government is acutely aware and is therefore fumbling with legislation to encourage private investment and greater cooperation with foreign providers. However, despite the latest, knee-jerk, liberalisation by University Grants Commission extending the invite to a poorly defined league of Top 500 global universities, it is still far from an exciting and open field. Time is fast running out, though, to build a global provision for the new middle class joining the party.

Friday, June 01, 2012

UK Border Agency and The Search for Genuine Students

The Cameron government denied that the current immigration policies are hurting the UK Higher Education sector. Despite the precipitous fall in the applications to British universities, particularly from South Asia, and the near-total extinction of the private education sector which used to provide feeder routes to the universities, the government claims that their policies will encourage 'genuine' students to come to the UK, and therefore help protect the brand and the excellence of the British Higher Education. Like so many other things, they are wrong on this count too.

But, then, it is difficult to expect anything from this government anyway. Apart from protecting the banks and hobnobbing inappropriately with Murdochs, the government ministers seem incapable of getting anything done. The problem, indeed, is their world view, one so antiquated that they fail to understand or anticipate the aspirations or requirements of a modern society. With their Lib Dem stooges frozen into paralysis of ideas, the Neo-tories under Cameron is driving the country to obsolescence, with disastrous consequences for the economy and society in general, and Higher Education in particular. The rhetoric around genuine students is a clear example of how they are getting things wrong.

UKBA seems to think that the British Higher Education is full of bogus students. That is plainly wrong. The policy-makers seem to be operating with one, limited, idea of a student - with impeccable command of English and manners, Middle class parents, and a somewhat clear idea of what they want to do in life - and tolerance range thereabout which allows the inner-city state school students to sneak into the realm of genuineness. However, this idea is based on the demand for education in a matured society, where students are given a proper childhood by their parents and would want to follow their parents' paths to a good life. What is missed is that the British Higher Education is a global industry servicing a very different world, a world where students are allowed to speak in languages other than English, aspire not to follow the parents' footsteps but to do better so that they can offer their parents a comfortable retired life, and where hard work, pragmatism and ambition are the only qualifications that one need to possess. These students were flocking the British Higher Education for the last decade or so: This is exactly where the brand of British Higher Education was built. However odd it may look from the Oxfordshire county view of the world, this is the shape of the new global demand. If the British Higher Education needs to maintain its leadership status among the competing higher education systems, it can not afford to overlook the shifting demand profile of higher education.

Indeed, one would now invoke the private colleges, those favourite whipping boys of the Ministers and UK Border Agency, whose misdeeds, many will claim, brought in the new era of controls. I must declare that I am associated with the private college industry, and have written about various issues in the sector. I shall contend that most of the problems in this sector comes from poor governance and regulatory mechanisms. However, the current government has employed a lazy, unthinking, kill-all policy to close down the sector, and then ended up implementing it badly. The policy already has a crippling effect on the sector, forcing not better governance and quality standards, but disenfranchisement of students due to closure of colleges and general confusion, and this will have many consequences, including the closure of feeder routes to university courses, and an absence of home-grown education entrepreneurs, as investment shifts away from the sector in favour of Asian and African owners, who are buying into this sector mainly to take the brands and partner relationships to their own home markets. Under the public radar, this is the start of another proud industry shifting away from Britain, and this will only make the country poorer in terms of ideas and innovation.

If the government was not so out of touch, they could have seen the roles that private colleges play in context. The new global demand presents its challenges to the traditional higher education, where the conception of quality is based on selectivity and freedom of thought, rather than widening access and result orientation. Indeed, the government needed to clamp down on visa abuses and bogus colleges, but this has always been an implementation issue, which remains unresolved to date. Instead, they have taken on themselves the job of defining the 'genuine' students, a big hammer to fix a relatively tiny nail, and ended up getting it roundly wrong. 

Is there a way not to be grossly pessimistic about the British Higher Education sector in the midst of all this? It is a difficult ask, given the best idea the British Universities minister could come up with was to ask the universities to go abroad. This is a strange anomaly: The British government balks every time and shy away from necessary legislation to control banks (despite watching haplessly how failures of governance at a powerful bank, Bankia in Spain at this instance, can pull a whole country down) because the banks threaten to go aboard, but they are happy if their universities have to leave. Indeed, if public priorities have to be based on tax revenues, the universities sector and their poor international students contribute an equivalent amount in public coffers as the rich bankers, because most bankers actually don't pay taxes at all (going by the government's own admission of failure to tax the top earners, which was cited as a reason, perversely, to justify scrapping of top 50p tax rate). 

In summary, then, this is the British Higher Education's deja vu moment. One would hope that either common sense or the God will come to its rescue. If not, one should be reminded that leadership in Higher Education should not be taken as granted. The spate of uninformed visa controls may eventually lead to loss of global leadership to another country like Australia, Canada or Germany. In fact, the process may have already started.

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