Monday, March 05, 2012
Day 1/100: My Adventures in the Margins of Higher Ed
Four events marked my rather remarkable day.
First, a colleague pointed out that Professor Malcolm Gillies, the Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University, mentioned this blog in his opinion piece in Times Higher Education. I am indeed a huge fan of Professor Gillies, and see him as a transformational leader leading what used to be a troubled university to excellence. Him mentioning this blog, particularly what was a particularly impulsively written post is both exhilarating and unnerving for me.
Second, it seemed that I am winning the argument in favour of 'big strategy' at work. Independent Higher Education in Britain is at a crossroad, and there are a million reason why a private college should downsize, or shut shop. However, it is also clear to see the big opportunity beyond the horizons. One can see the clampdown on student visas can't last forever, and once the government has cleared out the majority of 'bogus' colleges, which they must do and have been quite successful at doing so far, they have to open up the field for all legitimate providers. The trick is to see through this period and emerge on the other side of the tunnel. However, just surviving and being legitimate will not do: The independent college sector must have a reason to exist. I have been doing some work defining this 'big strategy' at work. It has been a continuous see-saw, and at times, it seemed like we were all ready to hang our boots. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the UK Higher Education will look a lot less monolithic in two years time than it is today, and the space for different kinds of providers is almost certain to open up. This is the redeeming force behind the strategy I am recommending - that we take bold decisions and attempt to define the field - drawing inspiration from, among others, the work Professor Gillies is doing at London Metropolitan University.
Third, work on my dissertation, which had to endure another quite intense cross-examination with my tutor, underwent another reversal. I could see my arguments - that the student as a consumer transforms the process of education and results in alienation of students - were going nowhere. My tutor was not ready to accept that the students have become consumers, that very passive creature who is always ordered around by the invisible whip of the marketer. Instead, his perspective was that the student was the appropriator, someone actively seeking to meet his/ her own ends. Moreover, he thought that was always the case. Midway into the conversation, I could see two perspectives emerging at the same time. First, I may be buying, rather uncritically, what the newspapers say. That the students have not become consumers nor would want to be, but the policy-makers and the media, and everyone else, are trying to fit them into a mould. The easiest mould to fit them into is that of a consumer, particularly as they are expected to pay, and carry debt, for education. It is rather we want them to be consumers rather than they really wanting to become one. Besides, the institutions may have started treating them as consumers, but the student, sitting in the middle of all this, is possibly, quietly, subverting all of it, following his/her own agenda rather than the one imposed by the society on them. However, it is equally plausible that my tutor, sitting within the settings of one of the most respected universities in the UK, can't see the student consumers at all. It is his own educational experience, and people who he will come in touch with, is somewhat triggering his question whether students have changed at all. And, with these two questions, I was immediately in that swampy territory which I have now come to recognise as the breeding ground for education: A feeling that I don't know which starts the process of knowing.
Finally, in the evening, I was at the RSA listening to Stefan Collini laying out what the universities are for. In his supremely articulate formulation, the universities are that final bastions of intellectual freedom where the independent scholarly enquiry could be carried out without having to meet the incessant and short term demands of practical ends. He is quick to point out the diverse nature of the university - an institution which is different from a business or the governmental organisation - and warned that attempting to mould it to the shape of either may end in the loss of vitality and purpose that the successful modern universities have come to embody. He painted an illuminating picture of a 'Faustian Pact' between the society and the university, the point being the society sets up the university for various practical purposes and grant it intellectual freedom which it must invariably require to attain these ends, but pursuit of this freedom invariably means that the university would go beyond the practical requirements. It was a fascinating end to my rather strange day of looking at Higher Education from different perspectives.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the...
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are ...
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today –...
Last week, voice recording of an HR executive firing an employee at Tech Mahindra, a big Indian IT company, went viral (as above). The ...
Evolution of Meritocracy: American Eugenics, Intelligence Testing and The Making Of Modern MeritocracyIntroduction In the second decade of the new millennium - now - new questions about human abilities and human worth have arisen. A vas...
Ideas are fascinating and exciting. We live in a culture that celebrates ideas. In a sense, we see all history as history of ideas now. It...
The world of politics is changing profoundly. It is not just about the rise of the strongmen rulers - President Xi of China, Prime Ministe...
Indian Higher Education needs reform, and urgently. The post-Independence system of education, built on the edifice of the colonial struct...
As the crisis in jobs becomes apparent, many think that the way to maintain the Middle Class society is to be found in entrepreneurship. I...
Automation is Capitalism's great new prize and its most potent challenge. At once, it breaks the back of organised labour but puts int...
How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.