Mar 16, 2010

Educating India, in a B-Grade American style.

The Union Cabinet has cleared the Foreign Educational Institutional (regulation of entry and operation) Bill, which aims to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India. This Bill follows the two controversial Bills pending for Parliamentary approval -- the Nuclear Liability Bill and the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill.

I am not the least surprised.

Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Human Resource Development, is visibly excited. He is quoted in the media, saying: "A larger revolution than even in the telecom sector awaits us." Well, we all know that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. But if you have known Kapil Sibal, be sure the intentions are not as pious as he often claims. Given a choice, he would even make the Congress party adorn the colours of the Republican party.

Nothing can be more dangerous than programming the mindset of the young generation of India through an education system that has nothing to do with the great culture, tradition and wisdom that the Indus civilisation endowed us with. The present crop of politicians, more worrying are the younger lot that the Indian Express talks about every day, are so myopic that they can't see anything beyond Europe and America.

If this is all that these these politicians are capable of thinking and doing, I sometimes wonder why shouldn't we have political representatives from Europe and America sitting in Indian Parliament? After all, they will do the job of re-colonising the country much more efficiently than their sub-standard Indian clones.

There are a large number of people in this country who are sold out to everything American. They live in India, but have an American dream. They will find fault with the higher education system in the country, and wouldn't mind even if the country's education system is eventually taken over by second-grade colleges and universities from North America, Europe and Australia. It is in this context that I find the editorial in the Economic Times (Mar17, 2009) under the title University of California, Ghazipur? interesting. This is what it says:

But such a law is unlikely to open the floodgates for foreign providers of quality education. The reality is that ‘for-profit’ describes hardly any of the world’s best institutions of higher learning. In any case, the Bill stipulates that all profits would have to be ploughed back into the Indian venture and not repatriated.

Only secondrate outfits not allergic to some accounting innovation that allows them to circumvent this ban are likely to invest in Indian campuses. But even these would offer competition to our own citadels of scholarship, such as they are, and alleviate the present, severe scarcity of educational opportunities and so are welcome.

I have nothing against the foriegn universities. They may be good in their own environment. But I always thought India had a lot more to offer to these educational institutes. Any visionary national leader would prepare for a day when Indian universities regain their lost glory. Ironically, the first two universities the world has ever known -- Takshila in 700 BC, and Nalanda University, was built in 4th century BC. It was considered to be one of the greatest achievements in the field of education. More than 10500 students studied over 60 disciplines.

Isn't it a shame that the country that gave the world its first unievsrities, is now feeling thrilled that some of the foreign universities are likely to open campuses, if the government has its ways.

I have been lecturing at various universities abroad, and have always come back disappointed at the level of competence. Please don't get me wrong, I don't mean that everyone who passes out is incompetent. The fact remains that if these foreign universities were so good, I don't see any reason why the globalisation process should reach a dead end, why the world witnessed an economic collapse, and why the world was faced with an unprecedented food crisis in 2007-08. More importantly, if these foreign universities were so good, I fail to understand how come the world has reached a tripping point.

The foreign universities have hardly any semblance to the existing ground realities. These universities are so designed that it actually aims at the building excellence in exploiting natural resources, and is aimed at programming the younger generation to the virtues of growth economics. Everything ends up with the fundamental premise on how to make more profits, by commodifying culture, nature, human body and even knowledge.

This faulty learning has been very cleverly brought out in James Cameron's Avtar. If you have had a chance to view this movie, you would have realised how faulty and miscalculated would be the futuristic thinking (obviously an outcome of the educational learning) and design of the civilised race would be 150 years from now (in the year 2154). It tells you that the programming of the human race towards commodifying nature, through the educational system, will go on unchecked in the decades to come.

No wonder, you felt outraged at what the scientifically empowered civilised generation from the Earth tried by way of first displacing and then exterminating a native population across the galaxy that lived in complete harmony with its surroundings. Without realising the intrinsic values and linkages the people had with the natural surroundings, the attack on the 'Pandora' was misplaced, and you almost felt like clapping when the evil forces from the Earth were undone by the simple folks.

The futuristic insight that Avtar provides looks like to be a scene from the tribal regions of Orissa and Chhatisgarh. Oh, my God ! it looks the world is not going to change. Our education system will continue to prepare us for the doomsday.

Well, we will continue to debate on this in the days to come, but first I want to draw your attention to the damage done by the imported agricultural education and research system. Nothing better illustrates the change in mindset than what has been achieved a century and half later through agricultural research and education. All that was taught as part of the land grant model of education that the USAID brought into India has actually resulted in an unprecedented blood-bath on the farm.

The agricultural research and education system was basically tailored to what America does, not what we do in India. We are told that our agriculture is sub-standard, backward, and inefficient. This is what we are taught in our agricultural universities, all programmed after the US farm curriculum. If you really want to improve Indian agriculture you have to follow the American model of agriculture. That is what is taught to us. We have learnt it the hard way and no wonder today we are faced with one of the biggest and worst crisis in agriculture.

Why is it that in a country, which has the second largest public sector infrastructure in agriculture research in the world, farmers should be dying or wanting to quit agriculture? If the American model of agriculture research and education is so good than why should farmers be in distress and agriculture virtually ruined? As a nation, we need to introspect and look back. There is something fundamentally wrong.


Yayaver said...

I can agree with you in the field of agriculture but not in the field of higher education. Already, higher education is in mess due to gross mis-management in state universities. And there is huge lack in investment in higher education that government can't fulfill from tax payers pocket. For more insight check this:

Sunil Aggarwal said...

dear devender ji
I have been reading your blog regularly for the last six months. You have been quite up to the mark in these posts. When I am fed up with daily newspapers' fucked up ideas, I finally rely on your articles for a better version of truth. Today, if you even go paid, I will pay to read you. Anyhow, keep writing. The job you do on screen, I do the same at blackboard.
Sunil Aggarwal

Anonymous said...

Great reading....
May God bless our ministers with some "Satbudhi"

Abhinav said...

1) Please highlight that there is no policy for promoting private Indian Universities.

Eminent people like Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji have been requesting govt. to allow them to open Universites, but the govt is not allowing them while it is allowing US Univ.
There should be level playing field.

2) Why not invite Univ from other countries like Germany, Japan who have less population than US but still export more than USA.

Anonymous said...

Your arguments lack both substance, as well as relevance.

You go on and on about the Nalanda and Taxila univerisites, but you probably have no clue about either their achievements or their role in the country at the time.

It is fraud brahmins and other idiots who deviated from the soul of the Bhagavad-Gita, and its message of unity, that caused India to degrade to what it is now.

Don't blame foreigners for taking over what had by then become a very sick society.

Anirudh said...

Mr Sharma,

I really admire your courage and effort in pointing out the gross in-efficiency of our government in laying out a proper and planned road map for higher education in India. Not just agriculture, but even in engineering, education has turned itself into a money making opportunity for the rich and the mighty. In just 2 years time 23 engineering colleges have come up in and around Nagpur district. I am pointing it out because even when there were just a few colleges, a lot of seat remained vacant. I would request you to point this out to your readers and hope that someday someone from the government reads this and acts responsibly towards the future of this nation's youth..

sagar said...

Mr Devender,

I read your blog and I dont know which age you are living in?? After reading your article the only thing i could think of is that this is a piece of plain rehortic from extreme wing (right or left you choose).

I feel there is no harm in allowing foreign universities in India. Obviously there will be good universities and bad but the onus to decide that will be on the student and I am sure they will be better than some shitty state university. There are hardly few state universities left which have good education standards. May be you want ppl to get educated in colleges where 3 yrs goes down the drain doing nothing. If you write something please write with tangible proof and not only on rehortic.


Pramod said...

Scenario for a perfect storm.
Not just agriculture and the other areas you mentioned, they have created a perfect storm kind of situation with the medical and pharmacy schools as well, doctors today receive little, if any, training in nutrition. Modern medicine motto is "a pill for every ill" and thats the way sickness industry (or so called health industry) wants to keep it. Same industry has done well in keeping the health secrets at bay for a very long time now, for obvious reasons, public now believes that whatever disease they suffer from has nothing to do with what they eat, organic or not, organic foods are becoming increasing difficult to access and most of the public do not care, so to speak.
Sickness industry along with our corrupt politicians is successfully keeping our sick population alive for a long time. And corrupt politicians have allowed these companies to advertise their poisons on radio and television, a classic example is “morning after pill” being advertised on radio or TV every 10-15 minutes every day, and no one is interested in telling public about the side effects of these pills.
Mass polio vaccination is carried out every year and disease still exits and our government still does not get it that its the vaccination which is not letting the disease to eradicate. I have spoken to so many doctors for the last couple of years about the side effects and ineffectiveness of vaccinations and at times the discussion ends up on the wrong side, not even one doctor I spoke to knew that the vaccinations contains toxic chemicals such as mercury, aluminium, formaldehyde, MSG etc and when I told them that vaccines do contain these chemicals, I was told that “they must be safe that is why these chemicals are in there”, I am not surprised as I was one of them “once”, these things are just not taught to us, doctors and pharmacist are brainwashed and are like a trained monkey who do not see anything beyond what he is told to do, except some, who wander around in the search of truth.
So instead of giving encouragement to natural medicine like ayurveda, naturopathy, homeopathy etc we have lost path and have started to consider these doctor as life savers and where as in fact they are nothing more than a killer on loose with a license to kill and no questions asked. Now do not get me wrong, allopathic medicine does have a role in our society like in trauma care but when it comes to treating disease, it just can not, as it does not understand nutrition, and the only motive of a medical doctor is to treat symptom as they are not at all aware of the cause, because they are not trained that way, and this is where western style of teaching has brought us to.
Instead of investing in preventative medical research, our government opens up more medical college every year with the same theme and now we welcome the foreign universities, just when I thought it cannot get worse than that.
All these is so much like India before 1947, everything is so much similar except people in government look so much like Indians.
And that is why I call it a “perfect storm”.

Rugged and Worn Out said...

Hello There

You ended up saying there is fundamentally something wrong. When something is usually wrong at the fundamental level it is always evident and obvious and so is this "something".
People in India, or most of us are having one problem " Zero Tolerance" and Universal Acceptance.
Agriculture for example is so fascinating in the way it is done in the west be it as simple as a Dairy Farm. I am not all for copying everything that is west, but the lack of awareness, education at the grassroot level is paining the entire society. However, we continue to have educated wise fools, who are a bigger threat to social fabric.
There should be a deep sense of self belief and pride instilled in each one of us. And the thought of improving on what we have should be there right from the farmer to the software engineer.
Unfortunately people like you are busy touring international universities but emotionally not motivated to sit with the uneducated in villages and help them go through the cycle of change.
If some one is motivated, we donot have empty blogs, articles and speeches. He/She will simply get to the ground and bring in a transformation of lives for the coming generation atleast in 1 village. Education Education Education !!! is the only way that can help India come out of the darkness. Education should be free, from Religion, Poverty, Race, Power. Once this comes in this society, many will automatically know what is right and what is wrong.
There are somethings which we cannot change like for e.g corrupt politician, articulate incompetent, foolish wisdom but for the rest, Education is one way.

So any effort be it some University of California, or be it University of Nalanda, will impart one thing "Knowledge". AT a certain stage wisdom comes for the individual to differential what is commoditising and what is wealth creation. So let the process begin.

AS said...

Devender, Your article has many inconsistencies. If Nalanda & Takshahila were top universities - why did they not empower Indians to fight foreigners? The truth is, education evolves constantly & we need a globalized environment to suceed. Nalanda & Takshashila were too closed and did not absorb ideas from around the world. The main reason America has so many innovations is becauses of its "melting pot" nature.

We need top universities, be it, domestic or foreign, where intelligent people can share ideas & innovate about the future. The current breed of public universities such as IIT's & IIM's are fantastic, but they are too few to stir the melting point. We need to expand quickly, and unfortunately, regulated foreign money is the need of the hour.

I hope your question of living harmonously with nature is solved in one of the new universites that will open in the future.

Jai hind!

Anonymous said...


You seem to take 2+2 and quickly make it 8.

Farmers can commit suicide for multiple reasons. It can be due to lack of infrastructure to store crops, lack of farming insurance, inability to pay back loans, loan sharks and farmers with barely enough land to sustain a family.

Connecting this to US's recommendations on agriculture (which basically helped make us one of the worlds largest agrarian societies) cannot be blamed for things caused by ineffective ruling by our political class.

In Punjab, farmers have been over-fertilizing their land, overusing water resources and selling at rates set by the government (high above the actual worth of the crops) - and here you are, advocating going back to our plough and bullock days

Arjun said...

You cannot be serious! You talk about the failure of the agricultural research system but any educated person would know that copying is one thing but sustaining is a completely different ball game. You have to spend money in attracting good talent, keep sponsoring projects and have performance checks and metrics.
You call schools such as Columbia etc B grade? Do you even know where the University stands in the world rankings?
IITs are supposed to be the best engineering schools in India. Can you name one technology that the world has adopted that has come from IIT? Is it because of the talent? Perhaps not. It is because they research culture has not been nurtured. Politics, funding etc have taken their toll. Instead of celebrating a false sense of pride we should take a hard look at reality and then strategize.
Overall this article is just nonsense and you are a complete bumbling joker. You have no sense of reality and all you do is talk nonsense.

Catch22 said...

Funny - did you say introspection? I think, as Indians, we do way too much of it. As for your article on education, I just have three questions:

1. Who says that the B-Grade American style is not better than the Indian style? We are not talking about them taking over the IITs/IIMs or the RECs or the Pilanis - we are talking colleges across India which are not that popular! Are you sure their B-grade system is that bad and is not going to help our C grade colleges?

2. What concrete proof do you have to back up your words and show us that the "B-grade" American Universities are actually "B-grade" when compared to Indian B/C grade standards? (Forget the nonsense about AVATAR or the American dream or our glorious part which indeed was glorious and yes something I am proud of but that has nothing to do with this.)

3. You say, "Nothing can be more dangerous than programming the mindset of the young generation of India through an education system" - what programming do you think will happen that has not happened already in their absence. You already stated that the young people in India have American ideals. So what programming are you really talking about and are scared about?

7 Powers said...

Dear Mr. Sharma,

Nicely written article. However, I find following flaws (If I may call them so) in your reasoning -

1. You say "Nothing can be more dangerous than programming the mindset of the young generation of India through an education system that has nothing to do with the great culture, tradition and wisdom that the Indus civilisation endowed us with." - How does our current education system address this? You are hypothecating cultural differences to impact the quality of education provided by foreign universities. I disagree to this formulation. Sciences are taught almost in a similar manner all over the world. The quality of teaching might differ but the content remains more or less the same. Management should be open for adjustment to cultures. The universities will have to modify the curriculum to address Indian markets (lest they intend to drain away the best minds out of India, which is anyway happening even without them!)

2. You say "There are a large number of people in this country who are sold out to everything American. They live in India, but have an American dream. They will find fault with the higher education system in the country, and wouldn't mind even if the country's education system is eventually taken over by second-grade colleges and universities from North America, Europe and Australia "
Let me give you a ground reality. You will find at least a million students who score above 90% in their Math and Sciences, but do not get into good engineering and medical schools (thanks to a primitive quota system). There is a dearth of good institutes in India. I have yet not mentioned of the red-tapism and bureaucracy that is prevalent even in IT companies these days, forget other fields. How do you expect that an Indian student with bright future prospects should think of staying back in a country which is not offering the right environment only on grounds of patriotism? Plus, how am I unpatriotic if I am in USA and an NRI?

I agree with your stand-point that B-grade schools of America will be of no help. There should be guidelines for foreign universities who intend to set-up in India But have you compared the education provided by them and with that provided by some of the pseudo A-grade schools in India? Trust me, you will write another article after some reality-check.

4. Your stand-point of a "visionary national leader" regaining the ability of the Great Indian universities such as Nalanda and Takshila to "offer lot more" to foreign universities is equally questionable. Firstly, I do not find any visionary leader in any political party. Secondly, regaining lost glory will take umpteen decades simply for a fact that India is far behind in terms of research. Let us face this fact and be realistic.

Mr. Sharma, with due regards to your experience and exposure to worldly matters, I regret to read an article which is bereft of realities in India, is based on flawed comparisons between different cultures and their impact on education system, and is highly critical of a step (if implemented correctly) will indeed start a new chapter in Indian education system.

Anonymous said...

As a student who attended your talk at a foreign university, I feel that you should stick to your message about India's farming community. This diversion into discussing education, a topic on which you do not seem to be an expert, can only discredit you and the farmers will lose one of the few voices speaking for them.

Pramod said...

I wasnt aware that so many ignorant people still exists. Open up your eyes guys, look around you, see the truth, its getting late.... god help youse all.

Anonymous said...

The article by Devendar Sharma is insightful.

Aping western education models and trying to force fit them to the Indian conditions would be the biggest blunder that any country can do.

While not getting into our past glory of Nalanda and Takshashila Universities, wherein the worlds best brains converged and deliberated, the solution being proposed by the present Mr.Kapil Sibal, I fear would not address the problems that presently afflict the Indian education system.

As a product of the IIM's, I fear that our premier management institutes, do not prepare the graduates for challenges and situations which the Indian market throws at them. The first few years on the job is one of catharsis. The real learning happens in the market place.

Western education models, are designed for their situations and markets and not necessarily for the Indian market.

I only hope, that while we need to expose our youth to the global trends in education, we do not lose our 'Indianess' while aping them blindly.

debamitro said...

Let me quote Prof Venkataraman Ramakrishnan on the topic of foreign universities setting up campuses in India (taken from The Hindu dated 31.03.2010 ):

"Professor Ramakrishnan took a dim view of the rush among foreign universities to set up campuses in India saying it was motivated purely for business reasons.

'Whenever these outstation universities set up campuses, be it in Singapore or other places, they have not been able to reproduce the culture of the original place,' he said.

It was for this reason that major universities like Cambridge had decided 'not to go' and the trend was confined to 'less tier' institutions."

Many of Mr Sharma's concerns are very valid. Since, if the goal is to improve the Indian education system there is no harm in accepting good practices from all over the world, including India's rich past -- but inviting B-grade foreign universities to set up campuses is nothing but a short-cut way which I don't think will profit anybody but these universities.

Karen Crawford said...

Then, probably this is the best thing we should all look forward to for the telecommunications industry of India. They are by far the most competitive when it comes to business outsourcing and I wouldn't wonder if India would dominate the global telecom in a sooner time.

The ABC of Business - Never Hire A Person Who Walks Slowly…

Dwarikanath said...

Dear Devinderji,
Your observation "Nothing can be more dangerous than programming the mindset of the young generation of India through an education system that has nothing to do with the great culture, tradition and wisdom that the Indus civilisation endowed us with." is very true...and it's visible from few people's comment here!!!
Your stand is vindicated :)