What I found interesting in the world of higher education last week, with some added thoughts and views. I work for the Times of India Group, where I am presently kickstarting our university venture. All views are personal.
For those puzzled by the Delhi University – University Grants Commission standoff, resulting in scrapping of the FYUP (Four-Year Undergraduate Programme), here is a quick take into what really happened.
Delhi University, widely considered to be India’s premier University, launched the FYUP last June, when the 2013 academic session commenced. There was a fair amount of controversy surrounding its launch, well covered in this Telegraph writeup as well as in Ramachandra Guha’s piece in HT. In short,
- the decision to launch the FYUP was rushed through as it did not take into account the weak infrastructure, and the workload of the teachers, both of which had to stretch to accommodate the extra load
- the decision was taken without getting the buy-in of the students and teachers, represented by their lobbyists / unions.
- Regulators including UGC or the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), who oversees Education were not significantly opposed to the FYUP at the time of the decision or its launch last June.
One of the key students unions ABVP, affiliated to the now-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was able to persuade the party to insert a clause into the Delhi state election manifesto, that they would scrap the programme if they came to power. And this is exactly what happened.
Delhi University is an autonomous body, and in an ideal world it does not have to kowtow to UGC or even the MHRD on its administrative matters. However, it is not immune to the various pressures that can be wielded by our political overlords. This intense pressure, applied through UGC finally resulted in Dinesh Singh, the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University calling off the FYUP.
India Today’s take on the scrapping, albeit one-sided, is certainly worth a read, giving one a sense of the political manoeuvring behind the scenes.
Still on Delhi University, a short piece in the Times of India on the chaotic admissions process at one of the affiliated colleges.
Also on DU, I couldn’t but resist sharing this sharply critical take on St Stephen’s, by a Brown University exchange student. St Stephen’s is one of Delhi University’s constituent colleges and is widely considered to be amongst the most prestigious undergraduate colleges in India. Most interesting factoid from the article – shorts are not allowed on St Stephen’s campus. Most telling line or two – “The concerns of classmates, perhaps due to the resume-enhancing St Stephen’s tag, rarely went beyond how to secure a corporate sponsor for the next bogus debate tournament or model United Nations conference. For them, St Stephen’s is merely a waiting room that will lead them to corporate jobs”.
Not usually mentioned in these pieces is Ashoka’s Young India Fellowship (YIF), which is in its third year presently, and is a key pillar of the University. Less fellowship, more finishing school, YIF is designed as a 1-yr post-graduate program in Liberal Arts. It offers an interesting coursemix – offerings include Sociological Reasoning, Critical Writing and Art Appreciation amongst others. What I found particularly interesting is that YIF graduates have got jobs in corporates (Star, Genpact etc) at salaries akin to Tier 2 MBA schools. YIF is in essence Ashoka’s petri dish where they have been able to test the Liberal Arts offering and validate that it will work.
Amity University has got approval to set up a university in Maharashtra. On what is the last day of the monsoon-assembly session on 13 June, with just a few months to go before the present legislature is wound up, Amity (and Spicer Adventist University) got its bill through the assembly. Amity has a 30-acre campus in Panvel, 2 hours away from Mumbai. What is interesting to observe will be how Amity manages the reservation (52% of the University’s seats have to be reserved for various economically backward and caste groups) process. This had been one of the constraints holding back many comparable institutions from considering Maharashtra.
Karan Khemka co-heads the Education Practice at Parthenon, a management consultancy that is particularly strong in Education. I have met Karan a couple of times, and I think he is one of the sharpest minds on the business side of Education globally. This interview of Karan’s is worth a read. Some key insights
- the key driver of success for a school is local demand (as the catchment area is really small), whereas for a university it is the ability to place graduates in jobs
- it is really hard to scale up an education business : the 10 largest universities would have less than 1% of the overall market
- Private Equity funds (and the bigger university / school companies) are dying to invest / buy-out education ventures
Speaking of Private Equity (PE) Funds, New Silk Route, a PE shop co-founded by scam-tainted ex-Mckinsey CEO Rajat Gupta, is scouting for a buyer for its 25% stake in Varsity Education Management, the for-profit part of Sri Chaitanya Education Group (SCEG), a chain of 38 schools-cum-exam prep shop. Varsity provides operational and service support to Sri Chaitanya’s 38 schools as well as runs an entrance exam prep program called TechnoVision catering to 200+ other schools and junior colleges. Overall, SCEG raked in profit after tax of 91crs ($15m) on revenues of 1,330crs ($220m) in FY2013; surprisingly low profit numbers for an education venture. Perhaps the for-profit part has better numbers; perhaps the co is still expanding.
Harvard’s President Drew Gilpin Faust spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival, an event co-sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly. One of the areas she spoke was about the Harvard selection process, which was just under 6% in 2014. The scholastic arms race is getting more and more impressive she said, forcing admissions officers to look at other signals such as interesting essays or particularly unusual recommendations. It all boils down to “Make your children interesting!”
Don’t be misled by Harvard, MIT and Yale. The average American college does a far worse job of instilling adult literacy and numeracy skills than most of its OECD counterparts. The Upshot, NYT’s data blog has the dope.
Kaplan buys coding academy DevBootcamp, one of the larger programming schools. Purchase price undisclosed. DevBootcamp runs a nine-week intense programming course in high demand programming languages such as Python, RubyonRails etc. It claims to have employment rates of as much as 85% for its grads. In my last newsletter, I mentioned how the success of coding academies such as DevBootcamp, General Assembly has attracted Udacity to launch nanodegrees in this space.
Other prominent B-School deans of Indian origin include Nitin Nohria (HBS), Dr Sunil Kumar (Booth) and Dipak Jain (INSEAD). ET has a longer list.
What CEOs should know about design by Irene Au, Khosla Ventures
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