What I found interesting in the world of higher education last week, with some added thoughts and views. I work for the Times Group. All views are personal.

College of Asia?

A plea for a ASEAN University, modeled on the European University Institute, Florence. Such universities are called International or Supranational Universities

A similar university, called South Asian University was set up recently in New Delhi by South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the regional association of South Asian Countries; broadly constituting India its neighbours and Afghanistan. It is struggling though to be fair, it is early days still.

I am not very hopeful of the long-term viability of the South Asian University, nor about the likelihood of ASEAN University being set up. In the case of Europe, EUI and College of Europe have emerged out of the intense cooperation arising out of the context of the overall European Union integration. That close cooperation is missing in ASEAN countries, despite whatever talk there is about integration.

However, I do think there is scope for international / supranational universities.

One model that may work could be a Diplomatic University. Imagine all the Foreign Service / Diplomatic Corps of ASEAN / Asian countries coming together to a campus for 9-10 months of training. When they go back, they would have had a network of peers across various countries, and the ability to quickly tap into it should the need arise. And it is not the network alone – it is also the perspective that you gain from exposure to multiple viewpoints including how your claim looks from the opposite side.

Instead of 1 campus throughout the course, it could be spread across multiple campuses – say 3 months in China, 3 months in Singapore and 3 months in India, or it rotate between countries. Additionally once the model holds, you could even expand it to other civil servants and perhaps executives from non-profit organizations / public institutions such as Gates Foundation, Teach for India, Reserve Bank of India etc.

In this context, it is also worth studying possibly the only meaningful and academically relevant supranational institution, the College of Europe  – “possibly the most important school you’ve never heard of”. Conceived in 1948, before the EU was born, with the goal of “promoting peace and unity through a study program forged from a pan-European perspective that eschewed narrow national interests”, the College of Europe has emerged as “the pre-eminent finishing school for those looking to get a (well-paid) foothold into the EU”. Infact, The Times (UK) describes it as “representing for “the European political elite what the Harvard Business School is to American corporate life”.

The college will graduate about 440 students this year from about 55 countries, including Egypt and Turkey. These students are split acrossits two campuses in Bruges (Belgium) – 320 students and Natolin (Poland) – 120 students. The students. selected through an intensely competitive process, will then pick from “five master’s courses (about 10 months long) – in European law; politics and administration; economics; international relations and diplomacy; and economic integration and business on offer in Bruges and the interdisciplinary masters taught in Natolin”.

Well-known alumni (referred to as anciens) include Nick Clegg, Britain’s deputy prime minister, the present Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt, “senior government ministers from Norway, Austria and Finland; a deputy secretary general of the United Nations; and a slew of senior lawmakers, diplomats and European Union officials.”

Following graduation “most College of Europe graduates sooner or later end up in Brussels, where they sometimes are referred to as the ‘Bruges mafia’. The college’s alumni boast an extensive network with an uncanny ability to land its members plum jobs in EU institutions or within the web of private companies and organizations seeking to influence the agenda in Brussels.”

While I don’t think it will be that easy to create a College of Asia, in the absence of the kind of integration that exists through EU, we could start small by bringing together our diplomatic corps through a Foreign Services School. To begin with, if a year seems too long, it could be a 3 month joint program at the end of their Foreign Services / Civil Service training assignments. Gradually we could beef up the academic offering, enhance rigour and expand the length of the course into something resembling a College of Asia, graduating an Asian Diplomatic Corps.

Europe’s Leaders-In-Waiting Face The Mess Ahead 
A college for the worldly student with big plans
How the College of Europe brings a continent together
Training The ‘New Europeans’ — The College Of Europe Breeds The EU Elite



Must-read article of the week – William Deresiewicz’s searing take on how elite higher-ed institutions in USA are churning out an elite class of students “disconnected from the society it is supposed to lead”. It is an indictment of the admissions process (the first 3-4 paras detailing his stint on the Yale admissions committee alone is enough to justify a read), the teaching or lack of it in these institutions as well as the entire infrastructure that supports and perpetuates elite education including private tutors, test prep companies, consultants and employers.

And here is JD Chapman’s reply.


The Art & Science of naming education startups – “from the charmlessly corporate (Edgenuity, Ednovate) to the whimsical (Grockit, Smarterer) to the borderline unpronounceable (Qlovi, Xlibrio)”


The winks and nods that make up higher education governance in India. Yogendra Yadav looks back on his term with the UGC in the context of the FYUP controversy.


Understanding the Ed-Tech landscape. Flybridge Capital Partners (flybridge.com) does a lumascape for education technology firms.


In September, schools in South Korea will stop teaching students ahead of the curriculum, in accordance with a law passed by the assembly. And why’s that? Because, on average, students learn material 4 years and 2 months ahead of their grade level!

Mind you, this only covers schools as of yet, and not private after-school study centres, which seems to be a loophole in the act.


Why ‘13 minus 9’ is the best problem to teach children to subtract a one-digit number from a two-digit number. From a NYT article on why USA sucks at math teaching. Should hold true for India as well. 

If that hasn’t whet your appetite for math pedagogy, then this article by a UK schools inspector comparing English and Chinese school mathematics teaching is worth a read.


“… a future in which a small number of top-quality online courses in key disciplines could replace home-grown lectures on many campuses, just as leading textbooks have historically done”. From Bill Gates’s speech at NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers)’s annual conference


The Amartya Sen promoted Nalanda University launches on 1st September with Masters programmes in History and Environmental Studies. An excruciatingly detailed look at the student digs 


The IITs are introducing a US-style credit system, even as the US is contemplating moving away from credits to competencies.

On the subject of IITs, over a third of teaching slots are vacant, and the institutes are struggling to attract quality faculty. Not surprisingly the high teaching load means that faculty do not do much research. A fact that has come to Quartz’s attention.

I have always considered the IITs to be a most peculiar construct in the academic world – without an equivalent parallel in western academia – it is an extremely mediocre institution in every respect save one; it has world-class undergrad talent given the intense competition for seats, thanks to its historical position at the apex of India’s engineering education setup.


NYU President John Sexton in a year-old New Yorker article that is a terrific read. “I must get two offers a week from India. They say, ‘We’ll build you a campus. We’ll give you free land. We’ll fund you.’ But they almost always leave financial aid out of it. That kind of higher education will lock kids into a certain strata more than any caste system.” The article states “…other (US University) satellite campuses in the Emirates, like Michigan State and George Mason University, shut down after only a few years. The schools were dependent on tuition, and failed to attract enough students. For similar reasons, N.Y.U.’s first degree-granting satellite campus, a graduate school in Singapore, created in 2007 by the School of the Arts, announced its closure last year.”

Kind of explains why US Universities are unlikely to launch in India for the foreseeable future. Without tuition underwritten, their high fees mean they will not be able to attract students and build scale.

On the subject of University Presidents, a take on what his KPIs should be – “Clark Kerr’s fundamental insight when he was chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley was to realize his job had come to be “providing parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni.” From a not otherwise memorable article about parking issues in campuses. Heads up via tweet by @libbyanelson.


“As many as one in 10 applications to US colleges by Chinese students may include fraudulent materials like fake essays and high-school transcripts.” How aggressive admissions agencies are helping Chinese students game the US admissions system.


Bill Gates’s summer reading list is out. Notable for having catapulted an out of print book into a best-seller.