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. All views are personal.

The Power of Positioning

What can Indian colleges and universities learn from Babson College, the #1 ranked college in Money magazine’s US College rankings list? For one, the power of positioning. Babson staked it on Entrepreneurship, remained focused, and it paid off. See my detailed take

While on positioning, which most Indian institutions do a shoddy job of, one  that has done an impressive job is Ashoka University. Ashoka pitches itself as an institution delivering Ivy League education in India. They haven’t bothered to explain what Ivy League is, but I guess it doesn’t matter given the associations the phrase has with premiumness and quality. In comparison, I cant quite figure out what Shiv Nadar University or OP Jindal stand for.

Ashoka is also notable for the fact that it doesn’t have a single promoter. It has raised money across 40 ‘founders’, which is unique for an Indian university. It is by no means the first such institution in India; ISB was similarly funded.

ISB was successfully able to resist the pulls and pressures coming from its founders, thanks chiefly to Rajat Gupta’s presence at the helm. I don’t see such a single charismatic figure who can play a role at Ashoka – possibly Ashish Dhawan, though I don’t know if he is playing that role. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Ashoka.

Do I think Ashoka will succeed? Well, I do want it to. We need more such experiments in India, and one has to applaud Ashoka for its willingness to move away from the Engineering / Business path and play the Liberal Arts card.

Ashoka’s hand has been strengthened in recent weeks thanks to the actions of UGC in clamping down on the 4-year undergraduate program at Delhi University resulting in 1) All liberal arts courses (what was termed as foundation courses) offered by Delhi University’s colleges have been dropped 2) All colleges including Ashoka, have had to reduce tenure of the BA degree from 4 to 3 yrs. These impact Ashoka positively, for one removing competition that could have come from Delhi University’s colleges on the Liberal Arts front, and secondly improving the ROI of Ashoka’s degree as it is now 25% cheaper.  Perversely, while Ashoka may not have wanted to reduce the tenure, the reduced tenure has made the degree more attractive and affordable.


B-schools in rural / semi-urban US centres are starting to shut shop. “Isolated from employers and alumni, they are limited when it comes to job placement, prestige, and opportunities for grown-up fun”. The story is similar for regular colleges as well.


Indian universities should seriously consider Drexel University’s co-op (internship) model  – instead of building it on their own, it may be worth coming together (in a specific geographic region) and pitching to employers, say NCR or Noida Co-op.


Entrepreneurship courses are seeping into the law curriculum, especially in the mid-tier law schools. A quote, by Andrew Ainslie, dean of Simon School of Business at University of Rochester is instructive (from the earlier Businessweek article on small-town B-schools shutting down) – “we have demand dropping, supply increasing, so something’s got to happen. What no one wants to do is exit. I think as a result schools are getting a little desperate, and they are doing some pretty strange things. I think that is useful for the entire marketplace, because some of those experiments will work.”


Julie Zhuo, Director of Product Design at Facebook, on the ideal curriculum for a design degree. One para from her article stands out “Most of the skills that you need, you’ll learn on the job. Really, the point of going to school is getting good at the skill of learning how to learn. Technologies change. Photoshop won’t be the tool of choice forever. Programming languages and platforms fall in and out of fashion like flannel and thick-rimmed glasses. Be curious, be diligent, and don’t be afraid to read/watch/listen and make. Learning how to learn is the meta-skill that reaps rewards forever.”


Cutthroat competition for NYC’s kindergarten seats.  


South Korea’s intense and soulless school system. leading up to that “all or nothing” suneung, the dreaded test that will determine admission to Korea’s elite colleges.


Engineering colleges compared to Hogwarts houses. Amusing read. Next up, comparison to Game of Thrones kingdoms?


The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation released on the disruptive potential of online competency-based education. The report can be downloaded here.  I shall come back with my thoughts on this, in my next post.