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A Retrospective on a dynamic India
How a vast higher education system may shape the global picture
My first trip to India was in 1989 as a part of an MBA class study tour from IMD in Switzerland. My last trip concluded just a few weeks ago and included speaking at the Association of India Management Schools (AIMS) conference in Coimbatore and at the opening of the year festivities at ASBM University in Bhubaneswar. I left Delhi just before the start of the G-20 and avoided the disruptions to the normal day-to-day life in a city that any such conference of global leaders creates.
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The changes in India from that first visit in 1989 have been nothing short of remarkable. During that first time in India, I vividly recall meeting with the Reserve Bank of India. In the meeting, we were told repeatedly that no economic liberalization agenda was needed or even in the works. At that time, many of the national highways were unpaved and turned into muddy messes with the first rain storm. Mobile phones were the stuff of sci-fi, and even calling home to my wife in Switzerland required scheduling a line two days in advance. The pace of change is noticeably faster in every visit I have made in the past 7 years.
As the most populous country in the world, India will have a significant influence globally on many fronts of higher education. According to the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), there are around 8,200 technical higher education institutions and 3,300 offering management education in India and it is growing fast. India’s numbers compare to the roughly 6,000 institutions of all types in the U.S. and 5,000 in the entire 46-country European Higher Education Area. The sheer number of Indian institutions foretells what may be a significant impact on global higher education. But, there are risks to the entire Indian model of growth.
The focus of the first two topics in this edition of Ex4EDU.Report will provide some perspective on what is happening in this dynamic corner of higher education. The final topic will touch on what I see as the pivotal point and risk for future management education in India, which was also the subject of two of my speeches.
The National Education Policy of 2020
India has a public goal to become the world’s third-largest economy, behind the U.S. and China. The goal is widely discussed in business school circles.
Beyond the talking points of “third largest economy,” some elements stand out as examples of how India is getting it right to move forward. In higher education, the National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020 touches on many areas of enabling the growth needed to advance the economy. Of course, one can see new education policies in virtually any country worldwide. But, there are some important aspects of what I see in India’s approach to higher education worthy of discussion here.
The NEP mentions that India should become a “Vishwa Guru” or world or global teacher. There are stated aspirations to allow existing higher education institutions to open branches and allow foreign institutions to open campuses in India. Moving to such a position will require a major transportation of the higher education sector.
The opening for non-Indian players will logically lead to a need for internationally recognized quality systems. Relying on international university rankings—the main marker noted in the NEP—fails to capture the full scope of a quality institution. Defaulting to the top 100 global universities as the source of investment is insufficient. Rankings generally indicate social exclusivity, not excellence, and will be inadequate to grow the number of high-performing institutions at a scale for the world’s most populous country.
Rankings indicate social exclusivity, not excellence
Turning to international accreditation as an alternative to rankings is only a partial solution. A few internationally relevant accreditation agencies exist in specialized areas such as business. Examples include ACBSP, IACBE, AMBA, EQUIS, and AACSB. The presence of these accrediting agencies in India is limited to a few of the thousands of institutions. Unless these agencies dramatically grow their presence in India, something else will fill the void. The growing group of ISO standards specific to higher education and the ISO certification system may be “the” something else.
ISO standards such as ISO 21001, 29992, 29993, and 29994 focus on quality areas specific to higher education. A soon-to-be-issued ISO standard, ISO/TS 21030:2023 “Educational organizations — Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of educational organizations' management systems,” enables structures like authorized accreditation agencies. It may foretell one or more ISO certification bodies entering the international accreditation void. ISO/TS 21030 is based largely on an existing standard ISO 17021-1:2015, so the model is a known approach. The process of certifying certification bodies could compete directly with the authorization of accreditation agencies by the University Grants Commission in India, EQAR in Europe, and CHEA in the U.S. Currently, there are two ISO registrars for certifying ISO 21001 in India, so the process may have started.
The ISO standards' position as a truly international and openly available option may lead to a new quality assurance model centered on ISO. I covered several scenarios for how ISO and accreditation may co-exist in my article ISO Alongside, Instead, or Inside and in a prior edition of this report in Beyond the painted mess of education quality.
Academic Bank of Credit (ABC)
Another leading idea in the NEP is the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC). ABC essentially is an academic credit bank account that permits registration of academic credit using a centralized repository model. The idea allows for greater student mobility across institutions. One interesting feature of ABC is its use of a national digital repository, DigiLocker, for digital documents. Digitization of academic credentials will drive greater consistency across institutions.
There will be a need to reconcile academic credits internationally for the ABC
If the country truly wants to expand its higher education net internationally, India will inevitably face the need to reconcile the ABC norms and standards with international credit recognition. Similar to institutional quality, there will be a need to embrace recognized international standards for academic credential recognition. Current accreditation models do not address this need squarely. Again, ISO could play a role in this. ISO 17024:2012 “Conformity assessment — General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons” could be adapted to fit the higher education standards as has happened with ISO17021-1. This would take action by the ISO technical committee working in the higher education area. The extension is logical, given the committee’s work at the institutional level.
Faculty research - creating collaborative impact
Many conversations with faculty at the various universities I visited focused on faculty research and scholarship. In this area, we identifed a needed paradigm shift towards teamwork and viewing research as something other than climbing a tenure ladder.
Meaningful research is important in academia to advance knowledge and ensure that what we teach is actually relevant. A challenge discussed in many of the meetings is that research in the real world is not a solo act. Any R&D department in a research-driven company is a team act. That is often not the case in higher education, with faculty promoting themselves as lone ranger research stars.
Yet, nearly all doctorally qualified faculty in social sciences and management disciplines start their research journies with a solo act called a dissertation. They then move on to the tenure treadmill of trying to publish in “ranked” journals in what is often another solo act. The system generates a lot of activity, with little of it creating a meaningful impact on the world. It is akin to navel-gazing. How can we change this?
Research collaboratives are needed to develop ideas and management that matters
One approach we discussed and will test over the coming months is a research collaborative focused on developing ideas and management approaches that matter rather than chasing citation rankings in a publisher’s database. The idea is to follow agile principles of setting a theme and developing ideas and a body of knowledge around it. We intend to support the effort using a worker cooperative structure in EduPartners.coop.
A research collaboration is not a totally new idea, but we hope it can be improved with the assistance of resources from the co-op. Updates on this model will be covered in later editions of the Ex4EDU.Report. If you want to know more about the concept, post a message as a response.
The 4th Turning and Climate Change — 4, 1, 3
A key aspect of my time in India involved speaking at two sessions at the AIMS conference and the opening convocation of ASBM University. My message centered on three numbers: 4, 1, and 3. It is not a mathematic puzzle but points to key developments that will shape higher education over the next decades.
At nearly every conference with some aspect of future gazing, there is talk about the pace of change. Often there are statistics equating the speed of change with growing terabytes of data, which is not really a meaningful equivalence. The ideas I sought to bring across with the 4, 1, 3 title of my speeches was that we need to look at the level of change (society), where we are at cycles of change (major system transition), and what will be the defining background (dealing with climate change).
The number 4 is meant to reference the concept of The Fourth Turning, a book written by William Strauss and Neil Howe at the turn of the millennium in 1997. The basic idea is that post-enlightenment history has tended to evolve through ~80-year recurring generational cycles or increments. Within each cycle, four generations leave their footprints on the world in strikingly similar patterns in all of the 80-year cycles.
As noted in the sequel, The Fourth Turning is Here, Neil Howe details how modern society is now turning from period 4 of the cycle, which began after World War II, to something new. The 4th to 1st period transition is typically very tumultuous, filled with crisis, and results in new societal and economic structures. The post-World War II era began with laying the foundations of a rules-based world order based on international organizations, global trade, and a move towards economic integration. We are again at a similar turning point.
The number 1 points to the start of a cycle. The post-WWII international order is rapidly collapsing before our eyes. The first 20 years of the current cycle likely started around 2007, according to Howe. The two dominant generations for this part of the cycle have different names, such as the Millennials or Zoomers. In the Fourth Turning generational concept, these generations are the ones that provide the energy for new structures and rules.
Today's students in higher education are the generations who will define the new world order.
The number 3 points to what perhaps will be the most impactful and definitional aspect of the next 80 years – climate change. The idea of “3” relates to avoiding a 3-degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures. The post-WWII global model is rapidly driving the world toward a 3-degree Celsius temperature rise. A climate warmed to that level will completely break down and destroy the global systems of commerce and societies built since the 1940s.
Today's students in higher education are the generations who will define the new world order. Rather than equipping them to optimize organizations for the old order, higher education must adapt to imparting knowledge, teaching skills, and fostering abilities for the future. This should be a wake-up call for us in higher education.
A 3-degree climate risk will define the next generational cycle
The message to students was that their future will be defined by adapting to climate change and trying to avoid the 3-degree future. As aptly described by Peter Ziehan in his book The End of the World Is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization, globalization as we know it today will be largely gone within a decade. Climate change may make it happen sooner. The working lives of students now in the classroom will be consumed more by adapting and coping with climate change than by looking for clever ways to play the game of post-WWII globalization.
We only fool ourselves and students if we do not recognize the looming challenges. Teaching students to optimize yesterday’s world tomorrow will be seen as a sad story of failed education.
We have to do better. The challenge is significant. It requires rethinking what we teach, how we teach, and where we teach.
Upcoming topics in the newsletters
Ex4EDU.Report - Is teaching excellence beyond its sell-by date?
Student360.Report - Affecting the affective - How an online program creates lasting personal change
EduPartners.coop - Launching the EduPartners.coop
About the Ex4EDU.Report, Student360.Report, and EduPartners.coop
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