Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Internet changes everything: Indian higher education edition

The old triusm `never let school interfere with your education' is particularly relevant in India, where most schools, colleges and universities are pretty bad. For almost every young person in India, the option of being institutionalised and on auto-pilot, of letting the curriculum and examinations define you, is a bad one.

The contours of a better world are increasingly clear. Over the web, the person can plug into the likes of Udacity, edUx, Coursera, and M.I.T. Open Courseware, and get a world class education. The trouble is, there are no examinations and no degrees.

I get a lot of resumes of people who ask me for a job. In most cases, a glance at the resume shows me that the person is underskilled. A viable path for young people and for employers lies in the following steps:
  • The student must envision what life he wants to lead and construct a set of classes and books that take him in this direction. This requires analysing websites of courses in top 10 universities to get a sense of what would happen there. 
  • It would help greatly if the student is able to find persons around her or him who can play a mentoring role in this stage. What are the available lifestyle choices? What knowledge is important? E.g. I would always encourage the construction of broad intellectual capabilities and not narrow job-specific knowledge. E.g. an economics undergraduate should learn enough to understand this blog.
  • The student should then turn to the web course offerings and construct a program for self-study. Every few months, this program needs to be re-evaluated because the life plan can change and because the offerings available on the web are changing quite rapidly. Here also, mentoring would help greatly in constructing these plans.
  • This process should be continued until the person has done courses and mastered books that yield rough parity with a person who graduates from one of the global top 10 universities.
  • The resume of the student should show a specific checklist of courses with URLs which have been done, and books that have been mastered. This is just a claim by the student, because there is no diploma.
  • The student would say to the employer: I am willing to face an interview where you test my knowledge of these things.
  • Employers should welcome students who have resumes which exhibit this approach of choosing a way of life, and of connecting into the best educational resources in the world.
  • Employers should run video interviews through which they test the capabilities of the student.
From the viewpoint of students, this is a great thing because it is an opportunity to escape the low quality of colleges and universities immediately available. For employers, this is a great thing because it is an opportunity to do better than the low quality of students that can be recruited through conventional channels.

This approach requires more work for students and more work for employers. It was easy for a student to say "I have started a Bachelor's in English Literature and now I'm on autopilot". It was easy for an employer to say "I only take in IIT grads; apart from that I am on autopilot". The new world is absolutely wonderful, but it requires that both students and employers need to think more about what they're doing. Read Meeta Sengupta on this.


  1. I totally agree with your suggestions. A further step in this direction would be resources that judge a person's capabilty and not just pedigree based on university degrees. For statistics, for example, there is a website called, which holds prediction competitions. I understand some of the winners have just done courses on coursera and don't actually have formal statitics qualifications.

  2. We are still stuck in the imperial system which tried to produce Babus for the Raj , this needs a serious reboot.The world is wide open and we have more opportunities and markets than ever and what we are training the young minds towards is a degree for a job , which is far less we are asking for as an individual when we can be entrepreneurs,scientists and whatever we want to be than just a day jobber who is content with his car,house,emi's and tax saving schemes.


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