Friday, December 02, 2005

raising the bar

An innovative university in India has revolutionized the teaching of law

By Shailaja Neelakantan/BANGALORE

Chronicle of Higher Education
Issue cover-dated December 2, 2005

When Mrinal Satish quit his job as a corporate lawyer to teach at his alma mater, the National Law School of India University here in the southern city of Bangalore, his former classmates and colleagues thought he was crazy.

After graduating from India's premier law school, he had been recruited by a top firm and was making an impressive salary. "I did corporate law for a while but realized that I was really interested in teaching — not any kind, but the kind we do here," says Mr. Satish, pointing toward the school's premises.

The campus may not be striking, but what takes place inside the classrooms is. Unlike most Indian universities, where professors often read their lectures from notes and students learn by rote, the National Law School vibrates with energy. In class, one hears students' voices as often as one hears the teachers. Laughter sounds through the halls, and when the bell signals that time is up, students file out with reluctance instead of jubilation.

"Students here are not spoon-fed," says Mr. Satish. "They are encouraged to discover stuff on their own, making the classroom situation more interactive. It is exciting."

In just the 12 years since it graduated its first batch of lawyers, the National Law School has revolutionized the teaching of law in India. Its graduates are some of the most successful lawyers in the country, and it has inspired more than a half-dozen copycat institutions. It has also helped to make law an attractive option in a country where a legal career has not always been a ticket to wealth and prestige.
Until the National Law School came on the scene in 1988, India's law schools often attracted students with little interest in the profession. Some were biding their time while studying for India's civil-service examination, others simply saw law school as a way to extend the perks of college life, such as cheap lodging and the opportunity to participate in campus politics.

"Until NLSIU began, law was not a preferred option; it was actually pretty low on the scale of options," says Probal Bhadhuri, a 1994 graduate of the university and a partner in one of India's top law firms. "So, for example, if anyone didn't get into the administrative services, they would fall back on their law degree."
Sunila Awasthi, a colleague of Mr. Bhadhuri's who attended the University of Delhi's graduate law program, agrees. "In my class of around 60, only 10 to
15 of us were really interested in being lawyers," she says.

The resulting mess — thousands of mediocre lawyers clogging up a legal system already notorious for obstructionism and endless delays — deterred many competent students from entering the profession.

An old joke, true enough to elicit rueful laughter, is that a civil suit in the Indian courts is the closest one can come to experiencing eternity. India's lower courts have a backlog of about 20 million civil and criminal cases. An additional 3.2 million cases are pending before the high courts, while the Supreme Court has about 20,000 old cases on the docket.

In the mid-1970s, concerned about the poor quality of India's law-school graduates and their effect on the legal system, the Bar Council of India, a professional organization that regulates the legal profession and sets standards for legal education, proposed the creation of a university devoted solely to the teaching of law. It took more than a decade of internal wrangling — these were lawyers, after all — before the bar council determined it could actually run a college.

Although its critics point out that most of National Law School's graduates eschew courtroom practice in favor of corporate transactions, others say the university may change the way law is practiced in India.

Stirring Up Debate

The most innovative aspect of the new university was that it enrolled students straight out of high school. Until then, all law schools consisted of a two-year graduate program, resulting in an L.L.B., or bachelor of law.
Five years in length, the new program sought to subsume the entirety of its students' university education.

The man tapped to bring the concept to fruition by the council of jurists was N.R. Madhava Menon, then head of the law department at the University of Delhi. The respected legal educator, who had set up India's first university-sponsored legal-aid program, had clear ideas about how the university should be run.

When Mr. Menon visited the law school at Columbia University, in New York, in the early 1970s, he was struck by the volunteer work that its students were doing for the poorer sections of the city. "My main objective was to provide clinical legal education like I had seen at Columbia," says Mr. Menon, who is now director of the National Judicial Academy, which is responsible for the continuing education of judges. Mr. Menon also felt strongly that the traditional way of teaching law, using lectures and rote learning, was not sufficient. So he introduced the Socratic method.

Mr. Bhaduri, the 1994 graduate, says that made all the difference. "We were told we would be discussing an issue in the next few days, say defamation, so we would go do our own research on it and in class it would be more of a Q and A and much more exciting," he recalls.

Siddharth Aggarwal, a 1998 graduate and a New Delhi-based litigator, says it was not uncommon for three professors to teach one class. "They would stir up a debate just by having different opinions. The school inculcated in us that in law there is no one correct answer. If you can justify your opinion, it is the correct answer," says Mr. Aggarwal.

Training professors was no easy task. "After we selected the faculty, for six months all we did was unlearn the old ways of teaching law," Mr. Menon remembers. "We conducted workshops, had refresher courses, invited faculty from other countries to advise us, and discussed and demonstrated how we should change the ways of teaching." Now all the school's professors are required to teach in this manner, and standards are strictly monitored.
Because Mr. Menon believed that academy-bar-bench cooperation would be key to ensuring high standards, he saw to it that the university's governing body included the chief justice of India, the chairman of the Bar Council of India, and leading lawyers of the Supreme Court and other high courts.

New Approaches

Students also study history, economics, politics, and sociology, says Mr.
Menon, "to give a social context to future lawyers." He notes that more than half of all the people in India are shut out of the legal system because they can't afford lawyers' fees. "We were the first people to seriously do this. A law degree isn't just an appendage to some other degree," says A. Jayagovind, the university's current director.

The range of legal issues students study is broad. Subjects include civil and criminal law, corporate and commercial law, mediation and negotiation, international law, intellectual-property law, medical-negligence law, environmental law, and human-rights law.

The National Law School was also the first to introduce internships that count toward course credits. These begin as early as students' third year so that future lawyers can swiftly apply their classroom knowledge.

"This practical-oriented approach to teaching gives a big edge when we go out into the real world," says Rajshekhar Rao, a 1999 graduate who has already argued cases before the Supreme Court. "It instills the ability to think tangentially and also the desire to make a difference in a variety of fields. An institution that teaches law should not teach just about law." In his brief career, Mr. Rao has been a counsel for the state of Delhi on the case of the 2001 attack on India's Parliament. "I've interacted with lawyers who have studied elsewhere," he says, "and I can see the difference."

The government of Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital, provided land, basic infrastructure, and support of $150,000 to the university when it first started. But administrators say it wisely left the running of the institution — both academically and financially — to the Bar Council of India. India's federally subsidized universities, by comparison, are notoriously politicized and corrupt. Administrators and professors are often hired based on their political connections rather than on their academic credentials.

"We could experiment and innovate only because we were autonomous," says Mr. Menon.

National Law School's high academic standards have paid off — literally.
Starting salaries for recent graduates average about $450 a month — more than six times what other law-school graduates make. Today the university's alumni work at the country's top law firms and serve as in-house counsel to companies like General Electric and organizations like the Red Cross and Amnesty International.

The National Law School's success has had a profound impact on legal education throughout India. In 1995 a three-judge committee appointed by India's chief justice to evaluate legal education recommended that every state establish a college on the model of the National Law School. Six states so far have done just that. Like the university, these new institutions offer five-year degrees, use the Socratic teaching method, and stress an interdisciplinary approach.

Improvement All Around

Members of the legal profession hope that spillover effect will change the face of law in the country. "Because these new schools are trying to measure themselves against NLSIU, the quality of education has improved drastically all around," says Udaya Holla, a Bangalore-based lawyer who has appeared before the Supreme Court.

Some say the change is already under way. "The practice of law has already changed, thanks to all these new graduates," says Mr. Aggarwal. " ... When they perform in court you can really tell they know their stuff. This is a sea change from 20 years ago."

One of the few criticisms leveled against the National Law School is that the bulk of its graduates enter the lucrative world of corporate transaction law, rather than litigation, which requires contact with courts and judges.

"There is disillusionment with the legal system and there is a misconception that there is no room for merit in litigation," says Aditya Sondhi, a 1998 graduate who runs a constitutional and corporate litigation practice in Bangalore. "Another deterrent is that it takes much longer to grow financially in litigation, and when colleagues take up such tempting corporate offers, the trend becomes to go for early money."

That is slowly changing. Mr. Satish says that after he quit his corporate job to teach, a couple of his colleagues quit corporate transaction law to start their own litigation practice. He has also noticed that more students seem to be interested in working for nonprofit groups.

Mr. Aggarwal believes that as the number of top-quality lawyers increases, so will their interest in litigation. And "once the quality of the bar changes, the quality of the bench will also change," says Mr. Jayagovind, the National Law School's director.

Mr. Menon, the university's founder, who went on to establish the National University of Juridical Sciences, in Calcutta, one of the dozen institutions inspired by the National Law School, hopes that these new law schools will help spur legal reform and social justice.

"It is a bit disappointing to see so many graduates go into corporate law,"
he says, "but I have seen that at least sensitivity to the poor has been inculcated in these lawyers. A faster, more humane system is evolving."

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Friday, September 30, 2005

scouting for homegrown ingenuity

A unique academic network nurtures innovation among India's poor

By Shailaja Neelakantan
Chronicle of Higher Education
Issue cover-dated September 30, 2005

Ahmedabad, India

Mansukhbhai Patel, a hard-working farmer with a 10th-grade education, has revolutionized the cotton industry here in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Had it not been for a chance meeting with a college student, the cotton-stripping machine Mr. Patel invented might never have been a success.

That student put Mr. Patel in touch with Anil Gupta, a management professor at one of the country's elite Indian Institutes of Management and the founder of an unconventional academic project. An evangelical supporter of grassroots innovations, Mr. Gupta is on a mission to ensure that rural inventors like Mr. Patel can commercialize their creations. To make that happen, Mr. Gupta founded the Honey Bee Network, a scouting team of sorts, in which academics, scientists, graduate students, farmers, and artisans seek out and nurture the tinkerers, mechanics, and self-taught scientists in villages and small towns across India.

The network, formed in 1987, has discovered Amrutbhai Agrawat and his tilting bullock-cart, which greatly enhances efficiency in spreading manure on small fields; Mansukhbhai Jagani's modified motorcycle, which has attachments for tilling, weeding, and sowing; Kalpesh Gujjar's small, energy-saving seed-oil extractor with a novel gearbox; and Arvindbhai Patel's water chiller that uses no electricity.

All of those men are rural workers whose original goal was simply to make backbreaking work a little easier.

"Poor people have to be inventive to survive," says Mr. Gupta, "and the elite often fail to recognize that the poor are knowledge-rich, and that is a vital resource for any community and economy." Clad in a knee-length, hand-woven shirt called a kurta, white pajama pants, and sandals, he looks more like a zealous social activist than a professor at a university that turns out future corporate executives.

Readers in the developed world may question why a new cotton-stripping machine is needed when Eli Whitney's cotton gin revolutionized the industry more than 200 years ago. But Mr. Patel faced a problem characteristic of this region.

Farmers here grow a tough variety of cotton, called V-797, that does not need much water and can withstand the harsh, arid climate. While most hybrid varieties produce balls of cotton that can be picked directly from the plant, this indigenous variety produces sturdy pods that do not open easily to let loose the fibers within.

Instead, the pods must be picked off the plant and cracked manually to extract the fibers. This is a tedious and time-consuming task performed by women and children, who often cannot pick all of the cotton before seasonal rains arrive. Traditional handpicking methods also force children to work long hours in the field instead of attending school.

Mr. Patel, a self-taught electrician and mechanic, started work on his cotton-stripping machine in 1991. He made three models before selecting the one that worked best, and he finished the first prototype in 1992. The following year, he sold a number of them to local ginners in his village of Nana Ubhada. But after a couple of months, a wire-mesh plate in each machine broke, and the machines failed. Mr. Patel stunned his customers, and the community, by giving the ginners back their money and continuing to work on his invention. His reputation as a dogged technician and an honest businessman grew.

'The Crazy Ones'

In 1995, Hirendra Rawal, a scout from the Honey Bee Network, was touring Nana Ubhada.

"The student scouts are given a clear mandate," says Mr. Gupta. "Go from village to village and look for the oddballs, the crazy ones, the ones who do something different and don't follow set patterns, the ones with curiosity, who have come up with homegrown solutions for various problems.
And Hirendra kept hearing things about Mansukhbhai Patel, mostly about his honesty and integrity, and also about his failed machine."

Mr. Rawal met Mr. Patel and was intrigued by his machine. He wrote up his notes and showed them to Mr. Gupta.

"At the time a professor from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay was visiting, and I took him along to meet Mansukhbhai, and he said that with some alterations the cotton stripper would work just fine," says Mr.

Unlike many of the self-taught innovators the scouts came across, Mr. Patel was open-minded about getting help.

"Initially, many grassroots innovators don't like to talk about what they do or give away their secrets," says Kamlesh Kumar Tawal, a scout. "It takes a couple of visits to convince them that we are not here to steal their ideas, but we are here to help them take the ideas forward and give them credit for it."

Mr. Patel had no such misgivings. "Taking help is a good thing, and I don't consider it beneath me. I knew things would get better when they came to me," he says about the Honey Bee Network.

Soon after he met Mr. Patel, Mr. Gupta heard from Ahmedabad's elite National Institute of Design that a German exchange student wanted to work on design innovations in a rural area. The student ended up staying with Mr. Patel as they worked together on a new machine. A final model, built in 1999, worked perfectly.

"It was interesting working with a professional but also a bit strange,"
recalls the genial Mr. Patel. "I visualize a model in my head and then I make it. But the professionals sit at their computer or with pencil and paper and draw and redraw things before they actually make something."

Before he started the Honey Bee Network, Mr. Gupta was a consultant for the Bangladesh government and helped farmers there use technology to improve yields and working conditions. He says that job left him dissatisfied. "I wrote all these papers, having used their grassroots knowledge, and I got this ... [very high] salary, but I never gave anything back. I felt quite guilty. Maybe it is the Indian mentality."

So he decided to help rural innovators by securing intellectual property rights for them and publicizing their inventions. He explains how he came up with the name of his network: "I had in mind the metaphor of honeybees that collect nectar from flowers without impoverishing them, and in turn, the bees aid pollination and diversity."

In 1993 the Honey Bee Network was renamed the Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions, or Sristi.
Students in the society write case studies of particular inventions and publish them in Honey Bee magazine, which was initially supported by the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, but now operates independently and is published in eight languages.

Set for Life

In 1997 Mr. Gupta and his organization helped form the Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network, or GIAN.

"We realized that we were cataloging all these innovations and helping the grassroots innovators, but we weren't equipped to take these innovations forward," says Mr. Gupta, who convinced the government of the State of Gujarat, where his institute is located, to contribute $230,000 to what eventually became a business incubator. "Back then we called it a trust, but turns out it was India's first microventure incubation fund," chuckles Mr.
Gupta. "All these concepts became buzzwords much later, but we were thinking about them even before that."

GIAN gave Mr. Patel $5,100 to start commercial production of the cotton stripper, and the first sales were made in 2000. Three years later GIAN helped Mr. Patel obtain a U.S. patent. Last year he won India's National Research Development Corporation technology award for best innovation.

Today this former amateur technician, who was once chided by his wife for his "crazy pursuits," earns nearly $7,000 a year -- a lot of money in India, where the average yearly income is $350. To ensure that sales don't stagnate, he has made energy-saving and capacity-enhancing improvements on his machine twice since 2000.

Ginners now are replacing their old machines, so sales remain steady. Mr.
Patel has moved out of his village house and built a home about 40 miles from Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat. His new house has air-conditioning, and he has also bought a car.

"I have a computerlike mind. If I had become an engineer, I would be working with microprocessors today, but I am happy," says Mr. Patel, beaming. "My children are now set for life, and my wife doesn't scold me anymore."

The ginners are equally pleased. "Before we had the machine, we could produce only 20 kilos of cotton in an hour; now we can do 350 kilos in an hour," says Prabhubhai Thakkar, a ginner in a nearby district, who owns six of Mr. Patel's machines. "I used to produce only 400 to 500 bales of cotton, but now I produce 30,000 bales a year."

Mr. Gupta has been productive as well. Five years ago he convinced the Indian government to set up the National Innovations Foundation, with an endowment of $4.6-million. The interest on that money is used to support his network and finance grassroots innovations throughout the country.

"There is a lot of work to be done," says the professor, who, in addition to coordinating these multiple ventures, teaches four courses at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. (Most professors teach only two.) "I need to have more work to do than there is time to do it, " he says with a smile.

He has his wish. The foundation has so far documented 51,000 mechanical, technical, and herbal inventions and practices in more than 300 Indian districts. "Now we have to keep scouting and enabling all these innovators,"
says Mr. Gupta. Mr. Patel and his ilk will no doubt keep him busy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

India's Supreme Court Rejects Quotas for Lower-Caste Students at Private Colleges


(This article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education in August 2005).

In a judgment that could limit access to professional education, India's Supreme Court ruled last week that colleges that do not receive government aid are not required to use state admission quotas for students from minority groups and lower castes.

The ruling also held that unaided private colleges have complete autonomy to admit students of their choice in medicine, engineering, and other professional fields.

Admission quotas are popular in India, where the Constitution guarantees that nearly a quarter of all government jobs and student places in higher education are reserved for members of indigenous tribal groups or lower castes. Many other people qualify for quotas based on their religion or ethnicity, a disability, or some other characteristic (The Chronicle, February 13, 2003).

Last week's decision has been severely criticized by several lower-caste groups. Government-supported medical and engineering colleges will be able to maintain quotas for lower castes, but those institutions do not have the capacity to meet the demand for professional courses. Private colleges, which charge much higher fees, fill that gap, but they are unaffordable for the disadvantaged, including the lower castes.

The court's ruling will be effective beginning in the 2006-7 academic year.
Admissions made for 2005-6 under court orders and directions of state committees will not be affected.

The ruling stressed that although every institution is free to devise its own fee structure, fees could be regulated to prevent profiteering.

And while unaided institutions can set their own admissions standards, the criteria they use must be fair, transparent, nonexploitative, and based on merit, the judgment said. It also recommended a common entrance examination to cut costs and to make it easier for students who would otherwise have to take several tests.

The court also allowed private colleges to set aside 15 percent of their seats for expatriate Indian students, but those students must pay higher fees than those paid by students who live in India. The court said the expatriate students' fees should be used as aid for needier students.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

india's prime minister sharply criticizes universities as lagging behind

By Shailaja Neelakantan
(This article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education in August 2005).

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said on Tuesday that the country's universities were falling behind their peers elsewhere in the world in terms of both personnel and infrastructure.
"There is a need to make India's institutions of high education and research world-class," said Mr. Singh, who was speaking at the first meeting of a Knowledge Commission that was created to advise him on promoting excellence in the education system.

Mr. Singh's surprisingly critical comments were a harsh wake-up call for India's higher-education system. Even though India has 5.3 million unemployed university graduates, growing sectors of the economy -- such as the news media, entertainment, fashion, advertising, investment banking, and tourism -- face personnel shortages (The Chronicle, June 3).
Academics and economists blame the problem on the country's antiquated higher-education system, which they say has failed to keep up with the needs of the economy. The country's public universities serve 9.3 million students, or about 7 percent of India's population of 18- to 24-year-olds.

The central government has said it wants to increase the college-going rate to 10 percent by 2007, which would mean four million more students in the university system and even more graduates looking for work.

Exacerbating the problem of declining quality, Mr. Singh said, are tight government budgets whose effects are being neutralized only in part by the private sector. "Together," said Mr. Singh, "the public and private sectors are not able to cope with the demand for higher and professional education."

The prime minister said he would like the commission to propose ways to attain excellence in research and teaching, especially in mathematics, science, and technology.

The seven-member commission, which includes academics, economists, industrialists, and technologists, is scheduled to present a plan by October and to finish its work by October 2008.

Copyright © 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Monday, July 18, 2005

snap judgment

Newsweek International
July 25-Aug. 1 issue

The City of Tiny Lights by Patrick Neate

Tommy Akhtar, a "Paki-immigrant-Ugandan-Indian-Englishman" and private detective in London, is hired by Melody, a black prostitute who wants him to find her missing Russian flatmate. Tommy's investigation leads him to a fiendish Saudi villain who has sinister plans for London. It's a multiculti homage to Raymond Chandler's 1930s detective Marlowe, without his stylized sophistication. In contrast to Neate's Whitbread Award-winning "Twelve Bar Blues," a bewitching tale spanning three continents, "City of Tiny Lights" is more of a shambling slog.

—Shailaja Neelakantan

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Friday, June 03, 2005

higher education proves no match for india's booming economy

(From the Chronicle of Higher Education, issue dated June 3, 2005)


Cochin, India

One recent afternoon in this peaceful coastal town in Kerala, India's southwesternmost state, a 22-year-old shopkeeper is giving a group of British tourists the hard sell.

Hawking his tiny shop's collection of CD's and DVD's, M. Sajjan cleverly gauges their tastes and plays a collection of tabla-heavy trance music.
"Just like Buddha Bar, no?" he says, mentioning the hip Parisian nightspot.
He points out that his DVD's of films like Trainspotting and The Beach cost much less than in England. The tourists leave with several purchases, and Mr. Sajjan, who opened his shop three years ago when he was 19 -- even though he could instead have been in college -- happily records the sale.

Unlike many of his former schoolmates who did go on to higher education, he is making money.

"I could have, college is cheap enough, but it is no use," he says. "Better that I started a business early and started to make money than do a useless degree."

In India in general, and especially in Kerala, where the literacy rate is 91 percent, compared with India's national average of 65 percent, higher education has long been considered the key to a better life. But Mr. Sajjan has a point. India's antiquated higher-education system has not kept up with the needs of its rapidly growing economy. Universities here use archaic teaching methods and outdated syllabi, and their emphasis on rote learning produces graduates who know little about their field of study and even less about how to relate that knowledge to the outside world.

Though starkest in the state of Kerala, the skyrocketing number of unemployed graduates is beginning to worry administrators across India. The problem is expected to worsen as other states catch up to Kerala in literacy and send more students to universities.

Kerala has fascinated development experts because, while its per-capita income is extremely low, its adult-literacy rate, birth rate and infant-mortality rate rival those of many Western nations. In 1957, Kerala democratically elected a Communist chief minister (like an American governor), and since then the state's efforts to empower the poor through universal literacy have been highly successful.

Despite Kerala's gains, the fraying of its social fabric is beginning to show. Of India's 5.3 million unemployed university graduates, Kerala has a disproportionate half a million. By ensuring basic education and schooling for all, Kerala, unlike other states in India, has had -- and still has -- more students pursuing higher education. It isn't uncommon to find bus drivers who are engineers or who hold multiple master's degrees or law degrees.

They have no choice but to take more menial jobs. It is better than being unemployed.

The problem is not simply a shortage of white-collar jobs in Kerala, which has little or no industry. Interstate migration is common in India, and Keralites often work in more industrialized states. By not paying the same attention to the quality of higher education or to market-relevant higher education, Kerala has offset the gains it has made in literacy.

"All this chest-thumping about how literate Kerala is!" a woman with a master's degree recently told an Indian newsmagazine. "Postgraduates are hankering for a Rs 3,500 [about $80] job! We'd make more money if we were illiterate drivers!"

In the last three years the proportion of high-school graduates pursuing higher education has fallen at least 25 percent, according to Sister Tessa, dean of St. Teresa's College, in Ernakulam, Kerala.

The problem has ignited a curious debate in developmental circles. Skeptics often cite Kerala's high unemployment to argue that education doesn't solve economic problems. The Indian economist Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate, holds a different view: He believes the higher-education system must be revised to suit the demands of the contemporary age, including a focus on India's rapidly expanding information economy.

The country's 300-odd public universities serve 9.3 million students, or about 7 percent of India's 18- to 24-year-old population. The central government has said it wants to increase the college-going rate to 10 percent by 2007, which would mean four million more students in the university system and even more graduates looking for work.

Ironically, the problem of unemployed graduates is growing at the same time that Indian industry -- making rapid strides toward an economy based on technology, knowledge, and services -- is experiencing an acute shortage of skilled workers. India produces some 290,000 engineers a year, the source of much pride here and much heartache in the United States and Europe, which have lost technology jobs to India. But in India, that number is small compared with the total number of university graduates in all fields.

Producing 'Babus'

Only 17 percent of Indian students are enrolled in professional courses such as engineering and medicine. The remaining students are pursuing degrees in the sciences, the humanities, and commerce. (The last, which includes business and economics, is not considered a professional field in India.)

Meanwhile, job opportunities in growing sectors of the economy -- such as media, entertainment, fashion, advertising, investment banking, and tourism
-- are increasing, and face personnel shortages.

Indian higher education is still geared toward producing babus, says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi-based think tank. (Babu is a pejorative term used to describe clerks and petty bureaucrats, a class developed by the British colonialists who encouraged education for Indians to create legions of career underlings.) That mentality has lingered in independent India, where acquiring a degree -- or several -- has become an end in itself, says Mr.

M.A. Oomen, a scholar at the Institute of Social Sciences at Thiruvananthapuram, agrees. "College education is neither job-oriented nor research-oriented," he says. "It has created a false notion of knowledge and ego in people's minds."

Mr. Oomen recalls his association with universities in Kerala as a professor of economics at University of Calicut and Mahatma Gandhi University in the late 1970s. "For the first time in India we offered several options in addition to basic courses in economics, like forestry economics, the economics of fishing, transportation, etc., all relevant to Kerala's economy," he says. "This was the only way to initiate students into the world of real opportunities, instead of focusing just on neoclassical economics. I was pooh-poohed, but I managed to make these courses last three or four years."

After he left, such courses ended, he says. He blames the teaching community for not wanting to try new approaches, and government officials for hiring candidates whose political connections were stronger than their job credentials.

India has chosen to emphasize public higher education to ensure that the poor are not left out. But the dominance of federally subsidized universities has led to corruption and the politicization of universities.
In some states professors can bribe their way into jobs, says Babu Joseph, a former vice chancellor of Kerala's Cochin University of Science and Technology. "You can bribe someone at the examination center and have your marks changed. All this has become endemic to the system. No wonder we have such poor-quality graduates."

Educators also blame India's university system, another relic of British colonialism. Like the Universities of Oxford and of Cambridge, every university in India has affiliated colleges. In India, that relationship causes serious problems.

"The university sets the syllabus and the examinations, and the colleges have to follow it," says the Rev. Ambrose Pinto, principal of St. Joseph's College, in Bangalore. He believes colleges should be given complete autonomy, so that they are still affiliated with the university and thus eligible for state funding, but are free to set their own curriculum and examinations. The current system offers little room for innovation. "There is a lot of resistance to autonomy because the authorities are afraid they will lose control and power over colleges," Father Pinto says. "This is a very feudal outlook."

In India's education system, students choose their "stream," or area of study, after the 10th grade. In the 11th and 12th grades, students take only subjects in their chosen fields, so that a humanities student could not, for example, take a physics class. That system continues in college. As a result, a decision to specialize made at the age of 15 or 16 determines a student's life.

"Shouldn't a science student study some humanities and vice versa? We need well-rounded graduates," Father Pinto says.

Studying Silkworms

Faced with declining university enrollments and looming competition from foreign universities, the Indian government is finally realizing that drastic changes are needed. The University Grants Commission, India's higher-education regulatory body, has said that Indian universities should allow students to combine traditional education with skills-oriented education. In addition, India's Planning Commission, the country's main economic planning body, has directed the university commission to supplement degree programs with job-oriented diploma and certificate programs.

A pilot program is in place at four universities and 43 colleges. It allows students to choose electives outside their academic specialty and tailor their studies to suit their personal needs. "This system will be extremely beneficial for narrowing the gap between university education and employment," says S.P. Thyagarajan, vice chancellor of the University of Madras, which is taking part in the pilot program.

Some universities are wasting no time in adopting the proposals. In June Bangalore University will introduce four-year (instead of the usual
three-year) integrated-honors degree programs in the humanities and the sciences. The university plans to introduce courses in industrial chemistry, water management, apparel technology, and sericulture (the raising of silkworms). Course work in practical, job-training subjects will make up 50 percent of the syllabus.

A New Mentality

Several colleges affiliated with the University of Mumbai, in Maharashtra State, have also added undergraduate programs in such fields as management, mass media, and information technology. "Right now demand for basic sciences and humanities is declining because they aren't skill-oriented," says M.S.
Thimmappa, vice chancellor of Bangalore University. "These new courses will give students an understanding of industry and improve their chances of employment.

"I believe this could reduce the number of unemployed graduates by 50 percent," he adds.

The University of Madras has also reorganized syllabus committees in all its departments so that one-third of the committee members work outside academe.
The university also plans to submit to Indian higher-education officials a report on the potential of community colleges. Currently there are very few such colleges in India. The state of Tamil Nadu, where the University of Madras is based, has 60 such colleges -- far more than most states.

Mr. Thyagarajan says the report examines how community-college programs can be linked to university degree programs. "This will serve the dual purpose of increasing the numbers seeking higher education and also ensuring that students have employable skills," he says.

But in a country so steeped in the culture of acquiring degrees for their own sake, community colleges and vocational courses will require a major hard sell. Indians view a degree as the route to a white-collar job, no matter how poor the degree.

"Little by little this attitude is changing," says S.P. Gupta, former chairman of India's economic-planning commission. "People are realizing that if salaries are good it doesn't matter if the job is blue collar. For example, in the rural sector, the money in trucking services is quite good.
But it will take some time for that mind-set to change."

For that kind of revolution to occur, most people agree that the economic liberalization that is on the rise throughout India must be extended to higher education.

"It takes a new kind of imagination, one that is not geared toward collecting degrees," says Mr. Visvanathan, the sociologist who worries about India's babu mentality. "People have to change, higher education has to change. It will take a couple of meltdowns for the tool kit to become cool."
Section: International
Volume 51, Issue 39, Page A32
Copyright © 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Monday, May 16, 2005

tokyo cancelled by rana dasgupta

By Shailaja Neelakantan
(This snap judgment appeared in Newsweek International in May 2005).

A flight heading for Tokyo is canceled. Thirteen passengers are stranded in the airport, and to pass the time each tells a story in this book. These modern-day Canterbury tales are fantastical and, when they work, grippingly depict the outcomes of human frailties. But sometimes Dasgupta's efforts are too forced. Like the passengers, the stories are set all over the world, predictably showcasing today's global citizens. Still, there's enough sparkle in this debut to make readers eager to read Dasgupta's next work.