My recent blog post on Israel reiterates the deep impact of strong universities on the task of winning at high-end knowledge functions in the global economy. Even in the lower-quality BPO jobs that India excels at, meaningful higher education matters critically in giving young people the ability to rapidly reshape their skills in response to the evolving needs of the global labour market.
One useful thing Arjun Singh has done is to help bring a greater focus upon the long-standing crisis in Indian higher education. There has been a bunch of interesting readings on the subject:
- Indian Higher Education Reform: From Half-Baked Socialism to Half-Baked Capitalism, Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, CID, Harvard, September 2004.
- Outsourcing of Indian Education, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, YaleGlobal, 15 June 2006.
- Higher education in India: The need for change, Pawan Agarwal, ICRIER WP, June 2006.
- Higher education in India: Seizing the opportunity, Sanat Kaul, ICRIER WP, May 2006.
- India's skill shortage by Salil Tripathi, Wall Street Journal, 5 January 2006.
- A while ago, I had written about how low academic wages are a key piece of the higher education puzzle. Today, a new working paper exploits a natural "experiment" on academic wages in New Zealand. In the US, wages vary by field depending on supply and demand - so finance professors earn more than economics professors who earn more than sociology professors. In New Zealand, all academics earn the same amount. The paper finds that the quality of academics in New Zealand is lower when the wage gap against the US is greater.
A short while ago, I had written about entry barriers in Indian higher education. China has made enormous progress when compared with India, particularly in freeing up foreign and private entry. A recent article in The Economist looks at their problems: China: Chaos in the classrooms; An education policy torn between the market and the state.
A simple litmus test of the situation with universities in India is: How often do you see work done in an Indian university get noticed and have impact globally? I can only think of a handful of situations. One that leaps to mind is the work done at IIT Kanpur in number theory a few years ago. Another recent episode is a paper written by a group of people at the Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Bhavnagar, Gujarat and the Hindustan Lever Research Centre, Bangalore about how to make salt flow smoothly, which got mentioned as one of the great ideas of 2006 by the New York Times Magazine By and large, such episodes appear to be woefully rare.