June 4, 2013

"It's a pity..."


"...that so many get college training without an education" reads a random, home-made sign by the side of the road in Mumbai.  The quality of higher education is a topic not just of dinner party conversation, but also of public commentary!  It has been an interesting few days; before I left Delhi Sunday I had the chance to visit the National Museum- there were even some Paleolithic materials (though of course there were mostly spectacular carvings, statues, and paintings from much younger times). There was even an elaborate pavilion, a gift from Thailand, with "corporeal relics of Buddha" (bones). 
The last part of the evening flight from Delhi to Mumbai (incidentally, Jet Airways not only served a meal on a less than 2hour flight, but we got *ice cream bars* for dessert.) was a bit bumpy; the monsoon is projected to hit Mumbai soon- sometime June 7-10, but most evenings are already getting intermittent thunderstorms.
But back to work; the quality of higher education is certainly a topic that provokes a lot of general interest, as evidenced by the effort someone took to put up the aforementioned sign. I had a fabulous dinner last night, hosted by a prior Eisenhower Fellow, Abha Lambah (check out gorgeous pictures on her website), who works in conservation of historic buildings. She invited other local/regional Eisenhower fellows, and I was lucky that several happened to be in Mumbai. The conversation ran from water resources [perhaps my favorite quote of the evening was from P. Sainath, a journalist and author ("Everybody Loves a Good Drought") who is the Rural Affairs editor of The Hindu- "I'm not against sugar cane, I'm against agroclimatic insanity". Read any of his writing- you won't regret it.] to the next round of elections in India, to how many languages one hears on a train in different cities, to generational differences...I'm sure I missed probably all of the nuance but it was still enlightening to be part of a familiar experience (dinner party) talking about a lot of the same topics I'm used to getting into in dinner parties at home, but in an utterly different cultural context.
Today I met with Kairas Vakharia, an Eisenhower fellow, and currently Senior Vice President for Innovation and Business Head-Construction Equipment at Mahindra & Mahindra. He confirmed that supply of educated, employable workers is a real challenge, saying that higher education really is the bottleneck- the demand is there, and the population is there...just not the numbers with quality education.  In fact, demand so far outstrips supply that compensation has risen approximately 12% a year for the last several years (and employees move more frequently than they used to). When they hire a mechanical engineer, generally that person does a year of training (as an employee) before really becoming productive. Though groups like the CII (the Confederation of Indian Industry; I met some representatives in Delhi) are effective, and have the ear both of government and media, companies so far have not really lobbied for changes in higher education, rather, each company has found ways to get the trained employees they need. The scale, again, of operations here is astonishing. Some larger software companies may hire hundreds of new employees a day, every day. That's requiring a lot of operational innovation to simply handle training at that level.
Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to spending the afternoon at IIT-Bombay; since I will be giving a lecture, I'd best get to preparing! Being able to be here for the onset of the monsoon is actually (really) fairly exciting as I've spent a lot of time studying monsoons but never experienced one. I do understand it's just going to rain, but I'm still pretty psyched. 


Hi Jen!

Sounds as if you're having a fabulous experience in India!

All the best,