May 25, 2013

Finally, a post

First days

OK, off to a very slow start on the blogging. I don't really have a good excuse; there has been a good amount of downtime these past couple of days which I have put largely to use catching up...on reading what I can find about the people I will meet, additional background on higher education in India and on innovation in general, surfing Indian web-news just to get a better feel for what's going on (cricket fixing scandal making headlines, and completely dominating the television in the hotel's fitness center!), ...and, admittedly, catching up on sleep. 

It is a great time to be in Delhi asking about higher education innovation and reform; there's a fierce debate currently over Delhi University's proposed move from a 3-yr British style (w/ 4th year for honors) curriculum to a  4-yr program with "foundational" courses much like general education requirements in the US system. The debate is actually a perfect introduction to differences and similarities in Indian and US systems of higher education; for example- it seems as much attention is being paid to the mechanism and process of change in DU's program (who was in on the decision making and planning; is it too much too soon; has there been enough consideration; have various stakeholder needs been adequately addressed) as to the substance of the change (I'd count that as a similarity!)...but the scale is just so dramatically different! Estimates say DU needs to hire *4000* new instructors to support the new curriculum. From what I have heard so far, many believe there is not an adequate Ph.D. pipeline to satisfy that level of need, not just in one university but across the nation. I am looking forward to hearing more perspectives.
The meetings I've had have been with very different- but all fascinating- people. Because I am also interested in environmental science and education, I am occasionally meeting with people working in those fields. on Wednesday I met with Sunit Sarma, a Fellow and Area Convenor on Environmental Science and Climate Change at TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) . His thoughts on raising public awareness of environmental issues, where (in what institutions) change is being made, and the role/contribution of universities in the environmental area were extremely interesting. I was also fortunate to meet with Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the President of the Centre for Policy Research, a highly regarded think tank. He has been thinking about higher education for a long time, and got me interested in some topics/avenues of inquiry related to innovation I hadn't really been considering- particularly the issue of university governance. Fundamental to change making or innovation is of course the mechanism whereby change is agreed upon and implemented; I'd been focusing more on trying to identify some kind of ideal curriculum or policies- but if you can't make progress in moving towards that ideal, well, it's not much help. I plan to ask a lot more broad questions moving forward of all I meet- government officials, academics, business people- about effecting institutional change.
Finally, I also met with Mr. Vineet Gupta, Director of Jamboree, a test prep corporation (SAT, GRE, GMAT, TOEFL), and one of the co-founders of Ashoka University- set to open in fall 2014. I hope to visit the campus- which is under construction- when I am back in Delhi at the end of my fellowship. It is a remarkable experiment; they are working to set up a more liberal arts style university. Their admissions process will involve more than just standardized test scores, students will have flexibility in their curriculum, and there will be an emphasis on multi/inter/transdisciplinary education. It is just amazing to actually be talking to people who are building their own university from scratch (they are partnering with the University of Pennsylvania and Carleton College; so they do have some help!) We had a very fun and stimulating discussion on making a case for a liberal arts style curriculum given varying cultural settings but amidst a common concern from students and parents as to employability post-graduation. He asked me what I thought were a dean's most important considerations and/or priorities. No one's asked me that in the year I've been doing this job (generally, its "what has surprised you most?" or "what have been your greatest challenges?" or "what has been the best part?")! I think my answers were somewhat surprising to him; I spoke about building relationships, generating buy-in, and most importantly- making sure you were listening to students about their perceived needs and the effectiveness of what you were trying to do from their perspective. We were, however, on the same page about assessment of learning outcomes; while it is challenging, and time consuming, and will never truly capture what a student has've got to do it- particularly when you're trying something new.
So, I have a series of meetings tomorrow that I'm looking forward to- and I will absolutely be better about posting. I feel very guilty that I haven't used this downtime for sightseeing- but I've never been a big monument/tomb/tourist attraction etc. fan...and been so spoiled rotten by the opportunities to see things off the beaten path that crowded, highly managed/structured attractions aren't that much of a draw...and, ok, it's been 115 degrees out. So I've just been walking around the (very nice) neighborhood in the relatively cool mornings. I will go see the Taj Mahal on my last I don't feel that bad!