Saturday, May 30, 2009

What India can learn from China - 4. Higher Education

Education, as we all know, is a fundamental driver of a society’s development. Both China and India, with massive populations, roughly spend the same % of GDP on education. But China’s economy is three times larger than India’s – so per capita China spends a lot more on education than India.

China is developing institutions of higher learning with a vengeance. And therein lies a lesson for India to learn.

In the good old days, IIM Ahmedabad was considered the best business school “east of the Suez” and one of the best in the world. The Asian Institute of management at Manila was the only real competitor and this was often derisively dismissed . And for years and years IIM A stayed still. Today, in the Financial Times listing of the top 100 business schools in the world, IIM A does not even feature. The eighth rated school in world is the Ceibs in Shanghai. In the Academic Ranking of Word Universities (across all disciplines), there is not a single Indian or Chinese university in the top 200. But in the top 300, there are 8 Chinese universities; there is still no Indian one – not even the IITs, who come much further down.

China’s institutions of higher learning are galloping ahead. In business, CEIBS & Jiao Tong in Shanghai, Guanghua and Tsinghua in Beijing, Nanjing university , Zhongshan in Guangzhou and a clutch of b-schools in Hong Kong are all world class now. A similar situation prevails in other fields of education.

India had a huge head start. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India had the vision to start world leading institutes of higher education in the 50s and 60s. The IITs, IIMs and IISc, were all started long ago – they, especially the IITs, have been the driver of the talent boom in India. But since then India has stayed still. The Indian School of Business is the only world class institution opened recently. Only recently have more IIMs and IITs been opened. Instead of exploding such institutions, India has been trying to being reservation (affirmative action for non Indian readers) into these institutions.

Even where expansion has taken place, India has confused meritocracy with misplaced perceptions of geographical “equity”. New IIMs are in Kozhikode, Lucknow and Indore – with all due respect to these towns, these are not the best of locations for a world class institute to develop.

China is rapidly growing its institutions of higher learning. It is openly wooing American universities to help set them up. There is a lot more of visiting foreign faculty who come to teach in China ; India instead exports its best teachers – the corridors of every American university are filled with professors of Indian origin.

India often mistakes the quality of its graduate output, for the quality of the educational institution. No doubt, some of the best minds in the world, pass out of Indian educational institutions. But whether it is because of the institutes , or despite them, is a question to be pondered upon.