Sunday, November 08, 2009

Devesh Kapur on the attitude of Indian business towards education

He is appalled by Indian business leaders' attitude towards higher education (in spite of its importance to their business). His list of complaints is long; here's a sample:

The commitment of Indian business to philanthropy in higher education was strong prior to independence and has dwindled ever since. Pre-independence, business interests not only made the transition from merchant charity to organised professional philanthropy, but did so in a significant way. They created some of India's most enduring trusts, foundations and public institutions, including the Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Millia, Annamalai and Indian Institute of Science. Of the 16 largest "non-religious" trusts set up during this period, 14 were major patrons of higher education.

Today, the so-called not-for-profit educational institutions do not engage in philanthropy. Their income comes from fees rather than endowments and investments. [...]

But Indian business has much to explain for a more egregious failing: for the most part, it sees little value in research and even less in building quality institutions that produce good research. This is manifest most starkly in its unwillingness to fund even world-class think tanks, let alone an outstanding university. The reality is that most Indian business elites' children study abroad, not in India. The sad implication is that this reduces their stake in lending a badly needed voice to genuine higher education reform in India.

It is extraordinary how much energy and capital Indian corporate titans are willing to commit to summits, conclaves and the like, where photo opportunities and power-point presentations pass off as the epitome of deep thinking and real insight. Yet, for all the posturing by Indian business elites and their courting of universities in the West (especially in the US), the notion of Indian business coming together to fund research centres that produce knowledge and provide quality education accessible to all sections of society in India does not seem to be on the horizon.