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College Dreams[/caption]

I have been thinking about the dismal state of higher education for a while and here’s a first of several posts on the topic.

We now live in knowledge societies, where education is key to a good life. There’s much turmoil in higher education right now with a lot of hand wringing about affordability and access.

In India we have a particularly hard problem to solve: people are graduating from high school in ever larger numbers and we simply don’t have the infrastructure to offer a reasonable education to the millions of new students. A back of the envelope calculation suggests that India needs thousands of new colleges every year. Where are we going to get the people to teach those students?

One answer being given right now is: Technology. That India needs technology driven higher education in a big way. Do the people who say this recognize the state of web infrastructure in India? Also, given the terrible results from MOOCs and other online courses, why do we still believe that online education will lead to learning?

So in India and elsewhere, we are stuck with a major dilemma:

1. Public funding for education is going down.
2. Universities are reluctant to change their exceptionally exploitative hiring model: a few tenured or tenure-track professors lording it over a vast army of adjuncts, post-docs and graduate students.
3. Good teachers and researchers are hard to find.
4. Snake-oil peddlers of all kinds are touting their magic: from silicon valley startups to the best known universities in the world.

Learners are stuck between a range of unpalatable options. I don’t know about other countries, but in India, the so called demographic dividend will turn into a disaster if we don’t address these basic needs. And I haven’t even addressed the problem with the *content* of education, just access.