Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Some clarity on what the foreign universities are likely to do

Most top universities are unlikely to set up an Indian campus -- the list of universities that have said 'no' to this option is pretty long: Yale, Columbia, Brown, Oxford, Cambridge, ...

Here, for example, is Prof. Andrew Hamilton, Vice Chancellor of Oxford:

We have many links to India already but we have no plans...in the foreseeable future to establish a campus in India and we have no plans to offer degree courses anywhere other than Oxford for the time being.

Any particular reason?

Oh, I think there are many reasons. Oxford is an institution 800 years in the making and recreating the very special environment that sits in 700-year-old colleges and the living environment that they provide and that critical mass of scholars and students that is present in Oxford, that is a very hard thing to reproduce anywhere else.

Would it be accurate then to say 'Oxford' is not really a brand you're interested in franchising?

Universities are much more complex than talking of hamburgers and franchises.

[The last answer is brilliant, isn't it?]

I think we now have some clarity on the most likely option for foreign universities that wish to have a presence in India.

Partnerships and Collaboration.

This option offers a lot of flexibility, and could take many forms -- short term exchange programs (study tours and semester-long stays), summer internships, and / or longer programs where students do their coursework in India and do their final year projects overseas.

The Indian partner can advertise the tie-up with foreign universities; the foreign partner will have a dependable host in India to send its students to under an exchange program. The overseas partner may also manage to extract some 'earnest money' from the Indian partner -- all of which will end up increase the cost of education in these colleges and universities.

There's also a potential upside: If the partnership is broad enough to include faculty exchanges (and long term collaborative research), it will be a huge plus for India -- India will benefit from the expertise of people who have worked under many different kinds of environments.

Kai Friese: Slow Speed

Slow Speed is the title of Kai Friese's fabulous essay [link via Amit Varma]. Here's an excerpt on Indian bureaucracy:


Related link: Jan Banning's photo series called Bureaucratics -- there's no direct link, but click on 'photo series' and use the menu of pictures on the right to look for the set on India. [Hat tip: Jason Kottke]

* * *

I [once wrote] a satirical essay on the dinosaurs of bureaucracy that had survived Manmohan Singh’s first wave of economic liberalization. I was quite pleased with the title-”Bureaucratic Park”-though it never saw the light of day. But the real thrill was finding myself back on very familiar turf. Grimy corridors, supplicant citizens, and the “concerned officer” enthroned on his swivel chair. I loved the scenery-the towel on the backrest, the psychedelic paperweights… the papers beneath them.

There was the Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology, an Orwellian outfit that produced a Comprehensive Glossary of Administrative Terms in English and the vernacular. “Hindi is very poor in terms,” a commissioner told me. Another office nurtured the remains of Indira Gandhi’s 20-Point Program from the Emergency days. “We look after points 1, 5, 8, 11, 14, 15, and 16,” a man told me. “The other thirteen have been dropped.” My favorite was the Office of Stationery. “Please apply in writing. In triplicate,” they told me. I went to visit them instead, and found the assembled staff standing hushed and yes, stationary, at their desks. It was a moment of silence for a fallen colleague, a bureaucratic wake.

President of Brown University on why an Indian campus doesn't make sense

Prof. Ruth Simmons, President, Brown University, is quite candid in this Mint interview (with Aparna Kalra) about why "major universities will not [open campuses in India] to a very significant degree":

... [For] the most part, if you are in another country, they (the students) don’t want a second-class programme. If you come, they want a first-class programme, which means they want the same faculty that you have back home, they want the same course material, they want everything to be the same.

By and large, it is very difficult for universities to replicate what they have in their own countries. If you ask your faculty to travel back and forth, that’s pretty imperfect, often faculty don’t want to do that. You end up with faculty who are not vetted in the same way that your campus faculty is vetted.

What, then, makes sense for a foreign university with an interest in having a presence in India?

The answer is: Partnership and collaboration. Here's Prof. Simmons, again:

It is very important when you come into another country to demonstrate respect for the educational system in that country, to demonstrate equality of standards. I think for the most part, people will still want to have collaborations. You know, collaborations are wonderful because that sense of equality is very strong in collaborations.

Your students come to us, our students come to you. Your faculty are engaged in research on this project and so are ours, and that equality is very apparent. It is much harder to do that trying to set up an entire programme unless it grows out of collaboration.

Kalra, the interviewer, mentions Brown's partnership program with St. Stephen's since 1991. Prof. Simmons says she's keen on expanding this program, as well as on collaboration with other institutions.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Links ...

  1. Matt Taibbi at Taibblog: The Catholic Church is a Criminal Enterprise. Here's the Taibbi Treatment:

    One expects professional slimeballs like the public relations department of Goldman Sachs to pull out the “Well, we weren’t the only thieves!” argument when accused of financial malfeasance. But I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read through Dolan’s retort and it dawned on me that he was actually going to use the “We weren’t the only child molesters!” excuse. Dolan must have very roomy man-robes, because it seems to me you’d need a set of balls like two moons of Jupiter to say such a thing in public and expect it to fly. But this is exactly what Dolan does; he bases his entire defense of the Church on the idea that others are equally culpable.

  2. Thomas Benton in The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind':

    One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected. Wealthy students are not trapped by the system; they can take what they want from it, not feel pressured, and walk away at any point with minimal consequences. They do not have to obsess about whether some professor really likes them. If they are determined to become academics, they can select universities on the basis of reputation rather than money. They can focus on research rather than scrambling for time-consuming teaching and research assistantships to help pay the bills. And, when they go on the market, they can hold out for the perfect position rather than accepting whatever is available.

    But the system over which the privileged preside does not ultimately depend on them for the daily functioning of higher education (which is now, as we all know, drifting toward a part-time, no-benefit business). The ranks of new Ph.D.'s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.

  3. Massimo Pigliucci at Rationally Speaking: "Anything Is Possible." No, Not Really.

    Clearly, not anything is possible. It is pretty easy to come up with examples of things that are not possible: it is not possible for me both to be and not to be (pace Hamlet); it is not possible for me to levitate; and it is not even possible for me to be in Rome at this moment, because I’m in New York writing this essay.

    Those three examples are not picked at random, they illustrate three distinct classes of impossibility recognized by philosophers: the first is an instance of something that is logically impossible; the second is an example of physical impossibility; and the last one is an illustration of contingent impossibility.

  4. Live Science: Babies Are Born To Dance. Check out the video.

What Teachers Make

Read Taylor Mali's poem. Better yet, watch him perform it.

* * *

Why this link, why now? For no better reason than I found the video just now -- Seth Godin who tells us in another post what we "can learn from a lousy teacher."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Was Oliver Stone's 'Wall Street' a Success?

At the box office, it was. But, "as a vehicle for social change," Michael Lewis says, "it was a catastrophe."

One lesson that might be drawn from Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie, Wall Street, is how little control a movie director has over his audience. [...] What [Stone] wanted to do, it appeared, was to prosecute the values underpinning American capitalism. He cast Michael Douglas as a diabolical money manager named Gordon Gekko, and Charlie Sheen as a young stockbroker named Bud Fox, who, seduced by this devil, abandons his ideals, betrays his family, and is destroyed.

As social documentary, even as art, the original Wall Street was a great success. [...]

As a vehicle for social change, however, the movie was a catastrophe. It did not show Wall Street in its best light, yet Wall Street was, by far, the movie’s most enthusiastic audience. It has endured not because it hit its intended target but because it missed: people who work on Wall Street still love it. And not just any Wall Street people but precisely those who might have either taken Stone’s morality tale to heart or been offended by it. To wit, not long before hedge-fund manager Seth Tobias was found dead in his Florida swimming pool, with an unlucky mixture of cocaine, Ambien, and alcohol in his bloodstream, he gave an interview for Wall Street’s DVD bonus reel, in which he said, “I remember when I saw the movie in 1987. I recall saying, That’s what I want to be. I want to start out as Bud Fox and end up as Gordon Gekko.”

Michael Douglas often expresses his astonishment at the many Wall Street males who have sought him out in public places just to say, “Man, I want to tell you, you are the single biggest reason I got into the business. I watched Wall Street, and I wanted to be Gordon Gekko.”

QoTD: Moral Philosophy Edition

Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold.
-- Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society [Source: Yves Smith's post]

Here's another version:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
-- John Kenneth Galbraith [Source: Brainy Quotes]

Ants, Sperms, Chemical Warfare!

Science blogging at its best. You've got to read Ed Yong's post summarizing a fascinating piece of research into (anti)competitive tactics of sperms. Here's the hook:

One night of passion and you're filled with a lifetime full of sperm with no need to ever mate again. As sex lives go, it doesn't sound very appealing, but it's what many ants, bees, wasps and termites experience. The queens of these social insects mate in a single "nuptial flight" that lasts for a few hours or days. They store the sperm from their suitors and use it to slowly fertilise their eggs over the rest of their lives. Males have this one and only shot at joining the Mile High Club and they compete fiercely for their chance to inseminate the queen. But even for the victors, the war isn't over. Inside the queen's body, their sperm continue the battle.

In the comments section, Yong receives this praise from the author of the research paper:

Hi Ed,

I found your blog online. I just wanted to say that I am really happy to see that you thought our paper was nice enough to write a piece about. You are clearly a talented writer, I think the way you wrote about our research is perfect, you got all the facts right and it is written in a very clear way.

It's awesome, thanks so much!
Best Wishes, Susanne den Boer

* * *

Update: Edited to change the link to the current location of Yong's blog at Discover.com. The old link -- at ScienceBlogs.com is here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

HowTo: Account for teaching in university rankings

Phil Baty of Times Higher Education on the difficulty of arriving at a measure of the quality of teaching [so that this measure can be used in a ranking exercise]:

"To think that such a ratio [i.e., staff to student ratio, SSR] could signify 'teaching quality' shows how serious a problem we face with rankings that privilege the availability of a metric over its validity," the academic said.

He is, of course, right. The same point was made in a paper from the Russian Rectors' Union, handed to me by Victor Sadovnichiy, president of Moscow State University, earlier this month.

It argues that "good teachers always have a lot of students, bad teachers have few".

SSR figures are also easy to manipulate and hard to verify.

David Graham, provost of Concordia University in Canada, opened the web discussion by highlighting research that shows that a ratio of anywhere from 6:1 to 39:1 can be achieved with the same institution's data.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Monday Morning Math: Special Thursday Night Edition

This week's episode in Steven Strogatz's series Math: From Basic to Baffling is on differential geometry: Think Globally. While I leave it to you to read the article for all the good stuff -- and videos! -- about the shortest path between two points on curved surfaces, I want to excerpt something that makes this series truly great:

Sometimes when people say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, they mean it figuratively, as a way of ridiculing nuance and affirming common sense. In other words, keep it simple. But battling obstacles can give rise to great beauty — so much so that in art, and in math, it’s often more fruitful to impose constraints on ourselves. Think of haiku, or sonnets, or telling the story of your life in six words. The same is true of all the math that’s been created to find the shortest way from here to there when you can’t take the easy way out.

Two points. Many paths. Mathematical bliss.

In search of power at airports

A fun read: Empowered by Susan Orlean.

... You may have a phone in your hand that can stream live video of the Large Hadron Collider accelerating particles in Switzerland, but if your little battery icon dips into red, you won’t even be able to dial out for pizza.

This link is dedicated to my physicist colleagues who, according to certain unnamed sources, have an unbeatable RMS velocity in spite of spending so much of their time at the airports.

Life of Data

Kurt D. Bollacker on Avoiding a Digital Dark Age -- "Data longevity depends on both the storage medium and the ability to decipher the information":

... [In] the 1980s I was in high school making backups of the hard drive of my PC onto 5-¼-inch floppy disks. I thought that because digital copies were “perfect,” and I could make perfect copies of perfect copies, I couldn’t lose my data, except by accident. I continued to believe that until years later in college, when I tried to restore my backup of 70 floppy disks onto a new PC. To my dismay, I discovered that I had lost the floppy disk containing the backup program itself, and thus could not restore my data. Some investigation revealed that the company that made the software had long since gone out of business. Requests on electronic bulletin board systems and searches on Usenet turned up nothing useful. Although all of the data on them may have survived, my disks were useless because of the proprietary encoding scheme used by my backup program.

The Dead Sea scrolls, made out of still-readable parchment and papyrus, are believed to have been created more than 2,000 years ago. Yet my barely 10-year-old digital floppy disks were essentially lost. I was furious! How had the shiny new world of digital data, which I had been taught was so superior to the old “analog” world, failed me? I wondered: Had I had simply misplaced my faith, or was I missing something?

Tough Times for Higher Ed: The UK Edition

Will Hutton plea/warning in The GuardianDon't destroy our universities. Our future depends on them:

... Britain has had a comparatively easy 30 years, courtesy first of North Sea oil and latterly from an unsustainable credit boom. Now we will have to earn our living – and universities are an indispensable means to doing just that. But instead of fighting for them, the political parties are talking of ring-fencing spending on health and the police and aid development – implying even bigger cuts ahead for universities. It is insane.


A Mint story (by Ravi Krishnan, Pallavi Singh and Sapna Agarwal) on an interesting initiative which, I think, is also worthwhile:

Academic certificates from school to graduate and postgraduate levels, including professional degrees, will be mandatorily registered with the depository through the respective boards, universities and other institutions once the legislation is passed, with information retrievable on payment of a fee.


“The e-certificate programme would work very much like demat (dematerialization of shares), except that the physical copy of the certificate will be in the hands of the candidate,” he said.

The story also has this shocking statistic:

According to ... a background screening firm, at least 15% of resumes they checked last year had false information [...].

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Money, Happiness, Neighbor

A study by researchers at the University of Warwick and Cardiff University has found that money only makes people happier if it improves their social rank. The researchers found that simply being highly paid wasn't enough – to be happy, people must perceive themselves as being more highly paid than their friends and work colleagues.

More here.

Dalits and the Free Market

Caste is feudal, the market free and equal. Correct? Ask Ratan Lal Sirswal or Deepak Jatav.

Sirswal, 75, had started off as a sweeper but is now one of the oldest businessmen in Panipat, Haryana. He quit his sweeper’s job once his handloom unit was on its feet. His success, he says, came largely because he hid the fact that he was born a Valmiki Dalit.

Customers who discovered his caste origins shunned him. Banks would not give loans because caste matters to them too, and Dalit entrepreneurs are too few and far between to work the system as a group like the upper castes do.

From Dalit is a Dalit even in a ‘free’ market, a Telegraph story by Radhika Ramaseshan.

For 33 US dollars a month ...

IMAGINE that for $33 a month you could buy Internet service twice as fast as what you get from Verizon or Comcast, bundled with digital high-definition television, unlimited long distance and international calling to 70 countries and wireless Internet connectivity for your laptop or smartphone throughout much of the country.

That’s what you can buy in France, and similar speeds and prices are available in other countries with competitive markets. But not in the United States. ...

From Yochai Benkler's op-ed in NYTimes.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Links ...

  1. Annie Murphy Paul in NYTimes: How to be Brilliant [a review of The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk]:

    Shenk doesn’t neglect the take-home point we’re all waiting for, even titling a chapter “How to Be a Genius (or Merely Great).” The answer has less in common with the bromides of motivational speakers than with the old saw about how to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. Whatever you wish to do well, Shenk writes, you must do over and over again, in a manner involving, as Ericsson put it, “repeated attempts to reach beyond one’s current level,” which results in “frequent failures.” This is known as “deliberate practice,” and over time it can actually produce changes in the brain, making new heights of achievement possible. Behold our long rumored potential, unleashed at last! Shenk is vague about how, exactly, this happens, but to his credit he doesn’t make it sound easy. “You have to want it, want it so bad you will never give up, so bad that you are ready to sacrifice time, money, sleep, friendships, even your reputation,” he writes. “You will have to adopt a particular lifestyle of ambition, not just for a few weeks or months but for years and years and years. You have to want it so bad that you are not only ready to fail, but you actually want to experience failure: revel in it, learn from it.”

  2. Vikram at An Academic View of India: The Three Roles of Caste in Indian Society.

    The third and I believe, most important role is caste as a determinant of social relationships and human behaviour. This affects Indians of almost all caste, religions and language, except the hill people of North East and Central India. The hierarchical, ‘purity’ bound social order has been embedded in the behaviour of Indians for generations and overcoming it will take generations. Indians, urban or rural usually work on a master slave nature of personal relationships. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out in ‘The Burden of Democracy’, Indians often fail to see their co-workers, bosses, employees etc. as equal human beings, being constantly aware of one’s ’status’ with respect to the other. One has to work hard and be well off, not simply for material fulfillment, but for expecting the minimum civility and respect that should be accorded to every human. The socio-religious capital of being a Brahmin or a big land-owner has been replaced by financial capital and the social capital of ‘being well known’, ‘working in an MNC’ or ‘having studied abroad’.

  3. I Want 5 Sentences, Not 'War and Peace': An interview of Guy Kawasaki by NYTimes's Adam Bryant.

    Q. Talk more about this notion of dispensability.

    A. Insecure people would rather see the company fail without them than succeed. It’s because their ego is so large that the thought of a company succeeding without them is incomprehensible. They would rather see it fail.

  4. Mikhail Gorbachev: Perestroika Lost. You should read it for the title alone!

Foreign universities

First few links are euphoric or alarmist. As it stands, the Bill doesn't deserve either reaction, because its impact on India's higher ed system is more likely to be puny than punchy. As brand name universities stay away, those that do show up here have neither the high quality nor the size required to make an impact.

  1. Needlessly Euphoric: Associate Chambers of Commerce is being either ignorant or dishonest in claiming that the entry of foreign universities will "help [India] save outflow of about $ 7.5 billion of foreign exchange per annum as large number of Indian students go abroad to receive higher education."

  2. Needlessly Alarmist: Daily News & Analysis executive editor R. Jagannathan thinks the entry of foreign universities will "kill the IITs and IIMs."

For a reality check, I suggest you check out Ram Mohan's post. In this DNA report, Philip Altbach says a lot of sobering things. See also this opinion piece by Venkatesan Vembu.

Here are a few more links:

  1. As I said in this post, foreign universities will need lots of assistance from the locals. I gave the example of NYU which received 50 million dollars from Abu Dhabi. Here's an excerpt this Hemali Chhapia story about Singapore's experience:

    ... INSEAD ... received $10 million for research, land at a third of the market price, soft loans, housing access, etc. [Kris] Olds notes that the University of Chicago-Booth School of Business also received several million dollars in subsidy via the renovation of the historic House of Tan Yeok Nee building, their Singapore campus. The University of New South Wales (UNSW) also benefited from subsidies upwards of $80 million.

    Even so, within months of being set up, UNSW folded up citing its “unsuitable financial model’’. Three years ago, the John Hopkins Centre, which received $52 million in funding since its 1998 arrival in Singapore, also closed down as it did not meet the performance benchmark. And the UK’s Warwick University, which was to set up a full campus in the real sense of the term, backed out at the last minute.

    Ten years down the road, as Singapore draws up a balance sheet of its expectations and realities, experts say there is a yawning gap between the two.

  2. T.T. Ram Mohan has a good post From the UAE, there's yet another report on their not-so-stellar experience with foreign universities that were set up in "free zones" outside the purview of education regulators.

  3. In case enthusiasts like Kapil Sibal and Assocham (or even alarmists like Jagannathan) need reminders about why they should tone their expectations down, here's Rahul Choudaha in University World News (this article also appears in his Choudaha's blog, Dr. Education):

    ... Some of the off-shore campuses of foreign universities in the Gulf are finding it difficult to fill classes. In addition there are big names who have had to shut down their operations in an embarrassing manner. For example, the University of New South Wales closed down its Singapore campus in 2007 in what The Australian newspaper wrote was one of "the higher education sector's worst business failures", for the reason of enrollment shortfall.

    Top reputed universities are now even more cautious about their brands and look for substantial financial support and autonomy to be present for an off-shore campus. In the Indian context, government is not in a position to provide any financial incentives nor it could ensure complete autonomy from socio-political influences. Overall, this makes the case for reputed institutions entering in India quite weak.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The French IIT system ...

... is the subject of this two-part series at PHD Comic. Money quote:

The École system, they all agree, mostly weeds out based on one skill:

Being good at taking tests.

Buzz Links ...

Interesting stuff from my Google Buzz stream:

  1. Annals of Bad Charting: Pyramid Perversion by Stubborn Mule

    The problem is that the data is represented by the height of each segment of the pyramid, but we tend to perceive the apparent volume of each layer. As a result, the layers near the top appear much smaller that they should relative to the lower layers.

    Link via a Buzz from Arun K. Subramaniyan.

  2. Fred Pearce in Prospect: The Overpopulation Myth.

    Many of today’s most-respected thinkers, from Stephen Hawking to David Attenborough, argue that our efforts to fight climate change and other environmental perils will all fail unless we “do something” about population growth. In the Universe in a Nutshell, Hawking declares that, “in the last 200 years, population growth has become exponential… The world population doubles every forty years.”

    But this is nonsense.

    Link via a Buzz from Natasha Mhatre

  3. Jacob Aron in The New Scientist: Will Reclusive Mathematician Accept $1 Million Prize?

    A million-dollar prize for solving one of toughest problems in mathematics has been awarded to a Russian mathematician, but the real puzzle is whether he'll accept it.

    Link via a Buzz from Ramnath Subbaraman.

  4. Elizabeth Kolbert in New Yorker: What can policymakers learn from happiness research?

    ... let’s imagine, for a moment, that we had enjoyed ourselves for the past fifty years. Surely, trashing the planet is just as wrong if people take pleasure in the process as it is if they don’t. The same holds true for leaving future generations in hock and for exploiting the poor and for shrugging off inequality. Happiness is a good thing; it’s just not the only thing.

    This is from my own Buzz!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Anatomy of (a) Live News Coverage and (b) A Hollywood Movie

I'm sure you have all seen Charlie Brooker's freaky-funny video on the inner structure of a news report. A couple of similar efforts that are pretty hilarious:

  1. Onion News Network: Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere.

  2. Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer

Happiness and Grad Schools

  1. Greg Mankiw: Choosing a Graduate Program:

    ... Talk with the graduate students who are now in the programs you are considering. Are they happy? [Bold emphasis added]

  2. Diana Davis at AMS Graduate Student Blog: Choosing a Graduate School:

    Are the graduate students happy? Make sure to think about whether you could spend four to six years in the city where the school is located, and in the department you visit. Can you see yourself there? Do the grad students seem to have the kind of social life (or lack thereof) that appeals to you? If things like ethnic restaurants, parks and recreation areas, or night life are important to you, ask your graduate student host to show you these things during your visit (or if you can’t visit, research them online or ask current students via e-mail). [Bold emphasis added]

  3. My own advice: Avoid Jerks.

Foreign universities Bill ...

... has got the Cabinet's approval [see also WSJ and NYTimes]. It did cross this obstacle once before (back in 2007), but failed to make it to the Parliament. Let's see if this Bill survives the likely mauling by MPs in the Lok Sabha.

To me, foreign universities are like any other private institution. Also, they represent diversity in educational methods, examinations, admissions, and administration; thus, they are a potential source of innovation. So, I'm all for foreign universities as long as they don't ask for concessions [see #1 below].

A few additional thoughts [some of them are repeated from here and here; I have collected a bunch of links here]:

  1. Will the Harvards and the Oxfords flock to India? Unlikely. Because, foreign campuses are expensive operations -- and they become impossible without 'incentives' or 'earnest money.' For example:

    When John Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for a $50 million gift.

    It’s like earnest money: if you’re a $50 million donor, I’ll take you seriously,” Mr. Sexton said. “It’s a way to test their bona fides.” In the end, the money materialized from the government of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates.

  2. But the present Bill demands 'earnest money' from the foreign universities! They are required to deposit Rs. 50 crores ($11 million) with the government before they are allowed to start their Indian operations.

  3. The likely effect of this provision will be to encourage them to enter India through a partnership with an Indian organization. Thus, it is a major deterrent to the serious players who want to be in India on their own.

  4. A ToI story claims that Georgia Tech faculty at its Indian campus will earn the same salary as those at its Atlanta campus.

    I don't believe a word of it -- unless Georgia Tech plans to use its Indian campus for educating rich kids capable of spending five million to ten million rupees over four years. But here's the thing: if kids can spend this much, they might as well go to the Atlanta campus!

  5. There's another possibility: to keep the costs down, the Indian campus will be primarily a teaching shop. But what is so special about the Indian Georgia Tech if there's little research?

    Research is expensive, and will require extensive support from government. I can't see the government bankrolling a foreign university's research facility in the absence of anything in return.

So, who'll come? In the short term, a few teaching shops and for-profit entities. Also, a few B-schools. Especially if they follow the ISB model of offering a short-duration MBA to those willing to pay a couple of million rupees.

Kapil Sibal seems keen to sell the idea of millions of students getting high quality education at Indian campuses of foreign universities. I think he knows better; he's saying this stuff only -- at least, primarily -- to sell the Bill, which will help burnish his credentials as a 'reformer'.

Bottomline: While the impact of foreign universities will be symbolic, I also expect it to be (disproportionately) significant: (a) their 'customers' will come from India's elites, and (b) they'll focus on high-visibility and high-prestige areas of business and technical education.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Math Mondays with Steven Strogatz

Square Dancing, the latest entry in Strogatz's series on Math: From Basic to Baffling, deals with geometry:

To illustrate the pleasures of geometry, let’s revisit the Pythagorean theorem, which you probably remember as a2 + b2 = c2. Part of the goal here is to see why it’s true and appreciate why it matters. Beyond that, by proving the theorem in two different ways, we’ll come to see how one proof can be more “elegant” than another, even though both are correct.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

More links ...

  1. The Telegraph: Quota Queries (FAQ): Everything you wanted to know about the Women's Reservation Bill.

  2. Steven Johnson in WSJ (from April 2009): How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write.

  3. Joe Clark at A List Apart: Web Standards for E-books.

  4. Ken Fisher in Ars Technica: Why Ad-Blocking is Devastating to the Sites You Love.

  5. Extreme Capitalists! Kim-Mai Cutler in Deals & More: Entrepreneurs offer their life’s future earnings for an investment [Hat tip: Jeff at Cheap Talk].

Women's Reservation Bill

The Rajya Sabha has passed the Bill. By 165 to 1.

First, let me take a deep breath.

Now, here we go:


Links ...

  1. A fun link from NPR: A professor's diatribe. [Hat tip: Animesh Pathak]

  2. Stephanie Findlay: Who needs a prof?

  3. NYTimes discussion: College degrees without going to class.

Blogs vs. MSM: Humour Edition

Blogs have won.

Even an MSM outlet acknowledges it. The story asks, "Does the mainstream not have a sense of humour?", and gets this zinger from Anirudh Bhattacharya:

“It’s unfair to say there is no humour in the mainstream media in India. But most of it is unintentional. Our purpose is to provide intentional humour.”

The linked article -- by Shreevatsa Nevatia in Outlook -- covers all the major figures (not just by name, but also with links, which is very, very nice) in desi blogdom specializing in humour: Anand Ramachandran, Faking News and Ramesh Srivats and others, whose output is prolific as well as consistently funny. Appropriately enough, Krish Ashok gets identified (by the "bratpack") as one of the "smartest writers."

As someone with an interest in internet history, I have one quibble: the article doesn't mention one of the pioneers and trend-setters: The Curious Gawker, whose Renegade of Junk and A Goose Egg have archives going back to 2005. His blogging has slowed down, though; may be because of his Twitter addiction?

Here's a list of Gawker's Top 5 posts:

  1. Letter from one religious fanatic to another (May 2006)

  2. Bangalore to change name to reflect state of its infrastructure (December 2005)

  3. The incompetence of the Indian government (July 2006, about the infamous "Blogspot Block")

  4. Patent application approved, Indian men to have exclusive rights over Indian women (July 2007)

  5. What happened to the gentle spammers? (March 2006)

  6. Bonus Link: Gawker's "lesson for all you budding bloggers"? It's okay to write crap.

Monday, March 08, 2010

PHD Comic's on a roll ...

Three great strips:

  1. How Grad School is Just Like Kindergarten [e.g., "Most Common Activity: Cutting and Pasting!"]

  2. Common Sleep Disorders

  3. 2397th Annual Academic Awards.

Bonus link from Doonesbury: A Banker's Progress.

Links ...

  1. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express: Freedom's Our Defence:

    A lot of representations of religion are needlessly gratuitous. But if we legitimise the taking of offence there will be more provocations, not less. The law should send a clear message that we live in a world where people cannot be protected from assorted things like Danish cartoons, Husain paintings, burqa lampoons or speculative novels on godly love. And religious believers commit the ultimate blasphemy by thinking that they need to protect their gods rather than their gods protecting them.

  2. Rahul Basu at As I Please: The Tripos and Us:

    Since the Tripos was impossible to 'max' without adequate practice, a whole alternate system of education cropped up around it. These were the coaching classes. Private coaches, for handsome fees, would coach you, not in the subtleties of mathematics but in how to take the Tripos. They would pour over old exams, make useful notes for solving problems, give you hours of practice all for the single minded purpose of taking the Tripos -- what someone called codifying mathematical knowledge into neat bundles. [...] The workload for students who took these mind numbing coaching classes was prodigious. For them, attending their usual lectures was a luxury they could ill afford. According to the famous mathematician J. E. Littlewood, himself a Senior Wrangler, one had to spend two thirds of the time practising solving difficult problems against time. Students frequently ignored the course material, in order to concentrate on the Tripos and hence the coaching classes. Hardy himself was coached by the legendary R. R. Webb, a 'producer' of many Senior Wranglers.

  3. Rahul Siddharthan at E's flat, ah's flat too: On Mastery and Singlemindedness:

    Most of the great Indian scientists I can think of were multidisciplinary. Visveswarayya had an extraordinary range of civil engineering achievements, from irrigation to flood protection to roadways. Jagdish Chandra Bose made significant contributions to plant physiology, membrane biophysics, and other fields, and is now recognised as Marconi's predecessor in wireless communication. C V Raman made contributions in light scattering, acoustics of musical instruments, crystal dynamics and properties. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was famous for switching fields every ten years and achieving mastery of the new field: he wrote classic books on stellar structure, stellar dynamics, radiative transfer, plasma physics, and hydrodynamics. Yet Ramanujan seems to capture the popular imagination much more than these figures. His is a unique and romantic story, but should not be held up as an example to follow. He is not someone who broke the rules after first having mastered the rules: he seems to have never learned the rules, but achieved mastery all the same.

    To me, "mastery" does not imply "singlemindedness". Nor does it imply remaining in the same field all one's life. And, in fact, I think Sachin Tendulkar is an excellent example of the former point, and I suspect he will continue to be an important figure in whatever he chooses to do after he retires from cricket.

  4. Ludwig at Ships, Shoes, Sealing Wax: WTF, Honorable Supreme Court of India? No excepts here; just read his post, you'll also go WTF.

Math is not hard, but roots of polynomials are always complex

From the latest entry -- Finding Your Roots -- in Steven Strogatz's series on Math: From Basic to Baffling:

Complex numbers are magnificent, the pinnacle of number systems. They enjoy all the same properties as real numbers — you can add and subtract them, multiply and divide them — but they are better than real numbers because they always have roots. You can take the square root or cube root or any root of a complex number and the result will still be a complex number.

Better yet, a grand statement called The Fundamental Theorem of Algebra says that the roots of any polynomial are always complex numbers. In that sense they’re the end of the quest, the holy grail. They are the culmination of the journey that began with 1.

A little later, he describes a numerical experiment -- with Newton's method of root finding -- that leads to some pretty stunning fractal patterns. You've got to see the accompanying video that keeps zooming into the pattern; it's absolutely mesmerizing!

Strogatz calls this work by his Cornell colleague John Hubbard "an early foray into what’s now called 'complex dynamics,' a vibrant blend of chaos theory, complex analysis and fractal geometry." He then brings that should perk up those with an interest in ancient Indian contributions to mathematics:

In a way it brought geometry back to its roots. In 600 B.C. a manual written in Sanskrit for temple builders in India gave detailed geometric instructions for computing square roots, needed in the design of ritual altars. More than 2,500 years later, mathematicians were still searching for roots, but now the instructions were written in binary code.

As a reference to the stuff about the ancient Indian "geometric instructions for computing square roots," Strogatz cites Experiencing Geometry on Plane and Sphere (Prentice Hall, 1996) by D. W. Henderson.

* * *

In case you want an RSS feed for just Strogatz's series (and not for the rest of the Opinionator blog), use this link.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Ideas for NCHER: Extreme Disclosures, International Peer Review, and No Inbreeding

1. Mandatory Disclosures. Here are a couple of links to the relevant regulation in Australia. From the first link:

Universities across Australia will be required to reveal more details than ever before about the way they operate. For the first time, information about each institution, its courses, student to staff ratios, graduate outcomes, fee levels and quality of teaching will be available on a government 'My University' website.

The website will be operational by 2012 when the government will also remove limits on the number of government-funded places universities can offer - a move expected to create a highly competitive market for top students.

Creation of the new website follows the government's decision to provide information about every school in Australia with a `My School' website. [...]

2. International Peer Review. Here's a link to an example from Norway:

An international panel of distinguished physicists has examined 48 research groups involved with basic physics at Norwegian universities and research institutions. Five have been graded as excellent and some are world-leading.

The panel believes Norway is now in a financial position to contribute more actively to the global long-term strategic development of basic physics with up to 160 new physicist positions created at a cost of NOK120 million (US$20.3 million).

The purpose of the evaluation, which took one year, was to have a critical review of Norwegian physics research and give a feedback on how Norwegian research is meeting international challenges.

3. Healthy Recruitment Practices. From the same link as above, a well articulated recommendation from the peer review committee:

The committee is in particular recommending increased mobility, both within Norway and internationally. A major expansion is needed, and the Norwegian pattern of employing own graduate candidates in recruitment positions should be opened up for recruits from outside:

"It is certainly a healthy order to require, as many departments do abroad, that Ph.D students be primarily recruited from other universities than those where they got their master degrees, or that post-docs are not accepted among the PhDs of local production, or that professional positions are widely announced. To contribute ideas from somewhere else is after all one of the most useful things a newly employed scientist can do," the report said.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sundeep Dougal has a useful FAQ on M.F. Husain

Over at the Outlook blog. This particular question gets to the crux of the looniness of the anti-Husain campaign:

But aren't these paintings insulting and obscene and liable to hurt the sentiments of Hindus?

Well, ask any art-critic and historian and they would be able to place it in perspective. Delhi High Court in May 2008 clearly stated the obvious: "A painter has his own perspective of looking at things and it cannot be the basis of initiating criminal proceedings against him...In India, new puritanism is being carried out in the name of cultural purity and a host of ignorant people are vandalizing art and pushing us towards a pre-renaissance era".

The Chief Justice of India K.G.Balakrishan had the best response to the question when, while upholding the Delhi HC decision, he said: “There are so many such subjects, photographs and publications. Will you file cases against all of them? It (Husain’s work) is art. If you don’t want to see it, then don’t see it. There are so many such art forms in the (Hindu) temple structures.”

The main point to note also is that these paintings were not in public places and were in private collections, rarely exhibited and that too in rarefied exhibitions attended by people who by no stretch of imagination would have been offended by them, at exclusive galleries. All of them were done many, many years back. Those who claimed to be hurt by these paintings were the ones who went about putting these paintings in public domain. [Bold emphasis added]

Fail: Why Do Some Book "Reviews" Collapse and Self-Destruct?

It's pretty amazing that Nature editors screwed up in offering to Jared Diamond the job of reviewing Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, a collection of academic essays that question -- actually, attempt to demolish, going by these commentaries -- the thesis of his own book Collapse.

If you didn't know anything about Collapse, you would need eagle's eyes while reading Diamond's piece to see the conflict between him and the book he's 'reviewing'. This situation has 'unfair' written all over it!

What could have mitigated it is a clear and explicit acknowledgment (preferably right at the beginning) of the fact that Diamond is writing about a book of critiques of his own work. And this, Diamond does not do and, strangely, Nature's editors do not seem to think is necessary.

* * *

Molika Ashford of StinkyJournalism.Org is on the case. In a follow-up, she offers a brief overview of 'reviewing ethics' practiced by other journals, including Science.

Hat tip to Janet Stemwedel, who has a fun poll that asks you to vote on the kinds of expectations you have when you read a book review in "large circulation science periodicals."

Hussain speaks

Since his move to Qatar, Husain has given several interviews. In this one, he sends this message to "his supporters":

... [Y]our supporters have been very agitated over your supposed victimization. Please comment.

I’m sorry to say this, but this is the media and those with their own interests who’re putting words in my mouth. I don’t feel victimized. I’m really happy with all I have. Yes, it’s sad that things are this way and I haven’t been able to set foot in my own country. But that’s because of a few people and one can’t blame an entire democracy, a great country, for that. I’ve travelled enough to know that India offers great freedom in all spheres. We are a country of living art—go to the villages and small towns and you’ll know what I mean.

Contrary to the framing by the Mint interviewer, the anguish of "his supporters" is not just about Husain. It is really about the vicious and vile environment that makes life difficult not just for icons such as Husain, Nasreen and Rushdie, but everyone with an original and unpopular thought / idea.

I don't know if I would count myself as Husain's "supporter" -- I can't even claim to know much about the man's work. But I'm glad that his wealth and fame afford him the option of living elsewhere -- away from his homeland whose government and courts are unwilling and/or incompetent to put down violent acts by loons and madmen. This part of the interview is revealing:

Several government officials issued guarantees of state protection after you announced the conferment of Qatari nationality. Did that make you reconsider your decision at all? Were you contacted by any government official personally?

I haven’t had direct or official correspondence with anyone in the Indian government for the last three years. Two years ago, the home ministry which was then under Shivraj Patil, was even considering prosecuting me under section 295A (of the Indian Penal Code), which deals with outraging religious feelings of a community. It is clear that these guarantees of protection were just made to save face. But I have no complaints. As I said, I’m not an activist. This is a personal decision I’ve taken for my peace of mind.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Who are the good teachers, and what makes them tick?

More importantly, is it possible to train people to be really good at teaching?

These questions are explored in two recent articles by Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic and and Elizabeth Green in NYTimes. Their thesis is that good teaching is something that one can get trained for; and it certainly does not require charisma -- though a little bit of it never hurts!

From Ripley's story:

Things that you might think would help a new teacher achieve success in a poor school—like prior experience working in a low-income neighborhood—don’t seem to matter. Other things that may sound trifling—like a teacher’s extracurricular accomplishments in college—tend to predict greatness. [...]

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.

But when Farr took his findings to teachers, they wanted more. “They’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah. Give me the concrete actions. What does this mean for a lesson plan?’” So Farr and his colleagues made lists of specific teacher actions that fell under the high-level principles they had identified. For example, one way that great teachers ensure that kids are learning is to frequently check for understanding: Are the kids—all of the kids—following what you are saying? Asking “Does anyone have any questions?” does not work, and it’s a classic rookie mistake. Students are not always the best judges of their own learning. They might understand a line read aloud from a Shakespeare play, but have no idea what happened in the last act.

And from Green's story:

Lemov played a video of a class taught by one of his teaching virtuosos, a slim man named Bob Zimmerli. Lemov used it to introduce one of the 49 techniques in his taxonomy, one he calls What to Do. The clip opens at the start of class, which Zimmerli was teaching for the first time, with children — fifth graders, all of them black, mostly boys — looking everywhere but at the board. One is playing with a pair of headphones; another is slowly paging through a giant three-ring binder. Zimmerli stands at the front of the class in a neat tie. “O.K., guys, before I get started today, here’s what I need from you,” he says. “I need that piece of paper turned over and a pencil out.” Almost no one is following his directions, but he is undeterred. “So if there’s anything else on your desk right now, please put that inside your desk.” He mimics what he wants the students to do with a neat underhand pitch. A few students in the front put papers away. “Just like you’re doing, thank you very much,” Zimmerli says, pointing to one of them. Another desk emerges neat; Zimmerli targets it. “Thank you, sir.” “I appreciate it,” he says, pointing to another. By the time he points to one last student — “Nice . . . nice” — the headphones are gone, the binder has clicked shut and everyone is paying attention.

Lemov switched off the video. “Imagine if his first direction had been, ‘Please get your things out for class,’ ” he said. Zimmerli got the students to pay attention not because of some inborn charisma, Lemov explained, but simply by being direct and specific. Children often fail to follow directions because they really don’t know what they are supposed to do. There were other tricks Zimmerli used too. Lemov pointed to technique No. 43: Positive Framing, by which teachers correct misbehavior not by chiding students for what they’re doing wrong but by offering what Lemov calls “a vision of a positive outcome.” Zimmerli’s thank-yous and just-like-you’re-doings were a perfect execution of one of Positive Framing’s sub-categories, Build Momentum/Narrate the Positive.

“It’s this positive wave; you can almost see it going across the classroom from right to left,” Lemov said. He restarted the clip and asked us to watch the boy with the binder. At the start his head is down and he is paging slowly through his binder. Ten seconds in, he looks to his left, where another boy has his paper and pencil out and is staring at Zimmerli. For the first time, he looks up at the teacher. He stops paging. “He’s like, ‘O.K., what’s this?’ ” Lemov narrated. “ ‘I guess I’m going to go with it.’ ” After 30 seconds, his binder is closed, and he’s stowing it under his desk.

M.F. Husain chooses Qatar

Salil Tripathi gets it right:

Some self-righteous folks remind us that Qatar is not a democracy, nor does it guarantee freedom of expression. But Qatar’s record on free speech is not relevant; India’s is. And it is for Indians to reflect on why India’s most widely known painter feels safer in Doha than in Mumbai.

A bit later, he cites several recent examples of India's shameful record of protecting free speech:

This is no longer about Husain. Last week, there were protests in Andhra Pradesh against Yarlagadda Lakshmi Prasad, who was honoured for his Telugu novel, Draupadi. Not a week passes before somebody, somewhere, claims being offended and seeks a ban of some sort. Artists are free, but must not offend. So India allows Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, who offends fundamentalists in Bangladesh for writing about persecution of Hindus, but once objections are raised, the government sets conditions, telling her to behave. Barbers force Shah Rukh Khan to change the name of a film; the Shiv Sena takes on Sachin Tendulkar and Mukesh Ambani, who say Mumbai belongs to all Indians; and the paper tigers in Mumbai threaten to disrupt Shah Rukh Khan’s new film, My Name Is Khan.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Fun with mathematics

Steven Strogatz's series on Math: From Basic To Baffling is chugging along nicely. It presents interesting mathematical concepts, and appeals to your intuition in showing how they arise and why they work. It has an entertaining, easy-going pace, established right in the first article: From Fish To Infinity.

I think the best, so far, is the second article -- Rock Groups, which uses arrangements of rocks to prove theorems involving natural numbers. Since then, it has moved on to subtraction and negative numbers, and division and rational numbers.

This week, the series takes baby steps in basic algebra,with The Joy of x.

Working with formulas ... is a bit like art and science. Instead of dwelling on a particular x, you’re manipulating and massaging relationships that continue to hold, even as the numbers in them change. These changing numbers are called “variables,” and they are what truly distinguishes algebra from arithmetic.

The formulas in question might express elegant patterns about numbers for their own sake. This is where algebra meets art. Or they might express relationships between numbers in the real world, as they do in the laws of nature for falling objects or planetary orbits or genetic frequencies in a population. This is where algebra meets science.

This division of algebra into two grand activities is not standard (in fact, I just made it up), but it seems to work pretty well. [...]