June 5, 2007

Where is the growth focused?

There is a mad rush out here. Large swanky new shopping malls are opening every month to give the desired lifestyle to the next-generation Indians who believe in “work hard – party harder”. An average middle class Indian is earning well and want to live life BIG size.

When I was in Bath (U.K.) in 1999-2000, the difference in lifestyle (between India and U.K.) used to amaze me. I dreamt that one day India will follow suit. But I never thought that it will be so soon!  A lot of credit goes to the new age industries like IT, Biotechnology, Telecommunication followed by resurgence in media, real-estate, finance and retail.

So many new, dynamic and high-net-worth consumers are being created.

But, if you read the fine prints, we are jumping on to eat the fruits before it has ripened and are not putting enough effort to plan new trees.

We are growing because of the knowledge economy. Keeping this fact in mind, it is time that we ask some hard questions –

What are we doing to keep our self at the forefront of this economy?
Do we create and disseminate knowledge which will keep us at the ahead of competition?
Do we have enough universities and institutions which can equip our next generation of knowledge workers?
How will we educate such a fast growing population?
How will we learn to be creative and not repetitive?

The truth is – Our education system is pre-historic and there is no radical transformation since independence in 1947. There is no impetus on practical knowledge and original creation.

And the worst news is that we are trying to open more malls than quality educational institutions. We are happy with our IIT and IIM legacy which creates few thousand professionals every year. We are happy to quote these names and feel proud that these are few of the most respected institutions worldwide. Now ask few more questions:

What percentage of people in India wants to have higher education?
Out of this, what percentage actually gets quality higher education?
How many original world changing inventions have been done at IIT or IIM?
Where are the IIT & IIM alumni? How many of them are contributing towards the growth of India?
How many of IIT & IIM alumni have taken on the responsibility to spread the knowledge they have acquired?

The answers will give the real state of affairs!

For continued progress, India needs a mechanism to produce quality people. For that we need hundreds of quality institutions. Some of them will grow to become “center of excellence” like MIT, Stanford and CMU. But others should not be far behind!

Before, our government and business houses deliver the glamorous new India, they need to sit back and work out how to create the drivers of the new economy.

We need universities, not malls. Considerable amount of investments and efforts should be directed to create a conductive environment to create academia along with the industry. One cannot grow without the other.

The conclusion is:
We are reaping the harvest of the seeds that we sowed years back! But we are not sowing new seeds to secure our future. Let us do that before it is too late!

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