Daily Archives: February 20, 2012

How to expand education the IGNOU way

Reading this article gave me a good idea for the school I am considering to set-up in the Philippines and finding a way to expand its reach outside its physical location. Open education is something common already in Australia but not in the Philippines. At the same time, there is a perception the quality of its delivery is not comparable to traditional delivery options. Again, with modern technology there is that ability now to make it just as good if not better. Watch this space.

From TIME magazine

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The World’s Largest University Struggles to Educate Millions of New Students

By Sarah Garland / The Hechinger Report / Delhi

 

The campus of the largest university in the world, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), in southern Delhi, is surprisingly small and modest. A cluster of nondescript, one-story administrative buildings line the drive leading to a brick library, where fans whip the stuffy air and a few students hunch over outdated computers. Further down the road, however, construction workers heave bricks at a building site, and across the Indian countryside, satellite campuses are cropping up.

IGNOU’s enrollment has doubled in recent years, to as many as 4 million students, about 10 times the size of America’s largest university, the University of Phoenix’s online campus. Like American community colleges, admission at an open university is not competitive, but the schools offer a range of programs, including doctoral degrees.

(MORE: Children of the New India)

The model tends to be an old-fashioned concept in a digital world: many students take courses through the mail or by listening to radio or television broadcasts. But it may also be part of the answer to India’s modern higher-education crisis, which leaders worry could eventually put a crimp in the country’s rapid economic growth. “Middle-class students are not getting enough opportunities in the universities or colleges,” said Perumalsamy Renga Ramanujam, IGNOU’s pro-vice chancellor, explaining the school’s rapid growth. “And it goes beyond that. The poor people living in rural areas and slum dwellers, all of them have direct access” to IGNOU courses.

Other open universities are also ballooning in size. Nalanda Open University in Bihar, India‘s poorest, least-educated state, went from an enrollment of about 1,500 to 40,000 in the past decade.

India’s economic growth may be staggering, but population growth has increasingly become a hazard to the country’s financial future as it tries to educate a new generation to sustain the progress. India’s population is projected to increase by about 25%, or 300 million people, by the year 2026.

A major push by the Indian government for universal K-12 education has made significant headway in districts where once there were no schools at all. Now, as millions of students graduating from high school along with older villagers across the country seek to take part in India’s economic progress, the government is struggling to send more of them to college and beyond.

As India worries about getting more students to college, the Obama Administration has fretted about America’s low college graduation rates, and both nations are worried about improving the research and innovation produced by universities. India and America have vowed to work together on improving higher education in the two countries, most recently at a summit last summer attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But India’s efforts to boost its postsecondary system also represent a potential threat in less than 10 years as the number of college goers in India is expected to increase to 40 million, double the number in the U.S.

Although experts often question the quality of the country’s open universities, they may be one of India’s best hopes for reaching its goals. The schools educate more than 15% of India’s higher-education students, most of whom are poor and from rural areas.

India’s open universities tend to offer practical training in computers and agriculture or preparation for the country’s civil-service examination, which can lead to a stable government job. But IGNOU has also expanded its offerings to advanced degrees in technology and engineering, along with liberal-arts subjects like French and women’s studies.

Rajesh Kumar, 26, is from a small agricultural town in Bihar. He works part-time doing data entry and in his free time he takes education courses through Nalanda Open University, which is based in Patna, the capital of Bihar.

“I wanted to get a teaching qualification,” he said. “Here, it’s easier.” Unlike India’s competitive public universities, open universities accept all applicants, and they’re cheaper than private institutions. A year of tuition for a bachelor’s in education at Nalanda is around $37. In an effort to boost the number of female graduates, women only have to pay $27 a year.

On a humid summer day, Kumar stood among hundreds of other students at Nalanda’s cramped headquarters in the city’s sole high-rise building, waiting to complete an end-of-course exam. Taking an open-university course is generally a lonely endeavor, however. For computer and science classes, students must attend labs, and they can contact faculty at one of the university’s 32 study centers around the state if they are struggling. But for most courses, students study texts printed and mailed to them at home.

India’s open universities are increasingly piloting new methods and materials, however, such as online wikis, where students and teachers can share material and digital libraries. IGNOU makes its content available free on the Web so students can learn without paying fees, and faculty at other schools can borrow ideas or replicate entire courses. IGNOU is also experimenting with brick-and-mortar classes, so that students can benefit from interacting with professors and classmates.

Outpacing the U.S. in the number of students enrolled will mean nothing if they don’t finish or graduate underprepared, however. IGNOU doesn’t track dropouts, and experts worry about the quality and the outcomes of distance-education programs in which students who lag behind may receive less support than at traditional schools. “In some places they’re doing a wonderful job where the traditional schools cannot be set up,” said Pawan Agarwal, an adviser on India’s Higher Education Planning Commission. Nevertheless, “they’ve expanded very fast and there could be some concerns.”

Open-university administrators are aware of the doubts and reservations some may have. “Quality is one of the major focal points,” Ramanujam, of IGNOU, said. But, he added, the country’s open universities are “gradually getting more acceptance and more prestige.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

Reading this article reminds me of the time I was still in the Philippines during the many years it had to face many economic crisis that required the involvement of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to help address its situation. Structural reform was always perceived as a bad word because it meant prices of subsidized goods go up, certain taxes being introduced or tariffs on imports reduced. An equally bad word was productivity which meant you had to work more for the same pay. Reading this article today I see a different perspective from an Australian economic circumstance. I still have to give more thought whether in a Philippine context whether those negative perceptions hold true particularly when there continues to be unequal distribution of wealth, massive poverty, high concentrations of economic power and ownership, and high unemployment. The  only game changer in the last 20 years I can quickly recall into mind is the emergence of the Business Processing Outsourcing and Overseas Filipino Workers which help generate millions of new jobs and dollar inflows which sheltered the economy from worst economic shocks all these years. Let’s hope the new administration with its high emphasis on governance will finally make a third game changer: reducing if not eliminating the common practice of graft and corruption. Of course, while doing this effort, I also hope they realise we still need to create jobs, delivery the needed public services and grow the economy. Its a form of structural reform too if you think about it but let’s not forget we got to keep the business running too.

 

Structural reform will bring back productivity

From the Sydney Morning Herald

By Ross Gittins
20 February 2012

If your goal is to raise Australians‘ material standard of living, the debate about what must be done to increase our flagging productivity is vitally important. But if we want the debate to achieve something, we should stop talking so much weak-headed nonsense.

People are talking about productivity as if it’s motherhood for businessmen – all fluffy and soft. Sorry, productivity is more nasty than nice. Sometimes it’s red in tooth and claw. It always involves effort and unsettling change, and often involves people being thrown out of their jobs.

As the headlines scream at us every day, many of our industries are being put through the wringer at present, and are shedding workers to prove it. This is not a downturn in the economy, it’s the economy being hit by multiple pressures for structural change.

Manufacturers (and tourism and education – not that anyone cares about them) are being hit by the high dollar. Retailers are being hit by the end of a 30-year period in which consumer spending grew faster than household income and by globalisation as the internet breaks down longstanding national price-discrimination schemes. Shopping-centre owners are also in the gun.

Banks are still adjusting to the continuing global financial crisis, which has increased their cost of funds while also increasing their pricing power. Newspaper and media companies, and book publishers and sellers, are adjusting to the information and communication revolution. Qantas is adjusting to deregulation and globalisation.

Guess what? All these nasties are in the process of increasing Australia’s productivity – as we speak. To the extent firms are shedding labour faster than their unit sales are declining, they’re increasing their productivity as a matter of simple arithmetic.

More fundamentally, structural change is presenting all these firms (bar the banks) with an ultimatum: shape up or die. As they fight for corporate survival in a radically changed world, they will become leaner and fitter. In the process, they’ll almost certainly contribute to an increase in national productivity.

What this means, however, is that all the business people, union leaders, opposition politicians and commentators pressuring the government to protect industries from change are fighting to prevent productivity improving. And every time the government gives in to those pressures it’s acting to stop productivity improving.

I’m convinced many of the worthies banging on about productivity don’t actually know what it is. Productivity is output per unit of input. That means it’s about comparingquantities, not prices or values.

This is why productivity and profit (or profitability – profit relative to the equity capital or assets employed to earn the profit) are quite different concepts, not pretty much the same thing – as many business people seem to imagine.

Usually productivity is measured as output divided by units of labour inputs (hours worked), giving the productivity of labour. If you divide output by units of both labour and capital inputs you get ”multi-factor [of production] productivity” (which always grows at a much slower rate).

The great delusion of the productivity debate – one inadvertently fostered by crusading economists – is that productivity improvement is a gift governments deliver to business, provided they have the political courage to implement ”reform”.

Rubbish. As our great private-sector productivity expert Saul Eslake has said: ”Productivity only happens as a result of the decisions that are made and implemented in places of work.”

So there’s an obvious question no one is asking: why have Australia’s chief executives failed to increase their firms’ productivity for the past decade? Obvious answer: because it’s been easier for them to increase their profits without doing much to increase their productivity. (And a big part of the reason for this is that the economy’s been growing reasonably strongly, year after year, for 20 years – with just a mini-recession in 2008-09.)

Research suggests few firms actually measure their labour productivity. That’s no surprise: the goal of firms isn’t to increase their productivity it’s to increase their profit – which is what they do measure, carefully and often.

Increased national productivity may be the key to rising material living standards, but increased productivity is just an incidental by-product of a firm’s efforts to increase its profit. There are often many easier ways to increase profit than to improve your productivity.

Sometimes firms increase their productivity in response to opportunities or incentives – carrots – created by governments. This is what chief executives dream about while primitive tribes dream about planes dropping cargo from the sky.

Sometimes firms increase their productivity in response to governments beating them with sticks to force them to lift their game. This is known as ”micro-economic reform”. You slash protection against imports, allow the dollar to float, dismantle a host of interventions designed to give industries an easy life and tighten up the Trade Practices Act.

All this increases the competitive pressure on firms – from imports and local competitors – forcing them to lift their performance and their productivity. Is this the ”reform” the business lobbies are crying out for? I doubt it.

Sometimes national productivity is improved by nothing more than firms doing what they do: striving to increase their profits. But, as we’ve seen, that hasn’t been happening for a decade.

Alternatively, national productivity is improved as a by-product of firms grappling with adverse changes in their economic environment that threaten their profits and even their survival.

That’s what’s happening in our economy right now. You want higher productivity? Your wish is about to come true. When we’ve got through the present bout of structural adjustment we’ll have a much more efficient set of industries. But everyone seems to be hating it.

Ross Gittins is the economics editor.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/business/structural-reform-will-bring-back-productivity-20120219-1th7h.html

 

How an Aussie views Aquino

Its nice to know a foreigner like this writer finds comfort in what President Aquino is doing when a lot of his country men don’t.  Makes us natives think again how we should give him a little more credit than we give him.

Philippines won’t be cast as the sick man of Asia if Aquino has his way

William Pesek

18 February 2012

It is often a fool’s errand to predict turning points in the more erratic Asian economies. Nowhere is that truer than the Philippines, whose greatest consistency seems to be disappointing the optimists.

With Europe sliding, America limping, Japan shrinking and the once-unstoppable China slowing, it’s anyone’s guess where the Philippines might be in three years. At the risk of looking foolish in, say, 2015, I think it will be in a far better place than it has been in a decade.

My faith rests on four things that Benigno Aquino has done since assuming the presidency in June 2010. These were moves that mark a keen understanding of what ails Asia’s 12th-biggest economy and flashes of courage that were absent in his three predecessors.

First, a nuanced focus on the economy. Gloria Arroyo seemed infatuated with raising gross domestic product during her tenure from 2001 to 2010. It was just talk. Arroyo, like Joseph Estrada before her, was all about the cult of GDP that beguiles many Asian leaders. This obsession masks big cracks in economies with headline-grabbing growth rates that serve mainly to deflect political opposition.

One in four Filipinos lives on fewer than $1.25 a day. The Occupy Wall Street movement harps on the 1 per cent. In the Philippines, it’s more like the 0.01 per cent of politically connected citizens who reap the spoils. Aquino wants to tighten mining rules, cut tax breaks and review contracts to make sure average Filipinos benefit from resources and limit the industry’s impact on the environment. He is upgrading infrastructure to attract foreign investment that would create jobs.

The President moved swiftly to get a handle on the long-term budget deficit. That’s a vital step to reducing the waste and graft at the root of the nation’s dysfunction but also winning the investment-grade credit rating that would accelerate the process.

Second, attacking corruption. Aquino, 52, is both the right guy and the wrong one to fight this battle. His mother was former president Corazon Aquino (1986-92), who made up with integrity what she lacked in governing skills. The problem is that the Aquinos are among the major land-owning families that benefit from the extreme concentration of wealth. Benigno Aquino has had no qualms in going after the billions that watchdog groups say Marcos looted. Marcos is the man Aquino’s opposition-leader father was trying to unseat when he was assassinated in 1983. The Marcos family has been staging a political comeback. Marcos’s wife, Imelda, now sits in the house of representatives.

The President is holding Arroyo, her husband and her son to account for alleged corruption. Aquino is also working to oust Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who faces accusations that include favouring Arroyo in court decisions. While some smell an Aquino-versus-Arroyo family feud, I sense a bold effort to clean up the nation’s tainted judiciary.

Third, addressing overpopulation. The nation’s ranks are outgrowing the number of good-paying jobs being created, forcing more Filipinos to work overseas. Any talk of family planning is suppressed by the powerful Catholic Church, which is too politically active for comfort. Aquino risked the Vatican’s wrath with a “responsible parenthood” bill. Let’s hope more such steps are on the way.

The remittances that expatriate Filipinos send home boost growth in the short run. But the money does little to build a foundation for organic growth and is a dangerous addiction that must be kicked. Gaining control of the birth rate is a key part of the solution.

Fourth, a gutsy stance toward China. In Asia, it is striking to hear what politicians say publicly about China and what they really think. No one wants to anger Asia’s nascent military superpower or offend the biggest customer for their exports. Aquino is risking just that as he demands fairness in China’s claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea and cosies up to the US. The Philippines is among a handful of nations claiming the resource-rich Spratly Islands, along with Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and China. Aquino refuses to bow to China, which has enraged Beijing and prompted calls to punish the Philippines economically. Aquino is showing Asia there’s a way to approach China as a peer, rather than a subordinate.

Of course, the Philippines has demonstrated a unique ability to scuttle the most virtuous of cycles. All too often its eccentricities pop up to remind investors why it’s often called the “Sick Man of Asia”. This track record is a big reason why it is rated BB by Standard & Poor’s. But credit raters are perhaps too busy downgrading the top 10 economies to reward progress in the smaller ones. Investors who act in anticipation of Philippine upgrades are unlikely to regret it.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/business/philippines-wont-be-cast-as-the-sick-man-of-asia-if-aquino-has-his-way-20120217-1te6u.html#ixzz1mugyK6Wz

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