This being the college admission season, there is a lot of buzz in the education world about higher education, the costs, overseas education vs. domestic education etc.
In India, much of the decision of which college to join and what course to take, is still governed by parents and family members. There are very few youngsters who have made up their minds on what career to pursue and are able to choose the college of their choice and also have family support as well as the financial muscle to realise it. To be fair, since in India the cost of higher education is largely borne by parents, this probably is a very natural thing to do too.
When I speak to parents on their criteria of choosing the appropriate institution for their offsprings or the course, I'm often bemused to find that it is not very much different from what it would have been when they were at this juncture. People choose a college for quite a few reasons that has nothing to do with academics – proximity to home, child would get food that he/she is used to having, hostel having common facilities, more than two people in a room etc. According to me, these are the least of the worries that a parent should have. After all, higher education exposes the child, who has so far led a very sheltered life in school, to break out into the world and test the waters. Experience in all forms is necessary in shaping a child's personality.
I am not suggesting to the parents to overlook basic things like safety and hygiene, but choosing a college because they have a few acres of land with nicely manicured lawns is something, I feel one can do without at this stage of life.
Much to do with this is I believe, the way we see the institutions being marketed. India has been seeing a recent boom of professional colleges. These are usually business houses or some HNI consortium who have had a good run in some other field and now would like to venture into education. Typically their marketing dossier looks like a real estate project being marketed. My guess is that seeing too many advertisements splashed across media conditions your mind also to keep these as the focal point when it comes to you to decide.
Being potential candidates or parents of such candidates, the choice of a good institution should be based on the industry representation that a college is able to attract and the amount of projects that the college gets to participate in. One should realize that the best attribute is what appears in the marketing materials. If you see the focus on real estate and plush labs and air-conditioners in classrooms, you can be sure that that is probably the best thing available for them to showcase. Potential candidates and parents would in such cases be welcomed because of the revenue that they bring in to the organization and thus would begin a 3-4 years of hardship and financial stress. This stress would more likely get prolonged into the early career life of the child too since employment, in all likelihood, is not going to come easy after that.
India is talking about an education revolution. One should not overlook the fact that a higher education institution needs to be closely working with the industry. Good universities have a regular interaction between the industry and academia and much of the curriculum gets designed since it is required by the industry. Studying archaic topics, in an archaic manner and not getting a viewpoint from the leaders in the industry just lands up in churning under-motivated youths who find a difficulty in getting accepted by the industry.
In the age of MOOC's, learning cannot be restricted to the realm of colleges only. The employment scenario is slowly changing. With more startups coming along, skill, ability and attitude take precedence over degree and colleges. Students of today are global citizens and they need to be a part of the larger picture. As parents and advisors, we need to wake up and realise that the world is going to be a very different place in the next 10-20 years when our children start hitting the peaks of their careers.