Friday, 7 March 2014

On Education and Expectations

If you want a career with a top organisation, a good start would be to go to a top university.

The UN, IMF, World Bank, RBI, economic advisor to the PM, the Fortune500, etc. aren't known for hiring University of Mumbai grads. The point I'm making is, the opportunities that you are presented with are a direct function of where you study. You need your own academic lineage to enter the 'big league' employers.

For example, someone with degrees like IIT + IIM + PhD at Harvard, etc. are more likely to be offered a prestigious high paying job than someone with not so hallowed credentials. And it's not necessarily because the better universities offer better academics. It's just because they have better reputations because they have better selection criteria because of a continuously evolving relationship with selected employers.

Now, most people shouldn't be bothered about these criteria. But it turns out most people in india have a 'family lineage' to protect. Which is why you see a correlation between what your dads do for a living and where you study. The more important your dad is, the more he expects of you. Privilege begets privilege, and status begets status. Most guys occupying the top roles in India today come from privileged backgrounds, with pedigreed degrees. Their dads were IAS/IFS, law, politics guys from some of the best universities around, and they want the same for their kids. And so their kids have to go to top universities too. Sure these kids are smart and work hard, but they also have expectations to live up to.

Money plays a role too. And so does culture. Rich people, people with their own large businesses, or people climbing the corporate ladder, want the best for their kids, because it ensures that their kids have access to the best opportunities in the world. Can you imagine some Tam Brahm guy in India studying psychology if his dad works in senior management in a top company?

It's important to note that I'm not referring to getting to go to a better university because you're rich. I'm not focussing on being unable to access the same options as richer folk. That is a serious problem, especially in other countries. But in India, barring extreme economic hardship, I'd say the educational opportunities favour equality. IIT + IIM fees aren't that high.

There are exceptions though. You might be middle class, and still decide to go to a lower ranked university because you need quick employment, which is where how affluent you are comes into play. Perhaps an element of regret sets in, when you realise where you got your degree matters a lot.

However, what I am focussing on is more of a selection bias in where you study, brought about by family pressure and social standing. For the Indian middle class, it's enough that you're studying engineering. For families higher on the social ladder, it must be IIT. And if you can't make it into IIT, that's where the huge bank balance works in your favour - Harvard/Wharton come into play. A relative once told me it's pointless getting a MBA unless it's on the 'ET MBA top 100' list. I've realised it's the same for other Bachelor and PhD programs too.

The better the university, the better your prospects. It's better to get a psychology degree from Cambridge University than Glasgow Caledonian, if you want to do world class research someday. But most people don't want to do world class research & hobnob with people like Dawkins or Baron Cohen, so they don't mind going to Glasgow Caledonian. I'd say where you study depends on your own motivation and what you want, which depends on what your family is like and how successful they are, and the pressure you experience from the expectations they have of you.

The best we can do at this point in our lives is accumulate enough resources to make it easier for our own kids to go to good universities, without ruining their lives in the process, and making good education more widely available to as many people as possible, and trying to weaken the existing system of a strong selection bias favouring recruitment from a few select universities.


No comments:

Post a Comment