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Indians’ love for things Foreign …is this a virus more dangerous than Covid-19?


How often have I seen a situation, for example that of having to choose a professor for an a higher educational institution, or a senior manager for business organization when people around me urgently advise me to pick the candidate who has an foreign degree or foreign work experience. When I ask them, why, they look back at me with a puzzled look, as if I have raised a question about something that is so self-evident.

When the decision in question is about choosing “just another” professor or manager, it could be rationally justified as an attempt to provide a cultural mix that can only be for the good. But when it is for the head of an Indian Institute of Management or the head of a policy making national institution and I again raise the question why, again I get greeted with that puzzled look.
Its not that the persons so enamored with a foreign degree or foreign work experience are run-of-the-mill folks: I have seen current or former Secretaries to government or Managing Directors of successful businesses show those inclination for things foreign.

Some professional disciplines appear to be more prone to it than others: the economics profession seems to be more prone to it than others. Roles like the Reserve Bank of India Governors, or Economic Advisors to State or Central Governments must brandish a foreign degree/work experience (the current RBI Governor is an unusual exception to this hallowed rule). Its almost as if, after half-a-century of Independence and investment in higher education we just cannot seem to believe that our Universities cannot produce an Economic thinker good enough.

I have seen this personally most acutely in the choice of Directors of the Indian Institutes of Managements. Even if there are excellent and proven India-based internal candidates, the push from other Board members if to find a person who is currently a Professor in a foreign (often American university). And this push is irresistibly strong when the Chairman of the IIM in question which is looking for a Director has had no prior education at an IIM or IIT but is otherwise a successful business executive.

I can by now predict what happens when such an Non-Resident Indian candidate is chosen: he or she is by then in the final stages of their career often with a mere half-a-dozen years to go for retirement in their ,for example, American university and does not want, under any circumstance to jeopardize their retirement benefits from that university. Secondly, the families are firmly settled in America and cannot relocate to India. All this results in the chosen Director performing as a Guest Artist- visiting their Indian campus occasionally.
Again, its not this Guest Artiste role that causes the damage. Such visiting NRI Directors don’t have the time to make the 5-10 year emotional commitment to create any truly innovative Research Centre or a revolutionary Curriculum change.

I have seen otherwise great IIMs flounder for a decade after such an NRI Guest Artist Director choice.

And at the policy-making level, such Policy-Making-Guest Artistes during their tenure in India propagate the Western Fashion of the day being it the ideology of Socialism-Public-Sector-Primacy in the 1950-1970 period or the Low-Interest- Rates-Shareholder-Value-Maximization in the current era.

And at a more macro level, I have found something disturbing about Indian who pine to go to college abroad. Some of this passion for going abroad is part of being just practical: because entry into the top Indian post-grad institutions like the IIMs or the IITs or Medical Colleges (to name a few institution types) is extremely competitive. So, if your parents are well-to-do, all you need to get into a Harvard or Harvard-like prestigious educational institution is to ask your dad to write a fat cheque for your admission. The Pulitzer Prize winning 2005 book, The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges – and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Golden spells out how this is done extensively.
The fervent desire to go abroad after an IIM or IIT degree is driven partly by a deeply held belief in some Indian families and communities that life abroad will be both fairer and materially more rewarding for them. And considering that practically all large Indian businesses are run by families it has become practically a iron-clad rule that they will be educated abroad and come back to run their family businesses. And since this foreign education stint is most often in the Arts and Commerce field, they return back to India with the entrenched belief that all technology-based innovation in business is best left to the West. Their role is to manage business through contacts and relationships.

All this has created a nation-wide culture that any kind of India-based innovation and thinking is not something that Indians can do. All intellectual creation is best left to the West. This complete distrust in any India-based innovation is rampant even among the current senior Civil Servants.
Is all this because of the several hundred years of British colonialization? Is that put a virus inside us Indians that leads to a distrust of things Indian particularly in matters of science and technology? This is clearly a virus more dangerous and more long-lasting than COVID-19, so, should we launch an equally vigorous struggle to eliminate this virus?
ajitb@rediffmail.com

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