I was on vacation in India recently and a huge windfall, $22 billion at face value came to my home-town, Trivandrum in Kerala State. Wealth in gold, silver and rare ornaments were unearthed from the ancient Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. Most of the wealth was donated by the rulers of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom but nobody estimated that this will make us rich and can in fact even wipe out the entire national debt of Greece.
More intriguing were the ideas being proposed about how to make use of the money- create a Museum, invest in infrastructure and finally, an American professor’s suggestion to build a world-class University, the Sree Padmanabha Swamy University. I admire Prof. Philip G. Altbach for his sincerity and his wish that Western philanthropic notions could work well in Kerala, the most literate of all places on earth. Here are a few reasons why Kerala does not need an additional University to spearhead information technology or biotech:
- Kerala has a literate and educated population but does not have the skills to manage philanthropy well. The state has a culture of receiving donations from kindergarten to Ph.D and even for teaching positions but little is given. The state is so politically polarised that even the Lord will be startled to see this idea come to fruition.
- None of the state-owned Universities are functioning well. The one I studied in had a Vice Chancellor from America who was literally kept under house arrest by agitating students. There are very few systems that can escape the greed of politicians in the state.
- There are 125 engineering colleges in Kerala selling IT degrees and besides the government-run colleges most are managed by shrewd entrepreneurs of all religions and backgrounds. There are engineering colleges run by religious minority institutions, bootleggers, Christian priests and even owners of Ayurvedic businesses. A good number of these colleges are driven by profit motive and God knows what talent is being produced from these institutions. Do we need a truly world-class University rubbing shoulders with these profit-driven institutions?
- Education is a commodity in Kerala and is directly linked to the state’s eternal dowry market and gold sales. Marriage in Kerala is pegged to the value of gold and that’s truly unique to the state.
- Kerala is a culture in chaos where highly skilled, erudite folks compete against each other for space. The traffic is testimony to this and people behave in a similar fashion. I don’t think there is any need for further education for Keralites. They are all over-achievers trying to find their space in chaos.