How to unleash India's vast potential and transform its higher education system. Now
India, under the BJP-RSS leadership,
is going through tremendous educational
upheavals, which, according
to many experts including Nobel laureate
Amartya Sen, is both alarming and
contradictory. Though Modi’s focus allegedly
is on development and Make in
India, the core educational values are
constantly being tampered with. As is,
Indian higher education system lacks
research and action based procedures
and learning, and the system seems to
be deteriorating further with central
government’s cuts in research fellowships
and overall educational budget in
the last two years of its governance. At
a juncture such as this, Shail Kumar’s
Building India: How to unleash India's
vast potential and transform its higher
education system. Now., brings in new
ideas and suggestions based on several
educational models accross the world,
might be a ray of hope for Indian higher
Shail Kumar is the Past-President of
the IIT Foundation; co-founder of Pan
IIT alumni movement in the USA; former
administrator at UC Berkeley and
UC San Diego; co-founder and CEO of
two start-ups; and was an executive in
several Fortune 500 and Silicon Valleybased
corporations. He has an MBA
from Indiana University, Bloomington
and a bachelor’s degree in engineering
from the Indian Institute of Technology
Son of an Indian Army officer, Shail
grew up around India. He currently resides
in the Silicon Valley with his wife
and two children. He enjoys traveling,
yoga, and spending time with his family.
Brief Summary of the Book
Building Golden India: How to unleash
India's vast potential and transform
its higher education system. Now.
The book is written by Shail Kumar,
past-president, IIT Foundation and includes
a foreword by Desh Deshpande,
trustee, Deshpande Foundation and life
member, MIT Corporation.
author of the book Building India: How to unleash India's
vast potential and transform its higher
education system. Now.
The interests of students, parents,
society, industry, and the nation are intimately
connected through the higher
education system. In the next 35-50
years, India must educate and prepare
700 million to 1.3 billion young men
and women for their lives and careers.
So, how is India’s higher education system
doing and how could it be transformed
to better meet the needs of its
stakeholders? The author addresses this
central question in the book.
Have you asked any of these questions?
What could a Golden India look
What would it take to go from
harsh realities of today and build a
How could India unleash the potential
of its 1.3 billion people?
If you have, then this is the book for
you. This book is also for you if you are
an educated youth, professional, or
someone who deeply cares about India
and its future. What can you do? Where
do you start? Kumar exlains.
Excerpts from his interview with India
Parent Magazine (IPM):
IPM: Can you please tell us what
prompted you to work on this specific topic
considering that you are an engineer from
Shail Kumar (SK): I wrote this
book for one reason — my love for
India and my belief that higher education
can play a transformative role in an
individual’s life and career and that of
My love for India goes back to my
childhood years. My father was an officer
in the Indian Army. Thus, I grew up
around the country and mostly lived in
army cantonments. There was a visible
and perpetual display of love for country.
As a student in Kendriya Vidyalaya
schools, we used to periodically sing songs about bringing back the glory of
India’s Golden Age and Takshashila
and Nalanda. At IIT Kharagpur we
were reminded daily of our duty to the
nation. Thus, my love for India, consciously
and sub-consciously, is part of
my DNA. It is who I am.
Growing up, it was also evident to
me that we were part of a middle-class
family and we had to stand on our own
feet. Getting a good education was the
only means to get anywhere in life.
Looking back, I can say with certainty
that I am who I am because of my education,
especially higher education.
This topic is so important to me
that I spent 16 months writing this book
full-time. I fervently hope that this book
sparks conversations and actions to create
positive change in India’s higher education
system as soon as possible.
IPM: What is the purpose and
what do you want to achieve from writing
SK: The book is a means to an end
— build a brighter (golden!) nation for
all its 1.3 billion people by transforming
India’s higher education system. I fervently
hope that educated youth, professionals,
and those who care deeply
about India and its future read my
book, and join or start conversations
and take actions.
IPM: Are you passionate about
writing in general or just this topic,
which evidently offers crucial reforms
to Indian higher education?
SK: As an IITian and engineer, writing
does not come naturally to me. I am
more comfortable developing strategy,
solving problems, writing short e-mails,
preparing power point slides, and making
things happen. However, the topic
of India and its higher education system
is so important to me that I felt that
writing the book was the best way to increase
awareness and generate enthusiasm
for comprehensive reforms.
IPM: What is the kind of response
you got so far and what else are you expecting?
Do you think your suggestions
will be taken seriously in India especially
under the current government?
SK: I am delighted by the response
from leaders and readers alike. My
book has received rave reviews from
several industry titans, entrepreneurs,
faculty members in MIT, Stanford, and
UC Berkeley, President-emeritus, University
of California, young professionals,
As an entrepreneur and activist, I
am naturally optimistic. I am also inspired
by Mahatma Gandhi’s words of
wisdom, “Be the change that you wish
to see in the world.”
I believe that many of the initiatives
launched by the current central government
such as Make in India and Digital
India depend on a well-educated and
well-prepared work force, at a large
scale. A stronger economy also needs a
stronger research, innovation, and entrepreneurship
ecosystem. A transformed
and vibrant higher education
system can enable the current government
in improving the economy, creating
more jobs, and ushering Acche Din
for the masses. I am hopeful that they
will see my book and its message as a
IPM: Can you give us a couple of
examples as to how Indian higher education
is different from that which is
SK: In my book the differences,
which are many and stark, are highlighted
over many chapters. Let’s focus
on two points:
Almost seventy years after independence
India does not have even one
world-class comprehensive research
university. Most of India’s islands of excellence
such as IITs, IIMs, AIIMS are
single-field focused institutions. Increasingly,
innovation and new ideas
are coming at the intersection of multiple
disciplines. For example, medical
doctors collaborating with science and
engineering faculty are developing new
cost-effective diagnostics and surgical
devices. Engineering faculty members
are working with law, economics, and
business faculty members to develop
innovative solutions for energy and
water challenges. Artists and humanists
are working with architects, city planners,
business school, and engineering
faculty members to create more innovative
products, workspaces, and city designs.
Universities such as Stanford, UC
Berkeley and MIT are all world-class
comprehensive research universities.
India, its faculty and students, and industry
are missing the upside from not
having such valuable institutions.
On another extreme, in India,
nearly 75 percent of the students are enrolled
in affiliated college system. These
are undergraduate colleges where the
teachers do not conduct any research.
Affiliating university sets their curriculum,
fees, and exams. The average college
size is around 720 students and 27
teachers. Imagine getting your undergraduate
degree where there is no research
and less than 30 teachers to
prepare you for life and career! No
wonder, according to one study, 75 percent
to 90 percent of the students graduating
in India are considered
unemployable by the industry.
IPM: Do reservations and affirmative
action count a lot positively/negatively?
How are they different in the
countries you compared?
SK: In my book, I have avoided any
discussion of matters that divide us.
Thus, I do not talk about reservations,
which have been used by politicians to
divide us on so many fronts for way too
long. We must focus on providing “Excellent
education for all”. It is not only
possible but also desired by one and all.
IPM: Keeping in mind the vast contradictions
existing between India and
the US (especially with high end universities
such as Stanford and UC
Berkeley that you have case studied)
such as population, poverty, culture
and politics, how do you think a more
viable higher education could be
brought about in India?
SK: I believe that India does not
have financial resource constraints.
With several lakhs of crores of rupees squandered repeatedly in many corruption scandals, and
with close to US$100 billion siphoned off overseas in black
money every year, I believe that there is no funding crisis in
the country. It is a matter of leadership, prioritization, allocation,
IPM: You seem to be implying a certain kind of urgency
to bring about a change like NOW in India. What is the urgency
SK: As I look at India’s higher education system, I am
deeply concerned about the challenges and excited by the opportunities
to make an impact. Consider this—in the next 35-
50 years, India must educate and prepare 700 million to 1.3
billion young men and women for their lives and careers.
They will also need jobs. The challenges and opportunities
are immense. India’s higher education system is already
struggling. We need fresh thinking, sweeping reforms, and a
sense of urgency to transform the system.
Transforming colleges and universities takes time. We
must start the transformation process now to make an impact
at scale and in time. If we don’t, we could face unmitigated
disaster. If we do, the upside is a golden India, and a brighter
IPM: Do you have any closing comments for the readers?
SK: Yes. Building a golden India would require a massive
push and a pull, and lots of hard work on the part of
many. I would love for your readers to read my book and
equally important join the conversations and be a part of the
movement that will build a golden India. Use the hashtag
#IAmForGoldenIndia on Twitter or Facebook.
The book can be purchased at: www.amazon.com/author/shailkumar
For more information on the book or author, visit: www.shailkumar.com
Note: some of the materials is from Building Golden India and is
copyrighted. The author and publisher have granted India Parent
magazine the rights to publish those materials.