Friday, February 16, 2007

Talent, Meritocracy and National Competitiveness

  • As years pass by India continues to transform itself into the world’s back-office and a preferred destination for off shoring work of all kinds , but slowly and surely we are eroding our competitiveness by eroding a culture of meritocracy !!

    All of us will agree that our recent competitive positioning is based on our ability to produce and manage talent (talent here is used as a very broad concept ...), people who can follow routines efficiently and get work done at half the price than it can be done anywhere else (the cost and efficiency game) . The central premise of our model is that we are smart people, so we can learn, adapt and deliver faster, be it in the IT/ITES or any other form of off shoring.

    The quality of Talent is a function of the education system and the stronger our primary education system, the larger is the talent pool, and therefore greater is our ability to compete with others. As you would expect our political system is blissfully oblivious of the basics and preoccupied by the politics of education rather than viewing education as a basic lever of national competitiveness.

    In the name of empowerment, the HRD Ministry has successfully institutionalized the reservation in institutes for higher education. The rationale provided was that this step is an affirmative action and is aimed at enabling the backward section of society. Not taking sides on the relevance and importance of reservations in today’s context, what is evidently clear is that Mr Singh and his team are taking a short-cut by opening the gates of the temples of learning to people who could not necessarily get there on their own . While the reservations can be seen by some as an important social subsidy (and that’s why political parties like the CPI(M) seem to be backing the concept) , this intervention has far reaching consequences on the culture of meritocracy and some of these consequences are as follows :

    · Changes the basis of competition for entry to academic institutions, erodes the position that the IIT’s and IIM’s hold internationally.
    · Increases in the number of seats without a commensurate investment in the infrastructure of the institute reduces academic standards
    · Creates a fundamental disbelief on the notion of meritocracy – I am rewarded by a seat because of my birth and not because of who I am.

    Those of us who work in organizations surely know that the competitiveness of business is also greatly eroded if meritocracy is not rewarded, organizations which do not have a culture of meritocracy perish and those that do grow and prosper. This holds true for Nations as well

    Furthermore the Government has collected thousands of crores through the Education Cess route and I am told that they have not found any meaningful use for the same. One would believe that a nation like ours is resource starved and hence we cant do much to improve our education system, however contrary to this belief we have collected enough cash in the form of taxes and now we need to do something very rapidly. Unfortunately our education policy makers seem to have no will to do something about it …they are of course busy managing their political bosses and their agenda .

    I would grant our policy makers for public education with the intelligence although they mostly look senile to understand that the problem lies with the school system and the solution is not by giving reservations to the OBC’s , SC’s and ST’s , but what beats me is that the government does not have the will to work on issues which are important for the existence of the very nation.

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