Monday, January 20, 2014

Diplomatic Martyrs Indian Express

Martyr Diplomats
By T.P. Sreenivasan
Diplomatic life has never been a bed of roses. Legend has it that in ancient times, a cannibal king told a newly arrived envoy that his predecessor was "delicious"! Today, diplomats are exposed to slander, arrest, expulsion, physical attack and even assassination for no reason other than being the accredited representative of a country.
We are not unfamiliar with stories of punishment being meted out to the messenger for the message. Duryodhana ordered imprisonment of Krishna for the message that the Kauravas would be destroyed in the Kurukshetra war if they did not do justice to the Pandavas. Ravana ordered ignition of Hanuman’s tail for bringing the message that Lanka would be burnt down if Sita was not returned with honour. If they did not have supernatural powers, both these Envoys Extraordinary would have perished for no other crime than performing their duties. The messages would have, however, outlived the messengers.
The recent expulsion and counter expulsion by the US and India of their diplomats may be linked in some way to their actions, but often the expulsion is a bolt from the blue. A classic case of expulsion was the ordering out of the Australian High Commissioner in tiny Nauru for showing the expenditure incurred by the Australians on erecting a lamp outside the High Commissioner’s residence as aid to Nauru. Nauru prides itself that it never receives any foreign assistance and the Australian action was seen as a national insult even though it was dependent on Australia for its very existence.
The pattern of expulsion of diplomats around the globe reveals that it is often the weaker partner in a bilateral relationship that resorts to expulsion of diplomats to make a point. When a country feels powerless to change the opinion of a foreign country, it feels tempted to use its prerogative to expel diplomats. Such actions can only make matters worse in the bilateral relationship. Eventually the bilateral relationship gets repaired, but the sudden dislocation and the adverse publicity affect the diplomats concerned and their families. One consequence of such expulsions is that those declared persona non grata, even for technical reasons, are unable to get back to those countries. In the case of specialists, the expertise lost is regrettable to both the countries concerned.
In the case of Devyani Khobragade, the expulsion came as a solution rather than as a provocation. A quiet withdrawal of the officer in September last year would have been a better solution than the series of events that rocked bilateral relations. The reciprocal expulsion of the US diplomat, it turns out, was more than deserved, as he had not only conspired to evacuate Indian nationals to the United States on a false pretext, but also had made no secret of his hatred of India and Indians. Gossip about the host country, its manners and its leaders is common in diplomatic cocktail circuits, but to put it on social media is to attract adverse comments, and worse, expulsion.
In our own diplomatic service, we have had several instances of quiet transfers and even expulsions in similar circumstances. Since these are not always publicized, statistics are not available in one place. There have been the highly publicized reciprocal expulsions by India and Pakistan at lower levels. Reciprocal expulsions with friendly countries are done most discreetly and sometimes diplomats under orders of transfer are technically expelled to complete the quota. The Chinese deliberately publicized the expulsion of two of our diplomats from China during the Cultural Revolution. One of them left the Foreign Service as a result of the trauma, while the other rose to the highest level in the Service, though his expertise on China could not be fully utilized. Quiet advice by host Governments and financial irregularities have brought back diplomats with little or no publicity. They will figure in the whispers in the South Block corridors for a time and then die out.
If there is any truth in reports that the American ire was more against India than against Devyani, the tragedy of her treatment and expulsion become all the more sad. The bilateral relationship will recover, while she will be deprived of the opportunity to live in the United States with her husband and children even after retirement. The present sympathy and support extended to her by the Government will diminish and she will have to resolve her problems herself. Nobody senior from the Ministry of External Affairs showed up at the airport to receive her. She must have also been advised not to speak to the media to avoid contradictory pieces of information coming out.
The distinction, which was sought to be made between official and private activities with regard to consular immunity, is patently unfair. A diplomat lives abroad simply because he is assigned there and his life cannot be divided into private and public. Immunity and compensation should cover all activities, regardless of the venue and nature of the event involved.
Lack of public sympathy for diplomats, who are seen as privileged and spoiled, is universal. Even those who enjoy multiple supporting staff at public expense in India sneer at one domestic assistant that diplomats are permitted. Drivers and cars are provided only to the heads and posts abroad, while the civil servants in India take such facilities for granted even at junior levels. Diplomats with no support system abroad should be treated with the same concern as soldiers in the frontline. It is a fact that the casualty rate in the Foreign Service is not less than in the fighting forces.

India has had its share of martyr diplomats, some murdered, some brutally attacked, some insulted and expelled and some quietly whisked away. India has reacted differently to different cases without a formula to nurse the survivors back to normalcy or to ensure that their careers are not affected adversely. Even worse, there is no grievance mechanism to deal with the trauma or to compensate the diplomats for the pain and suffering. Each finds his or her own way to contend with the enormous problems arising out of armed attacks or expulsions. No record is available in the public domain of the concessions or compensation given to the affected members of the service. Such information may give some cause of comfort for those who face dangers in the line of duty.

The time has come to ensure that we reduce the number of diplomatic martyrs and have a formula to treat those affected with sympathy and magnanimity.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Final Text of the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration on Transnational Education

International Meet on Transnational Education

Thiruvananthapuram Declaration on
Transnational Education

The Kerala State Higher Education Council organized an International Meet on Transnational Education in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, between 3-5 January, 2014, which brought together over 100 academicians and academic policy makers from India, Afghanistan, France, Germany, Nepal, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Kenya and the United Nations.
This group, having debated various aspects relating to transnational education from a global, national and local point of view in 12 separate sessions over 3 days, have agreed to issue the following Declaration as the consolidated outcome of the International Meet.
The Thiruvananthapuram International Meet on Transnational Education,
Acknowledging the potential role that transnational education can play in making quality higher education available to those desirous of improving their knowledge across the world without restrictions of national boundaries
Noting the explosive growth of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) and associated infrastructure, which are transforming the way educational content is delivered across boundaries
Recognizing the imperative to shape a strategy for higher education in Kerala in the light of international experience to catch up with the education revolution taking place around the globe
Acknowledging the fact that the new trends in transnational education also has the potential to affect the capacity and legitimacy of national educational institutions and educational policy regimes
Noting   the fact that currently there is no global framework which facilitates or governs transnational education and other related issues including quality control
Expressing concern that the national academic governance regime is currently inadequate to govern the complex nature of technology-enabled quality education
Taking into account that there are a number of global processes, such as the discussions on Sustainable Development Goals and the follow-up discussions on the education for sustainable development that are currently ongoing
Noting that a number of Indian universities have already taken the initiative to establish International Branch Campuses in other countries
 Recalling that UNESCO has in 2005 issued Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross Border Education
Acknowledging that developing countries, including India, have a number of structural inadequacies in areas such as language proficiency and last mile connectivity, which inhibit them from taking full advantage of online education

Taking into account that KSHEC has identified infrastructure, use of technology, teachers' training, research, autonomy and internationalization as areas for immediate attention in shaping a "Higher Education 2.0" for the twenty-first century,

Noting that the Government of Kerala has constituted an International Relations Group (IRG) to promote cooperation between the Universities in Kerala and foreign Universities,

Acknowledging that KSHEC is currently engaged in framing an IT@Colleges Programme to improve connectivity in colleges.

Noting with appreciation the initiative taken by KSHEC to call a timely  International Meet on Transnational Education, which provided a platform for all participants to understand and deliberate on the opportunities and challenges posed by technology-enabled transnational education. 

1.              The student community across the world to urgently take note of the rapidly changing scenario of technology-enabled higher education and new trends in transnational education and to supplement their learning opportunities regardless of their country, language, age and educational background
2.              The teaching community across the world to proactively consider the opportunities and challenges posed by technology-enabled transnational education and harness the potential to supplement and improve their own teaching approaches but also contribute to global learning
3.              The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to organize a meeting of the Member States to discuss the formulation of a global policy regime, including an international convention on open education, which will harness the potential benefits of technologically enhanced transnational education for all Member States
4.              Academic policy makers in all countries, particularly the University Grants Commission in India, to urgently take note of the rapidly evolving scenarios of technology-enabled transnational education, such as MOOC, and formulate national policy regimes, including on quality control, which will ensure that the positive effects of this new trend are maximized
5.              Universities and other academic institutions around the world, including those in the developing world, to evaluate the new technologies of course delivery being promoted by transnational education with a view to harness the positive features of the new development to improve academic quality in their institution
6.              Government and other regulatory bodies to provide flexibility to academic institutions to engage in curriculum development, pedagogy and international collaboration
7.              Countries around the world to factor in the opportunities and challenges provided by transnational education in the discussing the follow-up to the Education for Sustainable Development decade (2014) and the Sustainable Development Goals (2015) which will most certainly have significant educational components
8.              Universities and Private Sector Organisations to work together to consider the changes happening in the academic regime, in particular, technology-enabled transnational education,  could be harnessed to create a better trained workforce
9.              Government of India to establish a working group of academicians to review the implications of the new opportunities in transnational education and understand what the key constraints are for leveraging to improve access and quality of higher education in India.
10.           Government of India to consider establishing  a national online platform for delivering massive open online courses including in National Languages which will not only increase access of our students to best of our education but also train out universities to familiarize with such technologies
11.           Government of India to create policy regime to attract foreign students, including students from the Indian Diaspora, to study in Indian universities and academic institutions
12.           National academic administrators, such as UGC and AICTE, to establish a system of credit transfer, similar to the European Credit Transfer System, which will enable increased mobility of students nationally
13.           Universities and Engineering Colleges, to  consider the potential of MOOC and flipped classrooms to supplement the current training approaches especially in topics where there is severe shortage of qualified faculty
14.           Private sector in India to collectively consider how opportunities of transnational education can be leveraged to provide continuous learning opportunities for their employees as is already practiced by many Multi National Corporations (MNCs).
15.           Government of Kerala to establish a committee, including representatives from academics, private sector and the Malayalee Diaspora, to review the opportunities created by the recent changes introduced by the Government of India on allowing International Branch Campuses
16.           Director of Technical Education (Kerala) to conduct a study of the high failure rate of students in engineering programme to see if it could be partly addressed by the opportunities offered by technologically enhanced learning
17.           Kerala State Higher Education Council to conduct a series of road-shows on Transnational Education across Kerala to increase awareness about its opportunities among academic decision makers, teachers, students and private sector actors in Kerala
18.           Kerala State Higher Education Council, along with Malayalam and Sanskrit Universities  to review what are the potential for developing and delivering Niche Open Online Courses (NOOCs) on global platforms such as EdX and Coursera in niche areas
19.           Kerala State Higher Education Council to establish an online community of practitioners, including those who attended the Thiruvananthapuram International Meet of Transnational Education so that the dialogue and information exchange could continue
20.            The private sector educational providers in Kerala to leverage Kerala’s reputation as a friendly and economical global tourist destination to market their capacity to deliver quality higher education at affordable costs across the developing world in order to attract more international students to come to Kerala and increase diversity in classrooms
21.           Kerala State Higher Education Council to establish a Committee of Experts to study the possibility of recommending to the Government of Kerala to permit private universities in Kerala to enhance direct investment in the higher education sector
22.      Requests the education stake holders to make full use of the Academic Journal of the Kerala State Higher Education Council ‘Education for the Future’ which was released at the meet.

23. Requests the Government of Kerala to recognize and enforce governmental regulations for ensuring social and economic justice and making quality TNE  accessible to the marginalized.
24. Requests that the  implementation of MOOC should be done by considering the students with special needs.
25.Requests a feasible financial model to generate additional resources for further growth of off-campus institutions and to take up measures to improve the quality of the curriculum.

The participants of the International Meet on Transnational Education further resolves:
To continue the discussions individually in coming days in their respective countries, academic forums and educational institutions they represent, to harness the potential of transnational education
To explore opportunities to collectively come together in 2015 at another venue to continue the discussion, including increased participation from the providers of transnational education
To promote, in their respective countries and sphere of influence, the relevant conclusions from the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration on Transnational Education
 The participants of the International Meet on Transnational Education further requests
the Kerala State Higher Education Council, the hosts of the International Meet on Transnational Education to widely publicize the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration on Transnational Education so that students, teachers, academic policy makers and other stakeholders of higher education can use it as a basic document to advocate and promote transnational education.
The participants of the International Meet on Transnational Education express appreciation to the Kerala State Higher Education Council for the excellent arrangements and warm hospitality.
Issued in Thiruvananthapuram, on 5th January 2014

Friday, January 03, 2014

International Conference on Transnational Education

My welcome remarks at the IMTE yesterday may be of interest to some of you. Please note that the purpose of the Meet is not to supplant the traditional system of education, but to supplement it. We are acutely aware of the problems of power, connectivity and mindset, pointed out by Dr.Shashi Tharoor, but designing a new strategy in the light of global experience is absolutely imperative.

Welcome remarks by Amb(Rtd) T.P.Sreenivasan, Executive Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council at the Inaugural Session of the International Meet on Transnational Education (January 3, 2014)

Hon.Chief Minister, Shri.Oommen Chandy,
Hon.Education Minister, Shri. P.K.Abdu Rabb,
Hon.Minister of State for Human Resource Development,
Hon. Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University,
Distinguished Delegates,

This International Meet on Transnational Education is an effort to grasp the extent of the education revolution, which is taking place around the world and to design a strategy to catch up with the latest trends.

From the transformation of the black board to the white board to MOOCS, Flip Schools, Studio schools and TED Talks, dramatic changes in the way the world teaches and learns are sweeping the globe.

An eminent educationist, Nathan Harden made the dire prediction that “in Fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it.”

Some contrary developments must also be taken into account. If 2012 was the “Year of the MOOC”, as the New York Times famously called it, 2013 might be dubbed as the year that online education fell back to earth.

Faced with the prospect of the extinction of conventional educational institutions, many have begun to rebel against the rapid expansion of online education. In response, MOOCS like Coursera, Udacity, Edex and the Khan Academy are bringing further changes.

The world is bewildered that the education revolution, like the technological revolution, has come without a Users Manual, as stated by Picco Iyer. There is even a demand to slow down the education revolution.

Kerala’s higher education system has remained largely unaffected by the new trends in the methods of teaching and learning. We, therefore, have a blank page two write on. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but the time has come for us to reshape our education in the light of global experience. In other words, we need to catch up with the rest of the world. If we do not do that, as Prof. Madhava Menon said earlier today, “God alone can improve the quality of higher education in God’s Own Country.”

We have brought to this Meet, experts from different parts of the globe with our own educationists to shape our own education for the future. I hope that we can absorb the best practices and find a package that suits our genius and our purse.

We hope that the Meet will produce a Thiruvananthapuran Declaration on “Higher Education 2.0”, which will mark a new beginning in our quest for an education system that is relevant for the 21st century India.

Those who have seen the documents of the Meet may have noticed that it has been fully prepared with a Concept Note, a background paper and even Guidance Notes for the chairs and the speakers. We have done this to guide the debate in the right direction and to provoke discussions. Needless to say, additional thoughts and ideas are very welcome.

I have worked with three distinct teams of excellent colleagues--- a team of IITians, led by Dr.Muralee Thummarukudy from the United Nations, the International Relations Group, including Dr.K.A.Abraham, the Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Kerala, a preparatory committee, led by my colleagues in the Executive Council Dr. Jayaprakash, Prof. Lopus Mathew and Prof. C.I. Abdul Rahman and a logistics team from my office, led by Dr.Anwar, the Member secretary. I am grateful to all of them.

A landmark event will take place today when Dr.Shashi Tharoor will release the first issue of the first volume of our academic journal, “Higher education For the Future”. I congratulate the Editorial Board on this accomplishment.

Apart from designing a world class Meet, we are also trying to develop a new culture for academic meets by reducing unnecessary rituals and wasteful paraphernalia. I am sure that you will notice the new features, no lamps, no flowers in plastic bags, no flex boards that hurts the environment and no mementos in wood, steel or glass, only books.

One of the new features of the new culture is a short welcome address. The distinguished guests on the dais are too well known and too eminent to require any praise from me. I would, therefore warmly welcome the Hon. Chief Minister, Shri.Oommen Chandy, Hon. Education Minister, Shri. Abdu Rubb, Hon. Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Dr.Shashi Tharoor and the Hon. Vice Chancellor of the Delhi University, Dr. Dinesh Singh and all the distinguished delegates and the entire audience.

Please join me in welcoming all of them with a thunderous applause.

Thank you.