Friday, July 15, 2005

Global information labor and global information education

From a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor comes an ironic example of the dialectical relationship between information-labor education and the wider information-labor economy -- in India:

In a sign of growing pains within India's high-tech economy, the government last week slashed the intake capacity of engineering schools by more than 25,000 seats across the country's private university system.

A dramatic shortage of engineering teachers with doctoral degrees prompted the cuts. Various experts estimate that India has only 10 to 30 percent of the qualified instructors it needs.

The shortfall is a product of India' s economic success story - as well as a peril to its future expansion. High salaries and abundant jobs are attracting more students to engineering, and at the same time wooing teachers away from classrooms and into the office parks that now dot many of India' s southern cities.

In an interesting twist, these cutbacks come after years of increasing privatization of India's higher-education system:

Private engineering institutions have spawned all over India because the government has not had the funds to increase significantly the number of engineering schools it runs. In 1970, India had a total of 139 engineering institutions, and only four of these were private.

Today, India has nearly 1,400 engineering institutions; only about 200 belong to the government. This explosion in higher education has allowed many more Indians to pursue an engineering degree [...] seats were so few 20 years ago that only 1 percent of aspiring students got in; today, nearly 70 percent manage to find places.

But with cutbacks in enrollment allowances (mandated by qualified teacher-to-student ratios in the private schools of 1:15), the private schools may face financial ruin from lack of paying students, just as successful graduates face financial windfalls for choosing private-sector employment over academic employment:

Today, a fresh engineering graduate can get paid twice as much as an assistant professor who has spent a minimum of six extra years and a hefty Rs. 300,000 to 400,000 ($6,896 to $9,195) more to earn his master's degree and PhD.

The story doesn't address the globalization side of this issue, however: not only are high industry salaries in India fueled by offshoring of IT labor from transnational North American, European, and Asian firms, but transnational Indian students still find educational opportunities in these regions as well. What might the relations between high-tech training and high-tech labor become in, say, the United States if US-based transnational firms increasingly seek workers around the globe, but would-be global workers increasingly turn to the US for education and training?

My own preference would be for just and equitable education and employment chances for all potential information laborers around the globe. But I wonder if the declining value placed on academic labor in the US, coupled with the declining committment to make academic education universally available to US students -- products of tight state and federal budgets linked to both endemic government privatization efforts and disingenuous conservative charges of "liberal bias" in academia -- might eventually make the US both a poor choice for recruiting information labor, and a poor choice for training and educating that labor.

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