How Do You Find Good Schools?

In a curious response to my post, Ravikiran Rao points to an earlier post that draws an analogy between blogs and educational institutions. In particular, it should be easy for people to start educational institutions — just as it is easy for people to start blogs. You have heard about the death of set-up costs, haven’t you?

Students will be able to discover for themselves where the good institutions are, and they will flock to them — just like readers discover good blogs now. Death of transaction costs, too!

Ravikiran Rao seems very confident that he has found a clever solution to our higher ed problems.

Just imagine the possibilities of this wonderfully costless world: our students will be able to sample a whole bunch of colleges / courses for two minutes each. Or, they’ll just need to discover one or two good colleges, which will point them to many other similarly good colleges. (nanopolitan)

I did not intend to claim that I knew the solution to all the problems of higher education. I was merely pointing out that regulation is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Regulations impose barriers to entry and they tend to penalize the honest the most. Being snarky does not free you from addressing the point.

His second point is of course, quite valid. If it weren’t for the government certifying the quality of schools, the only way to find out their quality is by enrolling in them and studying in those schools for two minutes. It is because of the regime of school inspection that has freed us from the burden of selecting schools for our children. It is a proven fact that middle-class parents who have to choose schools do so by draw of lots. It is also a fact that there is a social taboo against speaking about how good or bad your school is, which makes it impossible for parents to gain any information about the quality of schools.

11 thoughts on “How Do You Find Good Schools?

  1. Hmm.. I wonder how people find life partners. After all its a very big decision and there is no government certifying the goodness/badness of every one. If that decision could be made without resorting to governments, I am sure finding the optimal school for one’s child should be a cake walk and should not need government help.

    Of course, Extending Abi’s sampling theory to find one’s life partner throws up some interesting possibilities 🙂

  2. why is regulation part of the problem ?
    If AICTE mandates colleges to provide more information on faculty,placement about the college on it’s website is that good for students and parents ?
    If the college is falsifying that it could be taken to court

  3. Barbadkatte, that is where the concept of speed dating comes.. and folks have perfected the art of using one life partner to find others… so yes, Abi has a point.

  4. No school or university becomes good overnight. It takes time to weed out the bad from the good. It takes time for any university to build a reputation, especially if we are talking of higher education.

    Regulations are absolutely essential but what is not is government control. Those are two different things. If you cant even see (like abi) that corruption due to excessive govt control is doing harm, then there is really no point in discussing anything. Maybe being in IISc where faculty have lot of freedom, Abi is not able to appreciate the vileness of government interference.

    I dont see why public and private institutes cannot exist side by side. Surely there is space for both, and the need.

  5. To be fair to Abi, he is probably on the same side as you on that issue. It is just that he loses his sense of balance when he senses the opportunity to snark at someone.

  6. >> he loses his sense of balance when he
    >> senses the opportunity to snark at someone.

    ITherefore he has learned well from u.

  7. SlaveEmp: To be fair, Ravikiran’s sense of balance is appalling even in cases where there is no opportunity to snark at anyone. 😉

  8. people living in India asking for more govt regulation of higher ed should be sterilized; their progeny should be found and sterilized as well.

  9. I had some of these same doubts with the blog to school comparison, but expressed very well with or without sarc/ snark by Abi.
    Esp. at the level now proposed by Ravikiran,
    “not claiming to solve all the problems, just pointing out the problems”
    score one round to the nanopolitan. One’s ability to sense snark seems to vary depending on which end of it one is at.

  10. Ravi,

    Abi did miss the juice of your post, which was probably the most succint yet comprehensive take-down of regulations I have read in recent times. But, the choice of blogs as an analogy was probably a bad one given sampling / switching costs. More pertinently, the penalty cost of reading a bad blog for 2 minutes or 2 hours and of spending a year/ semester in a bad school or college is vastly disproportionate. (which may still not prove anything against your main argument). A few questions to think about :-

    1) Is it proper to bracket schools and colleges in one category and deal with them/ think about them similarly? Switching costs are significantly higher in colleges than in schools, and so are penalty costs. Which school one studied from has a very miniscule bearing on what you can achieve later in life, but good and bad colleges make life much simpler or tougher, respectively. I think it’s not surprising that school inspectors are empirically (or rather, anecdotally) far less relevant to a private school than AICTE/UGC norms are to private colleges.

    And yes, information does get passed around, and over a period of time, the bad schools and colleges will move out. It’s just that, what social costs will these institutions impose while they are around. Can it so easily be asserted that an authority like AICTE will do more damage and make the situation worse?

    2) Your argument is essentially that regulations will ensure that only those who see a profit motive in education and are able to lobby with regulators will survive and the true educationists/ philanthropists will move out due to overburdening and ever increasing regulations. Isn’t this in contradiction to the usual lament that one of reasons why education lags in India is the fact that one can’t open schools for the profit motive? In such a case, a law that disallows the provisioning of education for the profit motive should keep these people out, right? And the only people who will remain are the true educationists who are also good lobbyists. Which will reduce supply, and cause competition frenzy and havoc, but solve the problem as you see it. (In fact, I’d say that the primary reason for allowing freer entry into education is the supply-demand gap).

    3) Your arguments against regulation are generic, and not restricted to education. Can I extrapolate and understand your position to mean that every single government regulatory agency is useless? The SEBI, for example, serves no purpose? Or am I missing some nuance here?

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