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Future of Design Education within the Changing Cultural-Economy of India

Working Paper – First presented at  – Humanizing Design panel at  WDO Research and Education Forum during the Hyderabad Design Week on 10 October 2019.

Abstract –
“This paper explores challenges and negotiations faced by Indian Design education as it is poised to locate itself within the changing cultural economy of India, and the wave of globalisation that is sweeping higher educational structures. Design education in India is struggling to meet multiple inadequacies brought about by changes in the global culture and economy. The discipline is coping with the lack of sufficient theoretical knowledge base, the lack of major inputs on ecological sustainability, erratic exposure to design management and a struggle to keep up with digital-based technologyi. At the same time, the process of privatisation has led to a readjustment of stakeholders, redefining the aims and functional realities of these design institutes. This is in parallel to the growing globalisation of education that is bringing about structural changes in pedagogy and assessment. As we grow and adapt into this flux, it is imperative to re-situate design education within the zeitgeist of a 21st century India.


Once India became a signatory to the World Trade Organisation, (1994) , it became inevitable that the cultural; economy of India will be affected and inflicted by globalisation. This integration was not a sudden all-encompassing process, but a change that came slowly, negotiating through the layers and structures of Nehruvian socialism. One of the sectors deeply affected by the socio-economic and political shifts has been the sector of Higher education. In the year 1995 World Bank published “Higher education: Lessons of Experience”. In many ways this report has had a long term impact in how higher education has been conceived, policed and funded. The report termed higher education as “a private and quasi- private good which allow students-consumer to command a better market for their skill”. A first step towards the implementation of this policy agenda has been the introduction of Establishment and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities Regulations, 2003, UGC. By this time, the World Bank had revised its position and tabled the “Constructing Knowledge Societies: New Challenges for Tertiary Education (2002)”[1]. In this report higher education was again classified as a “public Good and there was a strong push to initiate public private partnerships while future through the Privatisation of Design education began after the 2002-3 era has begun to expand rapidly. This expansion makes it important for us to focus on its commitments to its stake holders and how design education today understands its cultural-economical role.

[1] Neo-liberalism and Higher Education in India, Dr. Marami Goswami, Quest Journals Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Science, Volume1 ~ Issue 3 (2013) pp: 32-37

Though globalisation has brought in a strong need to de-localise educational methods, at the same time it becomes imperative to remember that different cultural-political-economic contexts need different responses and adaptations to globalisation. It important to acknowledge that though the technological and structural spread of globalisation has been all encompassing, its economic, technological and ecological impact on cultural economies has been varied. The largest private design universities in India are very new and in a constant struggle to refine curriculum, define systems and arrive at a sustainable pedagogy.[2] The first world economies had gone through this transition in the 80s through the 90s, and it was almost natural that many of the new design schools would be looking at universities in Europe and America to guide this transition. In India, Design itself was a new discipline, institutionalised only in the 1970’s. At that point, design was considered important to shaping a modern nation state and crucial for India’s search for self-sufficiency in urbanisation and industrialisation. The scope of National Design Policy (2007) is much more ambitious. Among many goals it states its objective being “Making India a major hub for exports and outsourcing of designs and creative process for achieving a design-enabled innovative economy.[3]

[2] Chatterjee, A, Future of Design Education within the changing cultural economy of India, Design in India: The Experience of Transition. Design Issues, 21(4), 2005.
[3] National Design Policy , 2007

This policy is a good refection of the confusions in imagining design and design education, and a lack of roadmap in how the objectives and goals are to be attained. The NDP mirrors the aspirational culture of ‘new India’, but fails to theorise solutions. The word ‘innovation’ is used all over the document without quantifying, calls for a tremendous expansion of infrastructure and knowledge base without mapping the resources needed for an expansion. The document does not acknowledge that the discipline is coping with the lack of sufficient theoretical knowledge base, the lack of major inputs on ecological sustainability, erratic exposure to design management and a struggle to keep up with digital-based technology.

One of the key debating points of neo-liberal education has been around learning for learning sake and learning for employment’s sake. As academic fees increase across board, education has become an economic investment (a shift away from its earlier existence an a knowledge and economic investment). Many design educators feel that an employment focussed design education takes away from long term concept building by promising immediate hard and soft skills requirements of the market. In a sense this a continuation of the older clashes between ‘technical education’ and ‘university education’. However, this takes a different meaning in the present scenario because in most scenarios, the structural/ institutional differentiations between universities and technical education institutes have lapsed into a composite whole. The problem has been compounded by us continuing to look at answers from the first world where neo-liberalism is older and infrastructural and cultural realities and completely different. However one very important thing that the National Design Policy does achieve is to align the needs of design education in India with the “Knowledge for Development,” World Bank 1998 report[4]. In the Indian context the push towards design as capital (away from design as function of manufacturing) is significant and crucial to the future design and its cultural-economic value.

[4] World Development Report, Knowledge for Development, World Bank, OUP, 1998.

Our excessive focus on the first world to guide our tryst with design education has lead to us ignoring the parallelly looking at models and experiences from Japan, China, Brazil, Mexico, South-Africa and other dominant-emerging economies where privatisation and neo-liberalism in higher education, particularly in design has been closer to our journey and have been going through their own journey balancing between delocalisation and localisation of design pedagogy[5]. Even today almost all private universities are focussed exclusively on Euro-America and do not engage with China, Japan or Brazil, countries who have made shaping design to be an effective tool for manufacturing as well as an independent capital accumulator. Our entanglement into the technical versus university debate has kept us away from important issues like the need to to rethink knowledge flow in a data saturated world and the need to reconfigure the position of craft in the future of design.

[5] Barbosa, Ana Mae. “Art Education in Brazil: Reality Today and Future Expectations.” Visual Arts Research 16, no. 2 (1990): 79-88. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20715734

The modernist idea of design has been governed by the idea of a ‘significant form’ and aesthetic unity. The National Institute of Design formed its pedagogical practice based on these principals, and this perpetuates how design is taught and evaluated even today. This approach limits the role the design process into trying to arrive at a form-function harmony working within the principals of aesthetic unity. This model has a little understanding of design thinking as being separate from design process and is incapable of responding to the heterogeneity of taste cultures in post-colonial societies. What we see as short term demands of the market could be the demand for a more diverse and non-modular understanding of design itself and a simultaneous need to different approaches to form and concept.

Working within large scale privatization of policymaking creates challenges in situating the future of design education within the zeitgeist of the nation[6]. Yet, in a diverse nation like India, the solutions might come from moving away from the notion of a singular zeitgeist and instead to focus on a sustainable relationship between key stakeholders. Design education needs structural interventions through design thinking as there is an urgent need to reimagine business models and long term development goals of key institutes. A failure to do so risks loosing the recent growth of design education to an economic bubble and more dangerously to fail in our goal to become a country that exports design and design based solutions. Almost all institutes look at students as service consumers building their revenue models of increase of intake and fees.

[6] Jayandhaya Tilak, The Privatisation of Higher Education, Prospectus, Council for Social Development, 1991.
i Chatterjee, A, Future of Design Education within the changing cultural economy of India, Design in India: The Experience of Transition. Design Issues, 21(4), 2005.
ii World Development Report, Knowledge for Development, World Bank, OUP, 1998.
iii Barbosa, Ana Mae. “Art Education in Brazil: Reality Today and Future Expectations.” Visual Arts Research 16, no. 2 (1990): 79-88. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20715734
iv Jayandhaya Tilak, The Privatisation of Higher Education, Prospectus, Council for Social Development, 1991.

A cursory deconstruction would lay bare the insubstantiality of this model as a business proposition and the tremendous continuous pressure it puts on infrastructure and resource building. Design schools can only become sustainable in terms of business models if they shift from an admission based to a content based revenue model. The kind of value incubation centres, patents and content design can achieve has the potential to surpass earning potentials of the admission and fees based model. However, this would require design schools to re configure their approach and focus on research, analysis and intellectual property rather than on employability creation. We need to understand and respect the market as the supreme appropriator and realise that it will in any case appropriate the training/education of design school graduates to meet its demands and there is more sustainability in centring design as a more conceptual and structural context. 

Author:
Rahul Bhattacharya, Associate Professor, School of Communication, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)

Published in author’s personal blog – https://theblackyellowarrow.blogspot.com

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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