BOOK REVIEW - Building Golden India


Building Golden India

How to unleash India's vast potential and transform its higher education system. Now

India, under the BJP-RSS leadership, is going through tremendous educational upheavals, which, according to many experts including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, is both alarming and contradictory. Though Modi’s focus allegedly is on development and Make in India, the core educational values are constantly being tampered with. As is, Indian higher education system lacks research and action based procedures and learning, and the system seems to be deteriorating further with central government’s cuts in research fellowships and overall educational budget in the last two years of its governance. At a juncture such as this, Shail Kumar’s book, Building India: How to unleash India's vast potential and transform its higher education system. Now., brings in new ideas and suggestions based on several educational models accross the world, might be a ray of hope for Indian higher educational system.

Shail Kumar is the Past-President of the IIT Foundation; co-founder of Pan IIT alumni movement in the USA; former administrator at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego; co-founder and CEO of two start-ups; and was an executive in several Fortune 500 and Silicon Valleybased corporations. He has an MBA from Indiana University, Bloomington and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur.

Son of an Indian Army officer, Shail grew up around India. He currently resides in the Silicon Valley with his wife and two children. He enjoys traveling, yoga, and spending time with his family.

Brief Summary of the Book

Building Golden India: How to unleash India's vast potential and transform its higher education system. Now. The book is written by Shail Kumar, past-president, IIT Foundation and includes a foreword by Desh Deshpande, trustee, Deshpande Foundation and life member, MIT Corporation.

Shail Kumar,
author of the book

Building India: How to unleash India's
vast potential and transform its higher
education system. Now.

The interests of students, parents, society, industry, and the nation are intimately connected through the higher education system. In the next 35-50 years, India must educate and prepare 700 million to 1.3 billion young men and women for their lives and careers. So, how is India’s higher education system doing and how could it be transformed to better meet the needs of its stakeholders? The author addresses this central question in the book.

Have you asked any of these questions?

  • What could a Golden India look like?
  • What would it take to go from harsh realities of today and build a brighter future?
  • How could India unleash the potential of its 1.3 billion people?

If you have, then this is the book for you. This book is also for you if you are an educated youth, professional, or someone who deeply cares about India and its future. What can you do? Where do you start? Kumar exlains.

Excerpts from his interview with India Parent Magazine (IPM):

IPM: Can you please tell us what prompted you to work on this specific topic considering that you are an engineer from IIT?

Shail Kumar (SK): I wrote this book for one reason — my love for India and my belief that higher education can play a transformative role in an individual’s life and career and that of the nation.

My love for India goes back to my childhood years. My father was an officer in the Indian Army. Thus, I grew up around the country and mostly lived in army cantonments. There was a visible and perpetual display of love for country. As a student in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, we used to periodically sing songs about bringing back the glory of India’s Golden Age and Takshashila and Nalanda. At IIT Kharagpur we were reminded daily of our duty to the nation. Thus, my love for India, consciously and sub-consciously, is part of my DNA. It is who I am.

Growing up, it was also evident to me that we were part of a middle-class family and we had to stand on our own feet. Getting a good education was the only means to get anywhere in life. Looking back, I can say with certainty that I am who I am because of my education, especially higher education.

This topic is so important to me that I spent 16 months writing this book full-time. I fervently hope that this book sparks conversations and actions to create positive change in India’s higher education system as soon as possible.

IPM: What is the purpose and what do you want to achieve from writing this?

SK: The book is a means to an end — build a brighter (golden!) nation for all its 1.3 billion people by transforming India’s higher education system. I fervently hope that educated youth, professionals, and those who care deeply about India and its future read my book, and join or start conversations and take actions.

IPM: Are you passionate about writing in general or just this topic, which evidently offers crucial reforms to Indian higher education?

SK: As an IITian and engineer, writing does not come naturally to me. I am more comfortable developing strategy, solving problems, writing short e-mails, preparing power point slides, and making things happen. However, the topic of India and its higher education system is so important to me that I felt that writing the book was the best way to increase awareness and generate enthusiasm for comprehensive reforms.

IPM: What is the kind of response you got so far and what else are you expecting? Do you think your suggestions will be taken seriously in India especially under the current government?

SK: I am delighted by the response from leaders and readers alike. My book has received rave reviews from several industry titans, entrepreneurs, faculty members in MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, President-emeritus, University of California, young professionals, and students.

As an entrepreneur and activist, I am naturally optimistic. I am also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s words of wisdom, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

I believe that many of the initiatives launched by the current central government such as Make in India and Digital India depend on a well-educated and well-prepared work force, at a large scale. A stronger economy also needs a stronger research, innovation, and entrepreneurship ecosystem. A transformed and vibrant higher education system can enable the current government in improving the economy, creating more jobs, and ushering Acche Din for the masses. I am hopeful that they will see my book and its message as a win-win proposition.

IPM: Can you give us a couple of examples as to how Indian higher education is different from that which is available here?

SK: In my book the differences, which are many and stark, are highlighted over many chapters. Let’s focus on two points:

Almost seventy years after independence India does not have even one world-class comprehensive research university. Most of India’s islands of excellence such as IITs, IIMs, AIIMS are single-field focused institutions. Increasingly, innovation and new ideas are coming at the intersection of multiple disciplines. For example, medical doctors collaborating with science and engineering faculty are developing new cost-effective diagnostics and surgical devices. Engineering faculty members are working with law, economics, and business faculty members to develop innovative solutions for energy and water challenges. Artists and humanists are working with architects, city planners, business school, and engineering faculty members to create more innovative products, workspaces, and city designs. Universities such as Stanford, UC Berkeley and MIT are all world-class comprehensive research universities. India, its faculty and students, and industry are missing the upside from not having such valuable institutions.

On another extreme, in India, nearly 75 percent of the students are enrolled in affiliated college system. These are undergraduate colleges where the teachers do not conduct any research. Affiliating university sets their curriculum, fees, and exams. The average college size is around 720 students and 27 teachers. Imagine getting your undergraduate degree where there is no research and less than 30 teachers to prepare you for life and career! No wonder, according to one study, 75 percent to 90 percent of the students graduating in India are considered unemployable by the industry.

IPM: Do reservations and affirmative action count a lot positively/negatively? How are they different in the countries you compared?

SK: In my book, I have avoided any discussion of matters that divide us. Thus, I do not talk about reservations, which have been used by politicians to divide us on so many fronts for way too long. We must focus on providing “Excellent education for all”. It is not only possible but also desired by one and all.

IPM: Keeping in mind the vast contradictions existing between India and the US (especially with high end universities such as Stanford and UC Berkeley that you have case studied) such as population, poverty, culture and politics, how do you think a more viable higher education could be brought about in India?

SK: I believe that India does not have financial resource constraints. With several lakhs of crores of rupees  squandered repeatedly in many corruption scandals, and with close to US$100 billion siphoned off overseas in black money every year, I believe that there is no funding crisis in the country. It is a matter of leadership, prioritization, allocation, and focus.

IPM: You seem to be implying a certain kind of urgency to bring about a change like NOW in India. What is the urgency and why?

SK: As I look at India’s higher education system, I am deeply concerned about the challenges and excited by the opportunities to make an impact. Consider this—in the next 35- 50 years, India must educate and prepare 700 million to 1.3 billion young men and women for their lives and careers. They will also need jobs. The challenges and opportunities are immense. India’s higher education system is already struggling. We need fresh thinking, sweeping reforms, and a sense of urgency to transform the system.

Transforming colleges and universities takes time. We must start the transformation process now to make an impact at scale and in time. If we don’t, we could face unmitigated disaster. If we do, the upside is a golden India, and a brighter world.

IPM: Do you have any closing comments for the readers?

SK: Yes. Building a golden India would require a massive push and a pull, and lots of hard work on the part of many. I would love for your readers to read my book and equally important join the conversations and be a part of the movement that will build a golden India. Use the hashtag #IAmForGoldenIndia on Twitter or Facebook.

The book can be purchased at: For more information on the book or author, visit:
Note: some of the materials is from Building Golden India and is copyrighted. The author and publisher have granted India Parent magazine the rights to publish those materials.