Imperial circle? Bentinck’s babus to mark British exam papers

Lord william Bentinck

As governor-general of India, William Bentinck instituted the process that enabled Indians to serve the British with knowledge, skill and ability

William Bentinck would probably have felt vindicated now that a major exam board is reportedly the first in Britain to outsource exam marking to India as part of a cost-cutting project.

As Governor-General of India from 1828 to 1835, Bentinck encouraged western-style education for Indians. It was not altruistic. Bentinck wanted to ensure an endless supplies of inexpensive ‘babus’ in service of the British bureaucracy.

In what might almost be a 19th century re-run of the calculations of a chief executive officer of a 21st century organization, Bentinck realized soon after he arrived in India that cost-cutting was incredibly important. The East India Company was dreadfully in the red and Bentinck knew it had to do a great deal better if the British government was to renew its charter.

As the Americans say, Bentinck stepped up to the plate. He put in place measures to provide more educated Indians for service in the British bureaucracy. They learnt English and European rationalization. (Don’t get me wrong. In the long run, it helped Indians too.)

Some might wonder what this 19th century story has to do with The Daily Telegraph’s new report on how the City & Guilds is sending thousands of papers to be marked by an education firm based in Bangalore.

To my mind, it’s cause and effect – with an almost-identical cost-cutting core that spans centuries. Nothing wrong with any of this. Just concentric circles, oddly enough casting a shadow. Imagine the almost-impossible physics of that.