Shriram is a handsome young man—tall and slender, with short black hair and a carefully trimmed goatee—who “thinks in English” and could easily pass for an American teenager. We call him Mr. Number 19 because he ranked 19 out of more than 400,000 Indians taking the entrance exam to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).
It took Shriram two years of constant studying—at 80 to 90 hours a week—to earn his place at IIT. “All my life I wanted to be here,” he told us as he sat on IIT’s Delhi campus. “I knew that if I could go to IIT, major in engineering, and study hard, my life would be perfect. I would marry a beautiful girl, start a company, help my country advance, and deliver on my family’s hopes and dreams. IIT is the pinnacle.”
Liu Yiting is a beautiful woman who dresses like the affluent Manhattan professional that she is—black leather pumps, a black cashmere cardigan, a black and white print sheath dress, pearl jewelry, and an oversized leather handbag slung over one shoulder. She is also known as Harvard Girl, after the book written by her parents that told of her extraordinary rise from difficult circumstances in southwest China to a coveted place at the most famous university in the United States.
Like Mr. Number 19, she had to work hard to become what she is today: a poster child for the next generation of women of Chinese descent. “I still say it is the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life,” she notes, recalling her efforts to enter a U.S. university. “I remember one day sitting over those application essays late at night, and I just started to cry because I was so exhausted.”
Mr. Number 19 and Harvard Girl are superachievers—but they typify the investment in time and money that young people in China and India are making in their education. The Chinese say that “compared with education and learning, everything else is secondary.” People are prepared to make big sacrifices for a good education. So, too, are governments.