Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Higher education scenario in India: going from bad to worse

Havent blogged in ages. Turns out, this will be the 100th post on this blog. And sadly, its about the rather sordid turns higher education might take in India, if Kapil Sibal has his way.

First off, here's a summary of demands by IIT faculty association and replies by MHRD: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090923/jsp/nation/story_11531088.jsp

1. Regarding recruitment of "fresh PhD" (imo, the worst step by MHRD)

In Mr Sibal's favor, it has to be said that given limited funds and global downturn, to an extent its understandable that government doesnt want to pay a higher salary. But that isnt even the main issue. Folks were willing to return with the 5th PC salaries (which I think would have been roughly equivalent to what the Asst Prof on contract will get). The issue is, the government is tying up the hands of IITs when it comes to recruitment, i.e. a strict requirement of 3 years post-PhD experience for hiring a Asst Prof on a permanent position.

Let's talk of the students who are doing their PhD in India

a) Number of engineering PhDs / year in India is about 1200, which is a fraction of, say, China, US, UK, Japan, etc.

b) With advent of global research centers in India, many of these PhDs will be attracted there, simply due to a significantly higher pay and, ironically, because those positions are more permanent than the ad-hoc positions in the academia.

c) Those that dont more or less will look to opt for a post-doc abroad, especially because the Asst Prof on contract position doesnt offer any job security whatsoever. Given the lack of job security, poor pay, (presumably) larger teaching load, (again, presumably) lack of start-up grants, why would any one in their senses opt for this position as opposed to taking up a post-doc position abroad that offers much more in professional growth/financial rewards (esp if they are looking to return a few years later due to the $-Rs or euro-Rs conversion)

How many top minds does that leave the IITs with, in the hiring process? Hardly any. Once the IITs do get them (assuming there's some left), what's left for NITs and other universities? Clearly, the Indian higher education system is not enough to act as a feeder system (at least for next decade or so) for the faculty requirements.

Which means ... we have to rely to foreign PhDs (Indians doing PhDs abroad). IITs used to offer a good package - secure job, opportunity to work with brightest minds in the country, freedom to set up your own little research group and work accordingly. Given that now this secure position has been made insecure, and quite possibly stripped of a large degree of freedom (and opportunity) to pursue research during the most formative years, who in their right minds would want to take it up.

Sibal talks of American universities having tenure track position. The ad-hoc position was earlier described as lecturer cum post-doc. No change has been made apart from the name. So, quite clearly this is NOT a tenure track position as in abroad (where the teaching load is kept low, and tenure track professors are provided a decent start-up package to give them a chance to earn a tenure).

Given the conditions, I forsee a very bleak future for recruiting good enough people in this post in the engineering departments. And make no mistake, this is a Frankenstein of MHRD's creation.

The situation would have been easily avoided if they had persisted with the old rule where 3 years experience was desirable, but not mandatory (enough leeway to get in top quality candidates even if they arent hugely experienced). By the way, w/o going into names, in 90s, when IITs strictly wanted 3 yrs experience, I know of certain bright young PhDs who were turned down by IITs were offered tenure track position in MIT and some of the other top univs in States. whose loss? you figure.

2) At least 10% of the faculty should be ad-hoc faculty.

A rule as stupid as any. Not even worth debating. All it will do is to ensure that 10% of the positions stay vacantdue to lack of good enough candidates, or ensure entry of 5-10% crap in the department.

3) Requirement of first class in the basic degree

No comments. Most top PhDs / post-doc have a first class in their basic degree. But some organizations like IIM (Indian Institute of Metals) as rule hardly ever award first class in the AIIM exams which are equivalent to BTech. So, some folks will face the axe for no fault o theirs. Again, I would prefer a case by case consideration, especially if these folks have done outstandingly well during their PG/PhD/post-doc stint. But in any case, this is not going to affect a large number of applicants

4) Only those who have taught for 4 yrs at IITs at Assoc Prof level van become a prof etc

MHRD has changed this rule, for the better.

5) 40% cap on promotion to higher pay bands

Again, as useless a rule as it gets. What if 70% of the department's professorial faculty have done well? Who are the 40% who will get promoted, and who are the 30% that will be gutted? A much better way would have been to abolish the higher pay band itself, and let faculty keep a small %age of the research funds as a bonus salary component - practice quite prevalent in US. Kapil Sibal keeps pointing to US for a number of cases (eg: tenure track system etc). Wonder why he is looking the other way in this regard?

All in all, I had thought post Arjun Singh, there's no way MHRD could have f****d the higher education system more. Yet, Kapil Sibal and his gang is here to disprove me. One should expect the unexpected I guess.


Anonymous said...

A good analysis. It is better bright people move to US. I hope these 'educational reforms' should continue in all the ministries. Motive -'Make all those who work and those who don't work equal'.

Anonymous said...

I had a very high regard for Harvard education. I must take an exception for Kapil Sibal.

Sanjeevi said...

I really had a great time reading some of you post.. keep it up

Educational Consultants Chennai

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.