Open Letter to PM

Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh,

People of our generation are your fan due to economic reform initiated in 1990’s. In childhood via newspapers, movies etc most of us used to think that gold smuggling in India was a real problem. However, you taught us that real issue was exorbitant taxes on gold import rather than goons doing gold smuggling. You solved the problem by identifying the root cause. In the process we learned that many problems disappear if we pause a bit to think what is the real issue.

However, It seems to me that now that you are prime minister your own government is not following you. Recently, your government has informed us that it is going to make IIT and other Indian elite institutions world leader in research via streamlining the recruitment and promotion process. Your human resource minister Mr. Sibbal seems to suggest that we need to fix bad recruitment policy of IIX to raise the standard and let IIX win a few noble laureates. However, it seems to me that we are trying to solve some imaginary problems and in the process creating a real royal mess. Meanwhile the real problem is not even getting discussed.

Mr. Sibbal is preaching that IIT research profile is not similar to Harvard because they hire inexperienced people as assistant prof. and there is no cap on the number of people attaining senior Prof. status. In order to cure these problems he is suggesting that people with less than three years of experience should be appointed under On-Contract Assistant Professorship (OCAP) scheme. Of course he is willing to waive the process for CNR Rao or Stephan hawking. Similarly, for promotion he is suggesting that only 40% of the people should attain 12000 grade pay status. He also has rejected the demand for 9500 Rs as a grade pay for IIT professors rather than 10000 Rs as demanded by IIT faculties. According to him OCAP is very similar to the tenure system practiced by his alma matter Harvard for appointment as entry level. He is boasting that OCAP system and restriction of 40% on 12000 Rs grade pay status will raise the competition and increase the research output of IIT system. He accuses IIT faculties who oppose this system as greedy people who are afraid of competition.

First of all, it is highly unclear why an engineer with 4-5 years of PhD and 1-2 years of Post-doc experience (typically international one) will come back to India with a salary of 25000 Rs. I remind you that by now a typical engineer of this profile will expect a package ranging between 8 Lakh to 25 Lakh (depending on the demand for the expertise of the scholar), if he/she takes industrial research opportunities in India itself. A vast majority will choose to stay abroad and earn a typical salary of 70-120 K USD. In such a situation, I do not see why a typical Indian researcher with good pedigree will join OCAP scheme. In case a good candidate joins the system OCAP will act as a hurdle to his research. A person on OCAP will have to teach, struggle for money, struggle to get PhD students (who will risk 5 years with a glorified post-doc). Only result I can imagine being that of the deterioration from the current research situation in IIX. Mr. Sibbal claims that by creating an hierarchy at senior professor level and keeping a tab of 40%, he is increasing competition. In reality, what will happen that tab of 40% will create a situation where a good junior faculty will not get his promotion because senior people have already filled the quota. If you really want to increase the competition why to make this promotion permanent? This whole issue seems to originate from the single premise that IIX are flush with good applications and still research is bad because IIX are not careful with the selection process. First of all, the number of successful Indian prof. at good American and European university/industry is a good indication that we cannot compete with good university of the world, unless our pay packages are also global. I agree that lot of good people comes back to IIX because of various reasons (dedication to the nation, commitment to family etc). However, you cannot create a world class research university based on goodwill gesture alone. I think you are intelligent enough to understand that no one chooses his job based on PPP calculation, comparison with other Indian government staffs. A vast majority will do a hard monetary calculation and decide based on the global scenario only. If you want best people and best research you also have to provide best infrastructure (salary, start up grant, PhD student, workload etc). Please, stop crying that we are a developing nation, so we cannot provide resources. If you cannot provide best resources, you have no right to expect best research either. I will remind you Lee Kuan Yew word regarding ministers salary “If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys for your Ministers.” This hyperbole I am quoting not to insult existing faculties in IIX (including myself), but just to remind you that we cannot design IIX system solely on the idealistic and nationalistic fervor of faculty. It is no surprise that best of Indian mind emerging from IIX vote for PhD abroad rather than doing it in India. Now, let us discuss some of the premise propagated by Mehta committee and Mr. Sibbal. You all say IIT system has failed because entry level people are inexperienced. Where is the data to show that? I challenge you that take example of any IIT you wish and show the difference in average performance of those with less than three year post-doc experience and those with more than or equal to three year post-doc experience. In fact, you might find that in any engineering department (all over the world), people with more three years of post-doc experience are rare species. Mr. Sibbal seems to know everything but as far as we in academia know 3 year post-doc in the engineering department is a luxury very people take. I do not deny that if we plot performance of IIT faculties, we might see Gaussian distribution emerging. However, my guess is that the reason behind that is permanency of job and lack of a good appraisal system. Mr. Sibbal says that attrition rate is much less than 10 % in IIX. However, I do not know any healthy organization where attrition rate is that low. You talk about Harvard, MIT etc, then just count the attrition rate there. Your minister seems to indicate that OCAP system is similar to the tenure system. I suggest that why not we introduce a real tenure system. In fact, here are very simple reforms, which should make the system more efficient.

a> Introduce real tenure system: Similar to many universities outside India, we can have the tenure system where everyone is appointed for 3-4 year tenure. People should get confirmation, based on performance. Exceptional people should get early confirmation and rest of people should go for second tenure before getting confirmation. However, such system requires that we must have a good start -up research grant system. Furthermore, in such a system it is natural that people will expect a decent salary. In my opinion, a respectable salary for entry level professor is one Lakh+ per month. Faculty salary should be completely de-linked with babus salary. In fact, why give new salary from some past date, start it from some future date and it will save a lot of tax-payers money.

b> Think globally: Why all IIX professors must be Indian national only? Like all good universities, IIX should also recruit from the global pool of talent.

c> Increase PhD salary and Post-doc Salary: Unless we start paying good amount to students, we cannot increase our research output. Most of our good students go out partially due to financial reason. Why can’t we pay 25K per month to PhD students and OCAP salary to post-docs?

d>Periodical review by international experts: Once in a while, we must audit performance of Individual IIX by a global panel of experts.

e> Introduce serious penalty for unethical behaviors: Indian academia in recent years has witnessed a lot of cases related to unethical behavior such as plagiarism. However, we do not have a single case, where somebody is actually punished for it. We must start punishing unethical behaviors. I hope that you will act soon and stop attempt by Mr. Sibbal to degrade IIX system.


2 Responses to “Open Letter to PM”

  1. EyeEyeEx Says:

    “This whole issue seems to originate from the single premise that IIX are flush … blah blah blah” — that’s roughly where the attention span of India Inc., and their fearless leaders, ends. You know no one important is reading this. Is addressing such logical but (thereby) ineffective stuff to the top dons some kind of an ego boost?

  2. Any Says:

    Lets be practical. First, MIT and Harvard produce 5-6 papers per faculty and IIT manage 1-1.5, so the productivity of the faculties is very less. You are lucky, you are in one India’s most productive research centres. So, if in MIT the university pays 120,000 dollars for 6 papers, per paper it is 20000 dollars, so IIT faculties should get around 20-40K dollars. The we have the PPP, so divide by 3, (not 5). So we get to a number of 6.6K-13K dollars (Rs 3.0 lakhs -Rs 6.0 Lakhs). What a coincidence, the government is planning the pay the faculties the same. One more thing, in the US, one has to pay taxes, may be around 30% and in India you pay less taxes and also you get DA, HRA, TA, and a whole bunch of allowances. First the IITs have to perform then ask for more salaries. What they are doing is the reverse, there is a English word for it, BLACKMAIL.

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