Saturday, January 31, 2009

$10 billion lost

The economic times has an article, titled "Students' exodus costs India forex outflow of $10 billion." The article starts off by informing that 500,000 students choose to go abroad every year for higher studies. Assocham president Sajjan Jindal says,

The primary reason why large number of Indian students are forced to opt for foreign universities is that Indian institutions have high capacity constraints. This trend can be reversed by opening a series of quality institutions with public private partnership by completely deregulating higher education.

Also vocational education percentage in India is at meagre 5 percent of its total employed workforce of 459.10 million as against 95 percent of South Korea, 80 percent of Japan and 70 percent of Germany. China has over 500,000 vocational schools while India has less than 3,000 such institutions. This makes a strong case for India to allocate a substantial percentage of its budgetary allocations to promote vocational education to make the country a manufacturing hub.
I have no idea by what it means. Vocational training is primarily imparted in ITIs. Is Assocham wanting to open more of them? Fine.

However, opening a series of quality institutions for higher education is not so easy. Most of the private schools (BITS is an exception) have not been very successful. If IITs are facing a problem in getting good faculty, then the problem will even more acute for a private institution. Further, I think the numbers are hugely inflated. Several students go abroad for undergraduate and graduate education abroad even if they get admitted in IITs. This is because the career opportunities are better. To claim that the exodus of students will stop if we have more colleges/ institutes / universities is foolhardy.


Balaji Ramasubramanian said...


I am a grad student at UIUC and also want Indian schools to imrpove drastically. However, there is a need to increase the number of schools in India.

Some of the most intelligent people wish to opt an academic career in the US while in India the trend is the exact opposite. IITs and IISc are finding it hard to attract smart professors because PhD qualified people want to get a job in the industry. Further how many people want to get a PhD in India? In the US however, just the department of ECE in UIUC alone awards more than 200 PhDs in one year - that is more than the number that IISc awards across all disciplines. It is the sheer number of people that want a PhD from these schools when compared to the number of people that want a PhD from IISc.

I am not denigrating IISc, and in fact the smartest professors of India are in IISc and IITs - as far as grad school is concerned. But the point is that people don't want to get a PhD in IISc because of the following reasons:
1. They can't get a job in India as a professor that pays them on the scale that is commensurate with their level of education. In the US, professors are paid very well (depends on the department and the funding for your research).
2. There are more people looking for academic positions than are available in the US. In India, there are more positions to fill than good professors. While the government should accordingly raise the salary for professors to a much higher figure, unfortunately they have increased the pay for IAS officers (who anyway make the pay commission recommendations) and calmly ignored the professors - who are the real nation-builders.
3. If you say that the point on percentages is not correct, I would disagree. In India, more than 1,20,000 students take the IITJEE every year (this is back from 2000 - I'm sure it is much more now.) But there are hardly 4000 students taken in one year. In all, if we combine the undergraduate intake of all the top 20 universities in India, it is no more than 20,000; a mere fraction of the total 2,60,000 that take engineering entrance exams every year. And per-school intake percentage is below 1%. Compare that to a 25% acceptance ratio at the undergrad level for the top schools in the US.
4. The intake of IISc at the graduate level is also similarly very low. Even if we consider only graduate admissions in India and compare that with the US or even NUS Singapore or Nanyangtech, which are legitimate Asian schools, IISc's admissions have very low intake.
5. I got an admission at IISc in 2008 March to the ECE department (I graduated in 2004 and worked in the industry till then), but I chose UIUC for many reasons - other than the fact that UIUC is far more prestigious than IISc. A school is good for a particular area of research, if there are enough good professors in that area, offering students a wide choice of professors to work with. However IISc has just about one professor for each area of research.

The intake is surely a very big problem in India. And that is a problem mainly because salaries for professors is orders of magnitude below what they actually deserve. The problem of professors will be solved if PhD holders are paid according to their qualifications and if there are attractive jobs available for PhDs. Most of the PhD holders I know of in India are working in industry and even many of the professors align their interests with the industry. Research in the US is ahead of the industry, while in India, it is lagging behind the industry.

Of course all these arguments are offered only in the context of the electrical engineering departments. In my opinion the Material Sciences faculty in IISc is very strong and so is the physics faculty in certain areas of research. I don't know much about the others, but surely ECE at IISc needs a lot of improvement.

I spotted this blog when I was searching for job prospects in IISc on Google.

Giri@iisc said...

Many of your points are valid. However, your point that "And that is a problem mainly because salaries for professors is orders of magnitude below what they actually deserve." has no meaning.

Orders of magnitude below? Professors in IISc roughly earn Rs. 1 lakh a month. What do you expect should be the pay? 100 lakhs a month?

Your idea that IAS officers pay has been increased but IISc professors pay remains standstill is completely wrong. All scales in government are linked. Our director scale is exactly same as that of secretary of the government. The only IAS position higher than secretary is the cabinet secretary.
Similarly, professors, assistant professor's scales are linked like joint secretary etc.

Nilesh Sawarkar said...


Your enthusiasm and comments are encouraging for would-be professors in India. However, Balaji has raised some very valid points. The last time I checked (still on the IISc website) the salary for an Assistant Professor (the guys who actually work hard to get spectacular scientific results in the US) was Rs.13000-18000 (rounded to nearest 1000). How is this 1 lakh per month, unless I am missing something here?

Orders of magnitude is not an exaggeration. The IISc website also mentions an amount of 1 lakh over 3 years for travel. Given the Rupee's present value and the fact that most airlines charge you pretty mush the same irrespective of your employer's status, I think Balaji has raised an important point.

I am wondering if professors at IISc "want" salaries to be low, so they can continue to not compete in a high-adrenalin environment, where the best and the brightest may challenge the existing status quo. Your thoughts are much appreciated (and thanks for blogging, you seem to be the only source of this information)!

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Nilesh,

Thanks for your comment. The IISc web page mentions only the basic. There is 50% Dearness pay, considerable DA, TA, 30% HRA and so on.

I was talking about professor's salary. According to the new UGC scales (sixth pay commission), this is the breakup.

Basic: 47,000; Grade Pay (GP) = 12,000;
HRA = 30% of B+GP = 18,000
TA= 5400; DA = 22% of B+GP = 12,000

For an asst prof, Basic will be 37,000 and GP will be 9,000. The rest are the same.

This comes to approx. 95000. Add 10% for PF, you cross Rs. 1 lakh. In addition, your medical insurance is covered. You have LTC every year for your full family.
You also get travel allowance to attend national and international conferences. But these are not personal money, so I mentioned 1 lakh.

Add to this fellowships which give between 1.5 to 5 lakhs a year. Of course, not all get that. You should also add consultancy fees, which again depends on faculty.

Regarding the last point made by you, IISc/IIT faculty do want more salary. But expecting orders of magnitude more does not make sense.

Balaji Ramasubramanian said...

Prof. Giri,

It is encouraging for Indian scientists to see the pay scales go up. Perhaps I am not as much in touch with the current trends in India. Thanks for your information.

At the same time, let me note that not all of this comes in the form of cash to the professor's bank account. If one does not claim his TA, he cannot get it. Also, only once in two years can he claim tax rebates on this chunk of the salary. The PF doesn't come to you for a long while.

As far as I know in DRDO, the HRA is paid only so far as you claim. If you claim Rs. 12,000 instead of Rs. 18,000, you only get Rs. 12,000. The Rs. 6000 you would want to save for your child's future education or to buy a large apartment, is not paid. I don't know if this applies to professors - I know that this applies to people in DRDO (until 2006). I am not sure of the new pay-scales. Also, if the scientist in DRDO already has an own apartment/house, he cannot claim HRA - that chunk of the salary is not even paid as cash!

The DA percentage really varies depending on when the present government is in election mode. Till such time, the DA is really a matter of mercy.


1. It is surprising that such a good salary should be advertised on the blog of a professor rather than on IISc's own website! Should prospective professors at IISc have to search for your blog or the blog of some other professor to get this information? Government pay-scales need advertisement. People are suckers for marketing and job advertisements will attract the best talents in India. The 2003 "Work for the Indian Army" advertisement got a very good response even when the pay-scales were not advertised. I am sure the professor's position comes with many more benefits such as medical insurance cover for the family, etc. I think these aspects must be covered in an advertisement. The smartest students in India, opting for an academic career in the US will probably rethink their prospects in India, if this were changed. The Indian government should invest in advertising in media other than newspapers. often carries advertisements of post-doc/professor positions in the US, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Japan and several European countries. Indian universities should also use this platform.
2. To the professor, what also matters is the prospect of working in a university that has excellent facilities. Other than the IISc, top 5 IITs and IT-BHU very few colleges have the state of the art facilities. Such facilities are in a way "additional" to your salary. It forms a part of the "work-satisfaction". The chances that a smart person would teach in a good school is somehow (I don't know how) rather low in India.
3. How many people get the position of a professor in IISc in a year? What is the faculty strength of IISc in each department? In all, if we take the top ten schools for science and engineering in India, the total faculty strength is far below 1000. If we take the total faculty strength of science and engineering in the top schools in the US, it runs into 5 digits. NB: the total population of the US is less that India's middle-class population. Sheer percentages make an academic career more accessible and attractive to in the US than in India. Because the US wants to maintain its supremacy in scientific advancement, it rewards the most talented professors. That however is seemingly not the case in India for some reason I cannot understand. The way our dear erstwhile President (the highest position!) was treated in his last days of presidency and after he returned to Madras shows the abject state of affairs.
4. I have worked in the industry in India for enough time and from my direct experience, there are several people with PhDs in the industry and unfortunately very few of them collaborate with the academia. What do you think could be the reason? Why would these people not opt for an academic career instead? I am curious to know your ideas although I have my own theories formed in part from interviewing these ultra-smart people.

Pratik Ray said...

It was interesting following the post and the comments. My 2 cents -

Salary apart, the way to attract good professors is to have good (and fairly big) graduate programs in top institutes. This requires (a) investment in infrastructure and (b) good graduate students.

To get good graduate students, there has to be good career options post-PhD. At this juncture, let us (academicians) remind ourselves that there is more to world than research in a top-class university. Read, there has to be good career openings other than university research, like industries. Honestly, while I dont have the exact numbers, a far greater %age of grad students end up (or, in the current financial scenario at least wish to end up) in the industry (in US) as compared to academics

Which leads me to conclude that the one way in which India will have good graduate students (some of whom will become faculties themselves), good professors, cutting edge technology based industries is for Indian industries to innovate more and spend more on research, compete on a global scale (luckily some of the Indian companies do have a global presence).

Frankly, right now, the Indian industry doesnt seem to have a demand for PhDs. Hence, should a good PhD choose to stay in India, the academic institutes can easily have him with a comparatively lower salary.

Balaji Ramasubramanian said...


I would disagree that for a person with a PhD, a career in industry is better suited. In the US, some of the smartest PhD graduates end up as professors and researchers in national laboratories. After inventing the transistor at Bell Labs (when he could have continued there) left to join academia. He finally joined UIUC. Many of the well-known names in the semiconductor industry have spent a lot of time in academic research. Many companies like AMD and Intel try to retain their doctoral scientists by allowing them to hold a simultaneous position in academia. In the US, there are more people applying for academic positions than there are available and yet, there are more than 10,000 professors in the top ten schools in the US.

So I would disagree that a career outside of research is suited for a person with a PhD. I have worked for several years in industry and can assure you that work in industry is repetitive, boring, and has no research content. The idea that a grad student should find jobs in industry is more useful for people looking for just master's degrees. However, in India there is hardly any value in getting a master's degree alone. An MTech is only marginally more qualified than a BTech. I know a lot of past colleagues in TI and AMD who had MTech degrees from IIT Kharaghpur and IISc. Not one of them knew more about work in industry than me - who had just a plain bachelor's from Delhi college of Engineering. Their salary is only marginally different from the average BTech salary for two reasons:
a. they are only marginally more qualified.
b. there is no advanced work in India that demands a master's degree. The work available in most of the industry can also be done by a graduate in fine arts. In some of the companies with special requirements like TI, a graduate in any engineering is good enough - sometimes just programming skills are enough!

So industry needs to start doing better work, not for PhD holders, but for master's degree holders. A PhD would anyway want to do much more sophisticated work in research than getting stuck in industry.

The one big problem which I pointed out in the first comment is that in India, university/government research lags behind the industry, but in the US, university research is far ahead of the industry. For example in Illinois, I am directly working on research ideas to advise companies like Intel for the technology they should adopt in 2018.

DRDO/ISRO in India work on technologies that were developed 20-30 years back. I have had a lot of colleagues in DRDO that left to join mainstream industry. Some of them worked in the nuclear departments of DRDO for four long years with sincerity and are in grad school now in Illinois, Stanford and Purdue. Their experiences clarify that the work done in DRDO/ISRO is hardly current. This contrasts with DARPA and NASA that are working at the bleeding edge of technology. They are the ones that drive research in the US universities.

Some of these people, including me, want to return to India to join academia. However, the more we work on the bleeding edge of technology, the more we realize what we will miss when we return to India.

Research in the US is actually attractive - not just because the salary is great, but also because the research done here is far more current.

I don't know how this difference can be bridged.

Balaji Ramasubramanian said...

Sorry for a typo:

"After inventing the transistor at Bell Labs (when he could have continued there) left to join academia." should have read:

After inventing the transistor at Bell Labs (when he could have continued there) John Bardeen, left to join academia.

Balaji Ramasubramanian said...

Btw, my younger brother who is doing his master's in IISc right now tells me often that the professors in IISc have to sacrifice a lot to be professors in India.

Why should this be the case?

Anonymous said...

Sacrifice a lot? I guess professors in IISc with a salary of Rs 1 lakh per month must be starving. I feel so sorry for them.

Swaprava Nath said...

Respected Sir,

I came to know about a lot of things about the pay scales in your reply. You mentioned about UGC sixth pay commission, does it apply at par for the IIT faculties as well, or is this breakup exclusively for IISc? I feel there is a difference between the research in IITs with IISc, so the difference seems justified. However I'm not sure how much they differ really. You, being an expert, can clarify on it.

Being an IISc alumnus myself, I have come in close contact with many great professors (and assistant, associate professors), and strongly feel that the remuneration should be handsome since they put lot of effort on the curricula, students and research.



Natarajaprabhu said...

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