Friday, June 26, 2009

University Rankings

In a recent paper in Current Science, Dr. Gangan Prathap (formely Vice-Chancellor of CUSAT and currently at National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, New Delhi) has conducted a preliminary study on ranking Indian universities based on number of papers published. I had previously compared a similar set of universities based on number of publications, citations and h-index and citations and that can be found here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Report on Higher education

I have been reading the Yashpal committee report on the reform of higher education with interest. Without mentioning the institutes like IISc, he states

In our country, the undergraduate years have mostly remained in the precinct of affiliated colleges, i.e., not as part of mainstream university life. Indeed, quite a few universities do not have undergraduate classes at all. In many universities, the faculty serving undergraduate colleges is given some opportunity to participate in postgraduate teaching at the university, but there is no such provision for the university faculty to serve in colleges. This arrangement illustrates the perceived hierarchy of the UG and PG stages of higher education. In treating UG education as a ‘lower’ level of learning, the Indian university system has perpetuated a source of its own intellectual malnourishment.

I have not yet read the report thoroughly but I will do so in the flights in the next few days and then comment on it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New pay scales

The new pay scales for IITs, IIM, IISc etc. are likely to be approved by August 1, 2009 and implemented by September or October, 2009. Subsequent to the Goverdhan Mehta's committee, another committee was set up and this had submitted the report. These salaries are likely to be slightly higher than what had been proposed by the Goverdhan Mehta's committee.

Attracting talent

In an interesting post on attracting talent to state universities in India, the rainbow scientist makes several valid points and also states

I have worked as an Assistant professor in India and can tell that the salary of an assistant professor in any state college or university is very much comparable (sometime even better) with international standard if adjusted against the cost of living.

Right now there is a lack of adequate central system for advertising of the academic positions all over India online and clear mechanism for appointments. There should be central website where all institutes should advertise open position obligatorily.

I have always been confused by the cost of living comparison. Consider that an assistant professor in India earns $10000 a year while his/her counterpart earns $70000 a year i.e., seven times less. An independent house (not an apartment) near IISc would cost you $250,000, which is 25 times the yearly salary and thus almost impossible to buy. Even houses in my native town are around $75,000. My friend once did a small analysis based on what a typical south indian family buys: rice, milk, vegetables, fruits and standard FMCGs. The cost (at that time) per month came out to be $200 in India and $400 in USA. So, it is a significant portion of the salary in India. Though services like having a maid or a car driver or eating in restaurants or medical facilities are cheaper in India compared to USA, the salary even when adjusted against the cost of living is not better than USA.

Of course, one can argue that in USA, one needs two cars, car insurance for each of these cars, medical insurance for the entire family, mortgage for a five bedroom independent house, private school for children and thus the savings would be negligible. In IISc, one can live like me staying in the quarters, not owning a vehicle, use the health center for medicines and live "with ordinary decency with an ascetic spirit" as envisaged by JRD Tata. In this case, even my current salary is too high. But then one is comparing different qualities and ways of life.

Regarding the other point of a central system for advertising, the national knowledge commission in conjunction with IISc is working on developing a portal on the lines of and the chronicle of higher education. I am notionally taking care of its implementation. In this, we are planning to ensure that all conferences, job openings in academia in India, profiles of various researchers will be included. However, I believe, this is just the first step.

The research facilities in many state universities are minimal: no lab space, no access to scientific journals, high teaching load (12-14 credits per semester) and administrative procedures which are arcane. For example, one needs three quotations from different companies to buy anything above Rs. 5000 in the project. Above a lakh, the item needs to be tendered publicly while in IISc, it can be procured under single quotation. Compare it against the purchase and administrative procedures in IITs/IISc. Despite this, several universities do commendable research and the list of the top universities in India based on publications and citations can be found here.

However, unless the research facilities, administrative procedures in universities are improved and made attractive and incentives are provided to perform, not many researchers trained in advanced countries will return to state universities.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Publications in IIT/IISc

The number of publications from 2004 to 2008 has grown in all IITs and IISc. Here is the trend.

One can clearly see that IISc has the largest number of publications but the number of publications has increased significantly in other IITs. For example, the ratio of the number of publications in 2008 to the number of publications in 2004 is 1.2 for IISc, 1.7 for IIT-M and 2.0 for IIT-Roorkee.

I will post separately on the quality of publications but whatever parameters one takes: number of citations, number of citations per paper, h-index, number of papers in journals with impact factor of more than 5 etc., in each category, IISc leads the others. However, when one compares this output to that of the top 30 universities in USA, the output is still low. Therefore, this shows that there is a scope for lot of improvement for all institutions in India.

Impact factors

On June 20th, ISI Web of Knowledge released the list of impact factors of all journals. Despite its obvious shortcomings, authors and editors fight over a high impact factor for their journal. This year, a five year impact factor and the eigen factor was also mentioned for each journal.

The top three journals in chemical engineering, AIChE Journal (published by Wiley), Chemical Engineering Science (published by Elsevier) and Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research (published by American Chemical Society) all tied with nearly the same impact factor of 1.89. The three other journals to which I regular submit namely Journal of Physical Chemistry B, Applied Catalysis B and Polymer Degradation and Stability all show an increase in the impact factor compared to last year.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Subsequent to my post on on your post Faculty positions in IIT/IISc, I have been getting several emails and phone calls seeking advice. There have been some comments for that post and some of my responses have been somewhat advisory. A recent comment on that post by an ex-student of IISc states

PRof. giri presents a rosy picture of iisc. i am a former student of iisc and know his students. he works extremely hard in excess of 14 hrs a day and also does a lot of administrative jobs ike GATE. He publishes 20 papers a year, others publish less than 2 papers a year. Why? Not everyone can work like that and he is writing from his experience. Setting up labs, especially experimental, is extremely difficult. less than 10% in engineering do experimental work because of the lack of facilities, support etc. Also experimental research is not encouraged in iisc in engineering. Giridhar Sir's intention is good but he should understand that not everyone can work like him and they find working in IIT/IISc doing experimental work extremely difficult. Maybe he should present this side of the story.

To clarify, irrespective of whether I work long hours or not, the number of publications has been due to my students. Most of them are brighter than me and work harder than I do. Therefore, the credit belongs to them and not to me.

Regarding setting up of labs, I agree setting up a laboratory to do experiments is difficult. In my case, it was my initial students who did all the work. However, I had written that doing experimental research in engineering is not encouraged and I have had some of my colleagues complain they are discriminated against by the faculty who do theory. However, these are subjective personal statements that can not be backed up with data.

Billings said, "Advice is like castor oil, easy to give but difficult to swallow." Any advice is based on personal experience. Experiences to the same event are different depending on the person. I write based on my own experience and what I have experienced in IISc may be quite different from others have experienced.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Admission in US universities

The rainbow scientist has an excellent two-part series on how to get admission in US universities for science and engineering. Many of the points there are very valid and easy to follow for a student aspiring to go abroad. However, the author mentions "you can work hard for an exam, get maximum marks in your entrance exams (NET, GATE etc) and can be happy that you will be admitted at the best institute according to your score, but most of the American Institutes believes that single day performance can not judge you and your ability to pursue a tough and competitive professional program."  But this is not strictly true even in India. The exams are used only as a filter for an interview. In the interview, especially in IISc, we do try to judge the student's ability to think, do research etc. The author also mentions, "American Ph. D. program is in general 5+ years, with committee exams at 1 1/2 years, 3 years, 5 years and final defense." However, one can finish Ph.D faster depending on the work. For example, I finished my doctorate in 25 months in USA.