Wednesday, June 24, 2009

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.


Rainbow Scientist said...

Dear Prof. Madras,

Thanks again for your valuable comments. I am aware that Bangalore is expensive city and I can not comment on the cost of living in Bangalore, but otherwise in my state what I was earning as Assistant Professor or my colleagues are earning is pretty good and they all can afford decent apartment or duplex, not to mention good schooling for their children and other things of life.

I am happy to learn that there is an initiative to create central portal for Research and Education in India. I will be happy to involve and help in any way I can.

I am well aware of poor infrastructure, poor support, high teaching load and administrative responsibilities at state universities. I have worked in admission committee sorting hundreds of applications for first year B. Sc. admission, Examination cell, stock checking etc etc, but 2 professor in my university who had their training in IIT Kanpur and University of Chicago made all the deference in the physics department, and I wish there should be more people like them in all universities to improve the quality of science education there. I have seen Indians working in small colleges in US after getting training at IIT and post-doc at R1, so I think there is a possibility and there will be people who will come to state universities if advertised properly.

Anonymous said...

For IITs, IISc and Other universities, wouldn't it be nice if the government allowed endowed Chairs? In the US system, endowed chairs are considered a good way of retaining top notch faculty. In India, it could perhaps be used to supplement faculty salaries.

Has this ever been considered?

Giri@iisc said...

yes, there are endowed chairs in many IITs and IISc. Look at
as an example

Anonymous said...

I know a very competant person who left an IIT after working for a few months - in this job, he didn't see in his lifetime any possibility of buying a 10 cents plot and building a house (a minimal middle class dream) in his home state kerala, where land prices are one of the highest in India.

Rainbow Scientist said...

I was writing comment on the response of Anonymous 7.32 AM here, but it became so long that I made it a separate post.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Rainbow scientist,

I did read your post. A faculty in IISc or IIT in Bombay/Madras etc can not afford to buy an independent house in a good locality but this is not the case in USA.

Also, the comment that academic salaries are low everywhere does not mean much. The differential between academic and industrial peer group is important. Currently, the difference is 3-4 times. Though I earn a professor's salary, my graduating master's students who go to industry earn more than me. Thus the starting pay of my master's student is higher than my salary. That simply does not happen in the USA.

Finally, your comment and comparison between IAS officer and an IISc professor is not apt. Though I might get the same salary as the additional secretary in the government, the perks are entirely different.

This does not mean that I am unhappy. On the contrary, I love the academic freedom that IISc offers and I would not leave IISc for money. But then that's me. Money is an important issue in making a decision between academia and industry for many aspirants.



Anonymous said...

Prof. Madras,

I agree with you.

By the time most people are ready to be Asst. Professors in places like the IISc, they also have a few years of industrial/research lab experience under their belt. This raises their market value in the industry but for academia, this is a minimum requirement (PhD+3 years).

Even if an Asst. Professor in a US university earns $75k a year, it is quite close to what someone in that field will earn in the industry, may be 85-90% of industrial salary. In India, it is a pathetic 20-30%.

We all have to save for the future. With the new "market oriented thinking" in government circles, new faculty shouldn't count on the great pension and health-care plans of the past. If you can make do on a Rs. 50k salary (after the G. Mehta report),
you have no savings. True, as long as you are working, you have a place to live in and some basic perks. What about after that?

I think academia needs to be decoupled from Babu-dom in India. May be, the private universities will drag the government into taking some concrete steps. Otherwise, the faculty will vote with their feet.

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Madras,

I would appreciate if you could provide some input on this question.

Is a person of Indian origin who is now a US citizen eligible for regular faculty position in IITs/IISc? Does he/she needs to give up his US passport before being appointed? There seems to be some ambiguity in the faculty position advertisements posted by IITs/IISc?

Thank you.

Giri@iisc said...

No, one need not be a citizen of India. However, the institute has to obtain permission from the government.

Anonymous said...

Just saw a news item that a bank manager in AP was assaulted by an MP. Looks like being a government employee in India has its own challenges.

Do you ever face political interference in your work?

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Balaji Ramasubramanian said...

I think Prof. Giri is very right about the huge disparity in the professor incomes in India and the USA. In the USA, by the time a professor retires he has amassed enough wealth from the start-up research firms and consultancies and salary that he can donate a million dollars to the University. We know about the descendants of professors that graduated from one university sending a million dollars as a gift to the University in memory of the professor that graduated from there. Can any professor in India ever dream of doing that?

Being a professor in India in my opinion is no more noble than being one in the US. The major demerits in being in the US in my opinion include: being away from one's beloved homeland, a major problem for people that eat more vegetarian food than non-vegetarian. Another "reason" for which some people return to India is to "give their daughter a more traditional, cultural and demure upbringing". In my opinion, it is a figment of imagination that children in India are more well-behaved, less violent and use fewer swear words than their American counterparts.

Prof. Giri is almost absolutely right when he says that the average salary of an assistant professor is nearly seven times that of one in India. Sometimes one must stop to wonder why a professor in India should have to sacrifice an excellent lifestyle, bleeding edge research facilities and excellent salary just to stay home. It is no different from a child insisting that he won't go to school and play, just because he doesn't want to venture out of home.

In the US however, there is the culture of desiring international travel. Professors enjoy it if they get a sabbatical to go abroad and teach for a whole semester at a University in Taiwan, Scotland, Italy, Korea, Australia and parts of the world that don't speak English. Why is it that Indian professors are so shy of international travel? Is life like an ascetic the only refuge for a professor? How then do we plan to attract the large mass of ambitious people to a noble profession?