First, what I do not believe in. That the IITs do not need to do anything because the attrition rate in IITs is nearly zero. It is certainly not correct in many departments, especially in electrical sciences (EE/ECE/CS/IT) departments. Many good people do not even bother to apply looking at the starting pay and nearly 10% who join these departments leave within the first two years. The number of vacancies in almost all IITs is more than 25% of the faculty sanctioned strength because of the low pay.
What are the salaries? According to the table, for an assistant professor on contract i.e., with no postdoc experience, it would start at 37,000 + accommodation. A regular assistant professor will get 52,000 + accommodation and will move to 62,000 + accommodation after three years. In addition, they are other benefits. This includes telephone allowance, academic allowances, children education allowance, subsidy for single girl child, leave travel concession for the whole family every year,medical benefits to the family, travel money for attending conferences etc.
In addition, one can get fellowships that vary from Rs 60,000 to Rs 6 lakhs per year from DST/DBT, depending on the fellowships. Faculty can go abroad during the three month vacation every year and get paid in international currency. One can take sabbatical for one year every six years and get paid at both places. In addition, one can earn considerably from consultancy from industry (or even government labs) depending on the area they work in.
Any discussion on pay scales in India takes several routes. One argument is the PPP (purchase parity power). Assistant professor in India gets $1200 a month, so by PPP, it is nearly $6000 a month. PPP is based on a assorted variety of food, services and housing. The service component is extremely cheap and a professor can afford to have a driver for his car, have a maid and cook, which is impossible in the USA. On the other hand, the cost of food is not significantly different from the USA if one buys food and cooks. A cost of an independent house just outside IISc would cost you a crore of rupees ($250,000) and that is also similar to USA. Thus, one can have a driver, maid and cook but no house ! So, PPP arguments are flawed because the lifestyles in India and USA are different. One would probably stay in an 2-bedroom apartment and have a maid and cook rather than in a five bedroom independent house and have no help like in the USA. The other argument is the comparison with IAS officers, who after all decide the salaries of IITs/IISc. One becomes a professor when he/she is around 40-45 and will get 10,500 grade pay, which is very high compared to what an IAS officer of a comparable age makes. So, the salaries proposed look fair. The next is the comparison with minimum wages. The central government minimum wage is Rs. 5500 per month. An assistant professor on contract gets around Rs. 50,000 (including cost of accommodation) and thus is roughly 10 times the minimum wage. In the USA, the minimum wage is $1000 per month while an assistant professor in engineering makes $6000 per month, Thus, an assistant professor in India gets more times the minimum wages than what he would get in the USA. But the lifestyles are different because what can be bought for $1000 can not be bought for Rs. 5500.
However, all these arguments have flaws for the simple reason that no faculty candidate who is applying to IIT from abroad is going to compare himself with IAS officers or with minimum wage requirements or by PPP. One simply can not compare the quality of life between USA and India. One often decides to come back to India for other reasons. I believe that the benefit of living in one's motherland, close to family, friends, local culture and having a secure satisfying job can not be quantified in terms of money. This is at least true for me !
When one decides to come back, one often compares the salary one would get in the industry and compare it with what one would obtain in IITs. The salaries at IITs look pathetic, especially because we advertise only the basic and not even mention DA, allowances, grade pay etc. In my earlier posts in this blog, I have tried to present details of salary and benefits just for clarification. Thus, I feel that IITs have not at all marketed the positions well to inform the applicants of the benefits of working here. This has led to a curious case of wherein many faculty (but not all) in IIT/IISc are quite happy with the salaries (not that they will refuse more salary) but those who intend to join are shocked at the starting salaries, especially seeing only the basic salaries, and even refrain from applying.
What a faculty candidate is likely to look at what he can make in India in industry. In India, the salaries are the same for a professor of history, math, chemistry, chemical engineering, elextrical engineering, computer science, management and law. In the US, the salary will rise as you go up in the above order.
Therefore, salaries given by the government will never reflect the price of a faculty member (especially in electrical sciences) and will be significantly lower. The salaries that are given by the government have to be lesser than that offered to the top IAS officers (which is why the salary of the director of IITs are matched with the secretary of the government). Because the top salaries given to IAS officers have to be linked in some fashion (20 times or so) to the minimum wages and have to maintain parity across disparate sectors, one can not expect anything significantly different.
Therefore, what can be done? The Institutes need not "fight" with MHRD on the issue of assistant professor on contract, the 10% cap on this cadre, the 40% cap on the promotion of professors etc. All they need to do is to tell MHRD to change the wording to "It is suggested that assistant professors that are recruited have three years experience.." "It is suggested that around 10% of assistant professors are taken on contract and only 40% of professors be promoted to AGP of 12,000. However, the BoG of IITs/council of IISc can make exceptions for deserving cases..." Currently, in IISc, we recruit an assistant professor in chemistry only with three years of postdoc experience while we recruit an assistant professor in electrical engineering with one year of postdoc experience. Let the selection committee of that particular branch make the decision where one should be placed and there is no point in saying everyone should have three years experience. The number of increments in the current system was always decided by the selection committee and thus the practice can continue in that the selection committee can decide where one should be placed.
If one thinks that the contract system will be like the tenure system, it is not. Let us take a case of someone who joins IISc with 1.5 years of postdoc, he will be placed under contract for 1.5 years. Considering it takes atleast two years to set up a lab and write papers with students, one can not comment on the productivity (or the lack thereof) in the first two or even three years. Therefore, all people taken on contract will have to be confirmed. To judge scientific productivity, one needs 4-5 years and that's why the tenure system is normally for 6 years in US.
Considering that salaries can not be increased much higher, what can be done by departments, Institutes and the government in the current system to attract and retain faculty?
The easiest thing the government will propose is to have a performance linked incentive scheme (PLIS). This is a great tool for an administrator who has an objective number to judge faculty. However, evaluation of individuals in academics is not easy. Scientometrics is a great tool for examining groups of individuals or institutions but can be abused and misused if used for individuals. Further, scientometrics differ significantly from department to department. Let us take publishing. Publishing in a journal of impact factor of 1.5 is an achievement in Mathematics, is good in chemical engineering, is not at all good in chemistry. Then the journal impact factors have to be scaled. Evaluation in terms of patents have to be introduced but there is a huge difference in filing for a patent and licencing a patent. Let us even assume that we develop a perfect measurement tool to objectively judge faculty based on a combination of publications, citations, patents, teaching, committee work and other aspects. Of course, the "formula" has to be different for each department. An applied engineering department may prefer patents over publications while a basic science department may prefer publications over patents etc. But, then, the individuals have to be judged not just within the institution because the best faculty in a particular department of IIT may be just an average faculty in IISc (or vice-versa) though the base salary of both will be the same.
Therefore, faculty have to be compared nationally and internationally. This is primarily the reason that government has introduced several national fellowships, which have both research and personal money, that can be awarded on a nationally competitive basis. The government has instituted several fellowships ranging from Rs. 60,000 per year to Rs. 6 lakhs per year. The funding agencies should increase the number of fellowships awarded at various levels to ensure that a wider group is rewarded. The institutes can reduce their share in consultation fees. For example, currently, the institute takes 40% of the fees as overheads. This can be changed to what some IIMs do. No overheads upto six lakhs, 20% for fees between six to fifteen lakhs etc. The former would increase the salaries of faculty who do fundamental research (like in sciences) while the latter scheme would increase the salaries of faculy who do applied research (like in electrical engineering).
Departments should form inter-department committees of senior faculty who have a track record of mentoring young faculty. This committee should meet new faculty both formally and informally and ensure that he/she is nominated for awards, fellowships, is advised on applying to different funding agencies, facilitate collaboration within the institute etc. Few departments in IISc already do this. The department should also ensure that the new faculty get doctoral students and have negligible teaching load in their first year after joining. Few departments like my department in IISc already do this. Finally, departments should ensure that the young faculty come to know the various administrative rules and regulations like purchase, leave, sabbatical etc. For this, they should send their young faculty to people like me who serve on a myriad of committees.
Institutes can pay signup money for new recruits, pay for administrative jobs like head of the department, warden etc. This has been already implemented in IIT-Bombay, for example. In addition, the institutes can provide better housing for young faculty, better startup funding and advertise better. For the established senior faculty, the institutes can establish chaired positions and many institutes like IIT-Kanpur already do this.
What does it imply? Without increasing the base salaries, both the government and the department/institutes themselves can do a lot to make the prospect of joining IITs as a faculty more attractive, especially for a young assistant professor.