Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stunted growth

In an article title Stunted growth, the former associate director of IISc, Professor Vijayan says,

About a quarter of a century ago, on the basis of an extensive survey, a major scientific journal described India as a superpower in Third World science. This is no longer true. China is miles ahead in scientific and technological research. There are other countries in what used to be described as the Third World where the rate of progress in science is higher than in India. Therefore, in spite of the country’s notable achievements, Indian science is in crisis in the international context. This is an issue that needs to be faced squarely. Modern scientific research is expensive and its output is often determined by the input in terms of funding. The level of funding for research in India has been low, but India has done reasonably well in spite of it. For instance, in relation to research publications, the proportion of publications emanating from India in the world scientific literature is very low. However, in terms of publications per unit investment, India ranks high.

Investment in research and development (R&D) in India has almost always been less than 1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). After Independence, this figure climbed, to approach the 1 per cent mark in the late 1980s. Then, there was a precipitous fall in the 1990s. The level of funding for R&D began to rise again in the late 1990s, a trend that has continued in the current decade. It is now approaching the 1 per cent figure again. The GDP itself has grown rapidly in this period, and hence, the increase in funding in absolute terms has been substantial. This is dramatically reflected in the rate of growth of the country’s scientific output, proving, if any proof is necessary, the importance of funding for higher research output. However, the level of funding as a fraction of the GDP remains low in India not only in comparison with advanced countries but also with some of the countries with rapidly growing economies. The rate of growth in the level of R&D funding in India needs to be maintained and further enhanced for sustained growth in scientific endeavour. In addition to funding, the number of scientists in every discipline also needs to increase substantially.
I think the last sentence is very important. It is not sufficient to ensure funding but also that the number of scientists increase. For this, I strongly feel that the second tier of institutions needs to be significantly strengthened. For example, all NITs put together in the last fifteen years have published less than 10,000 papers. In 2008, the number of papers published by all 20 NITs is lesser than that published by IISc alone. While the present sixth pay commission has sort of ensured that the pay scales in different institutions are similar, it is still very unlikely that an IISc faculty will shift to NIT even for personal reasons. This has nothing to do with salaries but with more of the research environment and financial procedures prevalent in these places. For example, in engineering, the TEQIP program was started and 40 engineering colleges were chosen for enhanced funding. Similar programs need to be started in science. While starting of IISER's is a step in the right direction like the new IITs, the quality in the second rung of institutions in sciences (like the universities) have to be dramatically improved, not just in terms of funding but in terms of quality infrastructure and economic reforms.


Anonymous said...

Dear Prof,
Not more than 1% of your readers are bothered about good things such as this post...may be you should get back to writing pay scales, perks or image.
One hell lot of non-productive buggers!!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, a very good post but no one seems to be interested. OR maybe the most interested people just read and do not comment OR most of the readers are only interested in money.

Anonymous said...

"In 2008, the number of papers published by all 20 NITs is lesser than that published by IISc alone".

Doesn't this statistics say everything about NITs? I have actively interacted with one of the prestigious NITs in last one year. The whole attitude towards research is pathetic. Just funding is not enough. What have they done with that funding? Just made some US trips (scientific tourism).

If Govt. is serious about improving NITs then they need to enforce carrot and stick policy in NITs than IIX. Introduce promotion and review system in NITs like IISc though not so strict in the beginning as it will take time to build research culture. But a start has to be made.

The interaction between CSIR labs (lot of facilities) and local NIT/Eng. colleges must increase in "real" sense and not on paper. This will leverage the funding also improve research culture in NITs.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Madras, thanks for these thoughful posts, but why only blame the NITs. They are not greatest benefactors of R&D funding which the IITs are. And look at the way they have performed in terms of research. I know the statistics from scopus that show that some IITs are ahead of others. But at what cost? Does that consider nos of papers/faculty or citations/faculty ? IITs are recognised worldwide. True! But as great undergraduate institutes providing a continous feedstock for MNC and US universities. No body on earth recognises IITs as a research institute. Consider one of the first IITs in the east and say the ME department. More than 60% of all their papers come from one single faculty !!!! Why cant others wake up from their slumbers and produce. I think a large section of the IIT faculties along with our government`s poor vision for research funding has to be held morally responsible for producing such a poor show. Of course this is a generalization and there are great minds in IITs and my warmest regards for them but the non-productive faculties have to be made accountable in some sense. Let us know your thoughts.

Giri@iisc said...

Anon1: I do not think only 1% are interested. While the posts on salaries etc generate a lot of comments (and heat), these posts are also read by a large group. Whenever I have gone recently, (IIMA, NIT etc), they have always associated me with the blog !

TA: I completely agree with you. There cannot be any stick because no one can be fired. Promotions can be delayed but that leads to unhappiness.

ME_ professor: I think you are too harsh on IIT/IISc. The number of publications per faculty in IIT is comparable to a top 50 univ in USA. Please understand that everywhere, you will find the 20-80 rule to apply i.e., 80% of the papers are produced by 20% of the faculty. This is applicable almost universally (look at my post titled Gini index).I am not saying NIT should produce at the same level of IIT. But they should be at least 1/10 of the level. For example, IISc produces 1400 papers per year, how many NITs produce 140 papers per year?

Finally, I like to say that
I do not think publications or citations should be the only criteria. Manpower training in terms of Ph.Ds, patents and relevant scientific research towards the community should all be the parameters. But I do not know how this can be accomplished and quantified. But it is normally found that the top universities in the world excel in all this.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Madras

Stunted Growth: What could be the more appropriate title for this post.
Recently DST withdrew a major honor it conferred on one of best young scientist of India. His fault ? He reported results from a 2005 paper to be his finding out a DST funded project spanning 2005-2008.
One of India`s major newspaper reports :
[ But he says that said he had applied for the project in 2003 and had not heard from the DST for nearly two years despite multiple reminders. “During that period, I continued to work on my own without funding and produced the research paper published in 2005.”
After the DST funds became available in 2005, he extended the research, but did not have any relevant new research paper to show when the project completion report was due in early 2009.
“I explained to the investigating panel that I had continued with my work, and that I was expecting a new research paper to appear shortly,” he said. “I could not share details about this next phase of research without breaching confidentiality pacts that I had entered into with my collaborators at MIT and xxx,” he said. ]
Don’t you think that his offense is too stupid and insignificant ? Citing the contents of 2005 paper in a project report spanning 2005-2008 !!!. It can always happen. What’s the huge deal? Is he given the award on the basis of only a report ? That’s absurd. I have first hand knowledge of how project report for NSF, DOE etc. are written. Just some parts from papers. It’s the paper that matters to the scientific community with all obligations towards the funding agency. Look at the contents of the revolutionary work. I sincerely believe that integrity should always be restored and cannot be compromised , but not at such a cost, for such a silly thing, It can ruin his career. It’s a mindless act to harm a brilliant scientist – a class India is so thirsty off. Everyone knows its not a big offense. Its just some jealous and vindictive guys with vested interest doing this to harm him because he is so brilliant and miles above his peers. Otherwise this could have been done in closed doors with small rebuke. We have not learned lessons. One of India’s greatest biochemists committed suicide after discovering test tube baby as he was so much ridiculed thereafter. His work was nothing short of a Nobel prize. Numerous other examples are there. We are a shameful race who wants to chew our jewels out of our own incompetency and jealosy. Prof. Madras you are also one of India`s best minds. The hyenas are around you . Please be careful of them.

P.S. You might chose not to
publish this article, but I would know my message is conveyed to a researcher in the same rank as the person in question.

Anonymous said...

Anon November 30, 2009 7:20 AM:

Very True. I agree with you. This is one of the reasons why so many brilliant minds stay away from India. There is too much jealousy and too many vindictive people who are always ready to pull down the successful person .

Anonymous said...

India may be run by certain individuals but there is certainly no dearth of talent in the country. The so called brilliant minds can stay where they are. They are a lot of brilliant minds back in India which are nurtured at home and made big. To all those self acclaimed brilliant minds abroad stop thinking that you are a different class and somebody back in India is dying for you to become their savior. The growth can be stunted but I am just happy that we are not actually going backwards. The growth is just slow.

ME_prof said...

What a reckless comment by anon3.
"we are happy that we are not going backwards" !!!!. The mind in question, by anon1 is your home grown, home nurtured talent which our home made jealosy has driven out of home. Its for people like the ones who love to live like frog in a damp marsh and never want to look outside let alone sustain self criticism.

Anonymous said...

Dear ME_Prof,

My comment cannot be termed reckless. You can call it timid or watever but wat makes you call it reckless is mind boggling. But your attempts to make the whole system look listless and paint a picture where there is no growth or improvement are completely unwarranted. Dont try to castigate someone or a system. Your criticism should be constructive rather than dismissive. When there is a system and a set of rules, everyone needs to adhere to that no matter what. There is an ethics statement you need to sign to DST before you accept any funding which clearly states about the novelty of the work you should accomplish. So when the rule is set nobody is an exception. The discussion about whether the rule is fair or unfair becomes secondary once both parties agreed to it in the first place. You also cannot rule out factors like extra scrutiny, favoritism, grudge etc. If the professor strongly feels thats the case, he can take his issue to the concerned high court. These can clearly be dealt in the court. There is no restriction. Come on guys, you gotta start some where. You cannot trash everything. There should be some starting point.

J. S. Mandur said...

Hello Sir,

I am very surprised to know why we always compare ourselves with outer world, e.g. US.

The main thing is: what are we doing in terms of fulfilling the needs of present INDIA ? Very basic example is we still depend on other countries for joint ventures !!!

I am not saying we are not developing but we should stop comparing with other countries.

Most of the Indian students and professors I have met, are concerned about the number of publications ?? Is that the only criteria to judge excellence in research ? I know few professors from US/Canada who have about 200 publications and still are pioneers in their field. Ultimately its only the quality that matters....I don't think funding in India is totally on the basis of quality. reason may be : existing measures to judge quality of research are not good enough.

For promotions or further research funding in any Indian research institute, the professors are crazy to publish highest number of publications in a year .. no matter how practical or novel that work is ?

Lets change the focus on quality of papers and their actual contribution to nation and the world (because actual purpose of research is to improve the life . not just to compare with others)


Pramod M said...

I was a student of an NIT and now a student of IISc, I think, I am quite confident of my comments on some of the statements made by people who have posted earlier.

The people and faculty at any NIT are equally capable of research or can do better research than the kind of research that goes on at IISc or an IIT. I can certainly say some of the labs at NIT are better maintained than those at IISc.

Consider the faculty to student ratio of 1:70 at a NIT to 1:10 at IISc or IIT, the stress on faculty of an NIT is much higher and we cannot expect them to do research when they have to handle two courses with 100 odd students, four times a week.

Also, IISc and IITs get 100s of crores of rupees every year who can think of implementing things practically like get chips fabricated and hence get their papers accepted at reputed Journals or go to conferences every month while NIT guys must remain happy with simulations and national conferences.

I request those who make comments like "Pathetic research" or "non-productive buggers" to reconsider the fact that there is huge disparity in support to IISc or IITs vs NITs by the government.

If there is equal support to all, things will surely change.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Pramod:

Thanks for your comment. Because you are a student of both NIT and IISc, I hope you will tell me exactly what the ratios are.

In IIT, the ratio is 1:10; is it really 1:70 in NITs? NIT has 200 faculty and around 3000 students. Am I wrong? The teaching load in IITs are not very different from what you mention.

Regarding funding, please get the actual numbers before you comment. IISc gets 100 crores for year and that is exclusively used for salaries, electricity, water etc. Not one lakh comes to each faculty. All faculty run their research using their own funding and not from IISc funding



Pramod M said...

Dear Prof,

Thanks for your reply. The numbers are with reference to ~sbe58.pdf. I am not refering to IISc specifically. 13+ NITs get 1300 crores while 7 IITs get 1605 crores for comparable number of undergraduate seats. This is the kind of disparity I am refering to.

Sir, you will agree with me that the research output of an institution will depend on the exposure and competence of the faculty and work of the students. Students at NITs are equally competent as any IITian, in his first year. The disparity between a NITian and an IITian grows with time. An undergraduate at IIT works on research projects in a team while a NIT guy runs around IISc or some company requesting everyone to give him a summer project. At the end of four year years, an IITian knows how to carry out research while an NITian knows how to write code.

An example, regarding the sever faculty shortage at NITs, We had 6 faculty who were PhDs and we were 300 students including M.Tech and B.Tech. Each faculty had to take two courses. The funding was not at the discretion of the faculty. Students could never think of attending a conference abroad unless they had enough money of their own.

In another department, there was just one faculty with a PhD for 300 odd students.

Students cannot expect a good level of exposure from a non-PhD faculty, the teaching will almost always be directly from a book. In that case students cannot come out with good quality research.

These are my views,please correct me if I am wrong.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Pramod:

You are changing the parameters in question. I have no doubt that NIT students are very good but you mentioned funding in IIT/IISc and the ratio of students/faculty.

I only pointed out to you that the funding in IIT is twice that of NIT because of the size: nearly twice the number of faculty and staff. Thus, the salaries are also twice. No money from the government comes to the faculty for research in any institution.

You had mentioned number of faculty in your initial comment. Now, you have changed it to number of faculty with Ph.D; next we can change it to number of faculty with foreign Ph.D etc.

All I pointed out that the ratio of faculty to student and the amount of funding a faculty gets from the institution or the number of classes faculty teach all are nearly the same in NIT and IITs.

I completely agree with you that we need very good quality of faculty to teach in NIT. When there is a faculty shortage in IIT, how can you expect that there will be no shortage in NITs?