Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Financial year

As this year's financial year comes to a close today, there is a frenzy of activity (especially in government offices) to spend the money that is left over. It is a bane of the Indian system that if the alloted money is not spent by the financial year, then the next year's budget is reduced by this amount and the amount unspent this year is not carried over. Many funding agencies for research also use this policy. This leads to a mad rush to spend the money even if there is no need to buy the material. The private vendors know this well and try to push unwanted things through because one wants to utilize the money. Thus, the funding agencies should seriously consider carry over the funds to the next year if the funds are underutilized this year.

One may wonder why India's financial year closes on March 31 and not Dec 31. The Income-Tax Act was enacted in 1961. The Act came into force from April 1, 1962 and that's why our financial year begins on April 1 every year. Further, as India is an agricultural economy, revenue generally depends on the unpredictable outcome of the harvest in Feb and thus March is a good time to close the accounts.

On a personal note, it also closes out a very busy month for me as all contracts right from library books, journals, toilet cleaning, security to garbage pickup etc etc. have been signed. It is also a time for me to contemplate on what I am doing as I complete twelve years in IISc on Monday. This process of self-exploration may appear a little lame, but this is the foundation of living. When one takes time to evaluate one's own strengths and weaknesses, attitude to life, passion to work etc., one gets a truer sense of what's really good for us. Ultimately, though it has to be something that meets our financial, professional and personal needs, it is more important to be happy with what one has and what one does.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pursuit of research

In the article titled, In search of research, the author states,

A student does his MSc and then heads for Outer Ring Road instead of a PhD because…well, because the companies on Outer Ring Road pay more to do mindless repetitive tasks than a professor at a university would earn trying to build a knowledge society. It’s a triumph of materialism that has infected every part of our culture: from politics to economics and medicine to applied art. Or so we like to believe. But, there are a couple of flaws in the argument. Even if a student wanted to pursue research, where are the universities and the faculty to ensure the quality of research that students aspire for? 
So here we are, seemingly in a spiral of hopelessness: To begin with, we lack a culture of research; adding to it is the fact that faculty and facilities don’t quite encourage a life of academic and scientific pursuit. Let’s phrase it another way: We just don’t have the right fuel to fire a knowledge society. But, can we stop blaming the knowledge economy and the pay cheques that come with it?
In 1985, Indian researchers accounted for 12,500 research papers indexed by Thomson Reuters. By 2000, India began to see a remarkable growth in its scientific output. By 2007, more than 27,000 papers were indexed by Thomson Reuters. ..... Indian desire to pursue research hasn’t exactly died. Far from it. But great Indian institutions and inspiring faculty to support the desire to pursue knowledge have slowly vanished. 

However, this articles ignores two main points.

First, the number of papers published from India have doubled from 1985 to 2007 (as stated by the author); however, China has grown 100 fold. Thus, our growth may be "remarkable" in terms of numbers, but in terms of % output compared to the rest of the world, the output has actually remained stagnant from 1985 to 2007. In terms of growth with respect to other developing countries, our growth has actually decreased.

Secondly, the author says that the great Indian institutions and inspiring faculty have slowly vanished. Why? The current state of affairs is such that a graduating B.Tech from IIT, a Ph.D from IIT and an assistant professor at IIT all get the same salaries. While it is understandable that a few will be keen on research and pursue it irrespective of monetary benefits, it is not possible to build a large number of universities and institutions that will attract the best researchers. The author of the above article asks, "where are the universities and the faculty to ensure the quality of research that students aspire for?" but one may ask, "What has brought about this situation that even the best institutions in India are unable to fill their faculty positions with good scientists?"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Too less Ph.D's

In response to my last post on "Too many Ph.D's" (in USA), a commentator, Sachin, makes an important point why academia is attractive to foreigners. Another anonymous commentator states, "Too many PhDs graduating from American universities? It depends if these PhDs decide to work in countries were they would be more necessary(?)." This is an interesting point and we should compare the number of Indians graduating with Ph.D's from USA and India. Please note that I am not even including higher education institutions in UK, Canada, Australia etc.

The number of Ph.Ds awarded in USA to INDIANS in engineering is roughly 1300, which is higher than the number of Ph.D's awarded in India (around 900). The number of full time Ph.D's awarded in India is less than 500, predominantly dominated by IITs and IISc.

In 2008, the number of Ph.Ds awarded in USA to INDIANS in chemical engineering is roughly 100, while that awarded by IITs/IISc is around 50. The number of vacancies for faculty positions in India for chemical engineering is less than 15 per year in all IITs/IISc put together.

This is because, unlike the US, which is worried whether they are producing too many Ph.D's, India's enrolment ratios are very poor. India’s gross enrolment ratio in higher education (graduation) is close to 7 per cent. The enrolment from bachelors to doctorate in engineering is around 0.1 per cent. The privatization of professional education has ensured that 90% of the engineering colleges are private but less than 10% of undergraduate education in basic sciences, social sciences and commerce are privatized. In all cases, the average quality of education has been disastrous. Thus, more than 150,000 students leave the country in pursuit of higher education and spend roughly $1.8 billion to get an education abroad.