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Education in the 21st Century

O Pure Earth, may that we utilize your soil well, For creative production, Without causing you injury or harm and disturbing any vital element in you- Prithvi Sukta

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Quality PhDs in India

If India has to become a R&D and manufacturing hub, as also provide high quality higher technical education to its potential candidates, the number of PhDs has to grow tenfold to about 10,000/ year within the next 8-10yrs from the present level of 1000. How do we achieve this target? In the beginning the bulk of the demand for PhDs will be in academia and R&D institutions because of the present shortage in faculty and researchers. The industry need for PhDs will grow as Indian industry moves more into R&D, innovation, and product development.

The student target groups are: fresh BTech/ BE, MTech/ ME; professionals in industry and other organizations; non-PhD faculty in technological institutions; foreign students (need to aggressively market our strengths).

In recent years IITs have substantially increased their PhD output in engineering. IIT Bombay is expected to produce about 300 PhDs in engineering per year by 2013-15 and 600 by 2020. Similar drive is assumed for other IITs, NITs, IIITs, and private institutions. Also worth noting is the number of PhDs in technology from Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai (ICT, former UDCT, Mumbai), currently about 80, 100 by 2012, and 200 by 2020. The QIP (Government of India launched the Quality Improvement Program (QIP) in the year 1970 and established 8 QIP Centers at 7 IITs & IISc) has to be enhanced. Some of the NITs (out of 30 in India currently) have achieved high quality BTech graduates, but due to paucity of PhD faculty and resources, have not been able to push their Master’s and PhD programs to the desired extent. They have the potential and need to be supported financially and encouraged to increase their PhD output. They should be brought on par with the IITs in say 10yrs. The QIP or a new innovative program should be established so that a faculty member with MTech degree can obtain her/ his PhD, through a network of collaborating institutions.

This will require:
1. A mentoring program through which faculty will mentor, excite and motivate large number of BTechs from all institutions (especially from the IITs) to continue for PhD degree. It will also involve aggressive marketing with assurance of challenging career opportunities and excellent placement with attractive remuneration package.
2. Attractive financial assistance (Research and Teaching Assistantships, about 40% of Assistant Professor’s remuneration per month, with tuition waiver).
3. Minimum time duration for PhD (4-5yrs beyond BTech/ BE) as well as flexibility in academic and research programs without compromising quality. This would be necessary especially for Corporate sponsored full time employees bringing their in-house problems for research.
4. Financial support for attending and presenting papers at national (at least once a year) and international conferences (at least once during PhD program).
5. Possibility of spending 6-9 months in a collaborating lab of a reputed university abroad under a joint research collaboration program. Also, create “virtual forums” using commonly available communication technologies to increase the interactions with universities and industries globally on a more regular basis than a one-off effort. This will also increase the networking with PhD students in other institutions and encourage collaborations. Individual faculty members probably engage in such activities already and industry (especially IT related) uses this extensively. So, we need to leverage this and make it more pervasive.
6. Working jointly with Industry R, D & T centers to identify research projects.

The funding required for PhD students as TA/ RA, foreign travel and other support for a 4-5yr period would be substantial. This source of funding could be as follows:
1. Funding agencies of GOI such as DST, DBT, DAE, DRDO, etc. through sponsored projects (TA, RA) (GOI: Government of India; DST: Department of Science & Technology; DBT: Department of Biotechnology; DAE: Department of Atomic Energy; DRDO: Defense Research & Development Organization)
2. Industry (fellowships, travel sponsorships)
3. Education cess of 2% (HRD Ministry, TA, RA)
4. Alumni

For more information, read:
1. Arvind P. Kudchadker, Anjan Bose, Ashok Soota, K. VijayRaghavan, K. P. Madhavan, Milind Rajadhyaksha, and Uday Agarwal,  download from here: PanIIT__Perspectives-1 R&IE 081110
2. Creating a new technological institute, A. P. Kudchadker, eBook, Smashwords; Amazon;
iBooks; Flipkart.

Faculty Appointment & Tenure

Concurrently with excellence of the teaching programs, an Institute would aspire to be known for its research and innovation contributions, especially with respect to the society. It is essential therefore that the post graduate programs be continuously strengthened both in size and in the quantum and quality of research, with focus in certain selected areas.

In India, the fresh or initial appointments for faculty at the Assistant Professor level are made almost ‘regular/ permanent’ with one or two years of probation (12 month salary). Hardly any faculty (to my knowledge), when found ‘unsatisfactory’, has been asked to leave. Several faculty members at the IITs have performed elegantly throughout their career in teaching, research, and service, driven primarily by their internal motivation and self-commitment. They have been active in teaching innovations, research contributions, involvement with matters concerning society, and professional bodies. Their relationship with students is excellent and they have been good mentors to them. However, some of them have not been as active and productive as expected and desired. We, it appears, are in general not able to get the ‘best’ out of them.

Why this is so, needs extensive study and analysis. What will enable us to do so? Should the ‘probation’ period be extended up to, say 3yrs? Are there better models practiced in other universities within India and abroad? Is it time to explore seriously the ‘tenure’ model that emphasizes ‘external motivation’ and has been ‘successful’ in the US universities? It is accepted that ‘internal motivation’ is desired over ‘external motivation’ and needs to be encouraged. Are there models to do so?

All initial full-time faculty appointments in the US universities are ‘tenure-track’ (mostly on a 9-month salary) and such faculty are expected to enhance their creativity in generation and dissipation of new knowledge, thus fulfilling and furthering the objectives of the institution. They are evaluated for their performance in about 5-6yrs from the initial appointment. The evaluation process is rigorous and primarily emphasizes research contributions in terms of quality publications in peer-reviewed journals. After being supported for initial 2-3yrs by the Institution with seed money to establish research, they are expected to generate research funding from funding agencies, public or private that may also cover their 3-month salary. They have to compete for Master’s and PhD students as well as for post-docs with other institutions for research funding, supported as research assistant/ research associate through their research grants, publish and present their work at conferences, file for patents, etc. This approach, I have found from my own experience in the US, creates external motivation for faculty in addition to their internal motivation, sets a ‘pattern’ for young faculty to be active in research, and remain active for much longer periods, almost throughout their professional career. I have known several professors in the US, active and productive much beyond 80yrs of age. The research and innovation output of the US probably justifies the means.

One also observes, ‘publish or perish’ situation that is really not desirable. Also some others feel that the quality of publications may also suffer under this policy, and there may be a tendency to neglect undergraduate teaching and the quality of teaching suffers. There appear to be appropriate checks and balances to carry out corrections of the policy. However, my personal feeling is that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and we need to evolve a system (may be a hybrid one), based upon our own experiences and needs in India.

The faculty is expected to contribute to teaching, research, academic management, and service. Teaching and research are related so closely that a faculty member must demonstrate competence in both. We all would agree that the quality of the publications, concern of and addressing the problem of the society, and a continuing interest and effort towards defined objectives, are more important than the quantity of work produced.

Reservations in Educational Institutions in India

Let me briefly touch upon the reservation issue because I feel it is important. India is fast becoming a nation of reservations and quotas, a political compulsion! The IITs and other academic institutions are no exception. The current extent of ‘Reservations’ is 49.5% in education at all levels, with 22.5% for SC & ST (15% for SC, Scheduled Caste and 7.5% for ST, Scheduled Tribe, since 1973) and 27% for OBC (Other Backward Classes, since 2008) students. Some States are planning to add more groups!

Snapshot of Student Admission Reservation Percentages
Reservation Scenario

 

IITs currently have no reservation for faculty positions, nor should there be in any education institutions. There have been different arguments against reservations, primarily concerning their lack of preparedness and subsequent performance at the IITs and the resulting quality dilution, as the cut-off for these students is lower than for the general category students.

Needless to say that the economically deprived SC & ST sections of population do deserve all that we need to do to upgrade their education level to high standards, to enable them to compete.   It did take considerable effort and ingenuity from the IIT faculty to tackle this difficult problem of 22.5% SC & ST reservation through one year preparatory courses. Their background was just not adequate to compete with the rest.

This large scale problem can be best solved on long term basis by treating it at the roots. That is, at the KG-12 level by creating ‘special residential schools’, with highly motivated teachers, equipped with modern infrastructure and facilities, use of multimedia technology, etc., continuous monitoring, to bring them to a much higher level. With superior education, these students will be more comfortable and able to effectively compete with the rest. One approach is to establish several more Navodaya residential schools (an excellent experiment that late Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister of India initiated) all over India wherever needed (with only 30 students in a class). Another model worth emulating is the Eklavya model residential schools (EMRS) of Gujarat. The uniqueness of these schools is that they are managed by professional bodies (public or private) with expertise in running schools, while funding is provided by the Gujarat State. In 2008, we visited 3 of these Eklavya schools in the tribal belt of Gujarat and were pleasantly surprised and impressed with the quality of education imparted, commitment of the teachers, activity-based learning, enthusiasm, discipline, and self-help among students, facilities, etc. We found it to be a successful model worth emulating on a larger scale.

This will require large funding and Government should have no hesitation to create such excellent facilities for the benefit of those, who have been neglected for too long. A serious effort on the part of the Government and careful implementation with dedication and commitment is required urgently. This will go a long way in elevating the economically and educationally deficient people of India, while eliminating this reservation problem at the higher education levels. For the last 50 years, the Government has played with this very important issue and have brought us today to this sorry state of affairs, where large section of such population still do not have opportunities to obtain quality education even at the school level. The IITs and other Institutions must convince and assist the Government to think in a rational way – tackle the problem at the roots. For several years parallel approaches need to be pursued – continue with the current reservation policy only for the economically deprived persons from among these, while implementing large number of Navodaya and Eklavya schools for easy accessibility to all those who need it, and after 10yrs discontinue the reservations. Proper implementation and  commitment are essential.

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