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Saturday, September 15, 2012

A 5-year plan to get into top 100 QS Ranks

I know a lot of my readers would like to argue that rankings are arbitrary, and one should ignore them. I respect their views, but still would like to suggest a plausible roadmap for the Indian universities in the top 300 or so ranks (basically the old 5 IITs) to get closer to 100th rank in about 5-years time. Be warned that the steps that I suggest may not be in the realm of improving teaching and research substantially, but none of them would hurt the cause of quality, and many will actually improve it. Also, I am focusing on IITs for two reasons. One, I am more familiar with the playground. And two, they are already in the top 300 odd positions in the QS ranking. But, of course, the kind of things I am suggesting, they are applicable more widely.

Just to put challenge in a perspective, let me point out that the total expenditure by an IIT in a year (including non-plan, plan, and R&D) is about Rs. 5 lakhs per student, while for the top ranked MIT, it is over Rs. 1 crore per student, and while there may be less costly way to reach the top, it is obvious that the society will have to make a huge investment to get even close to top.

I start by observing that if we look at the best performance amongst the five IITs on all the six parameters that QS rankings measure (IITB on Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, and International Faculty, IITD on Faculty-Student ratio and International Students, and IITK on Citations per faculty), and combine these best performances into a composite score, such a hypothetical entity would already be at a rank of about 180. This shows that the current financial, administrative, and other constraints cannot stop an IIT from being in the top 200 (and indeed IIT Bombay was in top 200 just two years ago).

In fact, I think that there are inefficiencies of the system, which if removed, we can further improve our performance in QS Rankings (and this article suggests some steps in that direction). So I believe that a rank of 150 is quite possible within the current financial constraints of the Government of India. If we can have some improved funding both from government and non-government sources (including alumni), and have greater autonomy, etc., getting close to 100th rank should be possible. To climb up beyond 100 would require substantial financial inputs, but that call can be taken by the society after we improve to near 150 ranks.

First thing to note is that all our institutions have a very poor faculty-student ratio. All 5 IITs have a score between 28 and 35 (out of a maximum 100). This was not always the case. In fact, we used to have an excellent faculty-student ratio till 20 years ago, and we had a not so bad ratio till 2008, when the Government decided that we had to increase our student strength by 54% within 3 years. While the student strength had to go up by 54% within 3 years, it is impossible (and even undesirable, if I may add) to increase faculty by 54% within 3 years. To make matters worse for the existing universities, the Government has also set up a large number of new IITs, NITs, IISERs, Central universities, and so on. So the competition for quality faculty became intense, and we have grown at a much more modest pace. But the good news is that the student strength has mostly stabilized, and most IITs continue to grow in faculty size. We need to be far more aggressive than what I have seen so far. I am speaking mostly from IIT Kanpur experience, but what I hear from other IITs, there is a definite scope for improvement in how we keep in touch with PhD students and post-docs, how we respond to queries regarding faculty applications, how we treat them when they come for visits, formal selections, what kind of help is provided when they decide to accept our offers, and so on. If we can increase our faculty student ratio by 15 to 20 percent over the next 3-4 years, we improve our rank by about 50 places just on this count, and IITs have sufficient budget and autonomy to do this. Perhaps setting up of more chairs by well wishers of these institutes will help. A bit more money as research initiation grant will help. Some more support for Professional Development (the current number of Rs. 1 lakh per year is very low) will help. So money will help, but we don't need a coal block allocation to improve ranks by 50 places. And this is something that we should do anyway, not just for ranking.

One specific suggestion for this is to look at people working in industry, who want to move to academics for 2-5 years. What I have seen in academic world is that we have the same parameters for hiring a fresh PhD and for hiring an industry person with 25 years of experience. I do not wish to dilute the standards, and I do not wish to suggest that someone be hired just because someone is coming from industry. But I look at the two faculty candidates differently. When we are considering a fresh PhD, we are looking at a person who can potentially be with us for 35-40 years. If we made a mistake in recruitment, and this person does not perform well, it will turn out to be a huge mistake by the department and the institute. Moreover, we do not know how this fresh PhD will build his research and other academic activities when s/he starts working independently. However, when we look at a 55 year old for a fixed tenure contractual appointment, we have a fairly reasonable idea of what this person is likely to do in those years, and if the person performs poorly, it is a loss for a much smaller duration. Therefore, in case of a fresh PhD, if we are in doubt, we don't offer, but in case of a senior person, if we are in doubt, we could take the chance and make that offer.

There are also examples when a faculty member from a decent institute (but, for the sake of argument, a lower-ranked institute) wants to spend a semester at an IIT, while being on leave from his institute. Many of us would like to have the same sieve applied to such an application. For a short term faculty like this, I would only look at whether there is some benefit to us and whether there is some benefit to that faculty member and his institute, when he goes back. So if such a person is a good teacher, but not a great researcher, I would be happy to invite him to offer a course, with the hope that he will also interact with some of our faculty members, and improve his research as well. So our teaching load goes down, our QS ranking goes higher, and we have helped another institute in growing up. Again, I am not suggesting that we recruit anyone and everyone for a semester, just to show higher numbers of faculty in QS information sheet. I am only suggesting that we look at specific benefits to us instead of comparing the applicant with an applicant for a permanent faculty position.

To put in perspective the growth requirement of faculty, we need a net increase of ONE faculty in each department at these IITs for 4-5 years to improve ranking by more than 50 places. Given that we lose on an average one faculty per department to retirements and resignations, what we need to achieve is hiring (and joining) of two faculty members per department in the top few IITs. By no means, I want to portray this as a trivial task. It is a challenge, but something that can be achieved with sustained efforts, planning, strategy and leadership.

The next aspect of QS ranking where we perform miserably is the internationalization of our faculty and students. The best IIT (Bombay) in this respect has received 0.2 marks out of 10.

First the students. Let us understand how IITs admit foreign students to its under-graduate programs. Everyone has to give JEE. The foreign nationals are given admission to a program in an IIT where an Indian student in unreserved category with that rank could have got admission. So the foreign nationals have to compete with Indian students in unreserved category. (Admission to foreign students are not counted towards the number of seats available for Indian nationals. These are extra admissions.) This implies that in the entire IIT system, one would have no more than 5 foreign nationals, and these too would normally be those whose accident of birth took place in US, when their Indian parents were working there, but have since settled back in India. They have gone through the same school system, the same coaching, and gone through the same JEE. Culturally, they are as Indian as any other student, and they don't bring the advantage of exposing the classmates to a different culture, which will broaden the horizons of other students. These few students do not even bring the advantage of higher revenue. First it is just one student in a batch of 1000. And too, even he requests that he be allowed to pay "Indian" tuition, which is generally accepted.

But we could do admissions differently. What if we admit all foreign students who get marks above the cutoff marks in JEE, and for the purpose of seat allocation, we become more liberal. If we do this, we may be able to admit not 1 out of 1000, but perhaps 10 out of 1000, some of them with genuinely different cultural background, thereby bringing diversity to the classroom, all of them paying full tuition, and allowing us to climb the QS rankings by a few notches.

Other things we could do is to be liberal with our students going out for a semester to foreign universities (at least those who can afford), and pro-actively attract foreign students to spend a semester on our campuses. In particular, our MBA programs could have agreements with some good foreign MBA programs for such student exchanges. This improves education of our students, and our QS rankings go up further. The only thing we need to enable this are somewhat better living conditions than our typical hostels. There is enough interest in foreign students to experience India.

Similarly, can we not attract foreign students to our MTech and PhD programs. The impediment to attracting foreign students is really our attitude. There is a belief in the academic community that it is not our job to attract students. We must remain aloof and pure, and only consider applications from those who apply on their own. May be we need to hire a marketing guy in our institutes. (It used to be our belief that attracting faculty is not our job. But that has changed in the last decade or two. Hopefully, we will soon start believing that attracting students is also our job.)

Next, attracting international faculty. If we were to believe our bosses, the problem is that of the government. They don't allow permanent jobs to foreign nationals, only a 5-year contracts. And that is the only reason why foreign faculty is not queuing up to take positions in IITs. Frankly, that is nonsense. Not many foreign nationals are interested in life long jobs in India. In fact, most of them are interested in spending brief periods of time in India, from a semester to a couple of years. Again, most of us don't see much value accruing to us if a foreigner spends a semester in our department. We suspect that s/he is only interested in tourism and would do little research and in most cases this won't lead to long term collaborations. But why can't we invite them with just the expectation that they will perform as much as any of us do. After all, we are only paying them as much salary as we ourselves get (while he probably gets much more in his home country). So, if a foreign national faculty member with a good academic/research record wants to spend a semester, will teach a course, give a few research seminars, interact with a faculty or two, and a few graduate students, but will not have any long term collaborations, isn't it just fine.

If we do all this and our international faculty could increase from around 1% today to 3-4%, and the international students can go up from 0.2% to 2%, we would have improve the diversity, the quality of education for our students, and gone up 10-20 notches in QS ranking. And again, I think these are achievable goals within the current budgets and administrative constraints.

The major part of QS ranking is the Academic Peer Review which has 40% weight in the overall marks. This is basically the perception of academicians around the world. When these academicians fill up the survey, how much do they know about us. They would typically base their views on whether they have seen research papers from our institutes, whether they have interacted with faculty, students and alumni from our institutes, whether they have visited us, or they know someone who visited us and told them stories about us. And some of them who have heard of us through the grapevine but not really know about us, may even try to find out about us from the website.

What is the impression that they will take if they visit our website. They will see hundreds of faculty members not updating their websites for months. Even the institutional part being full of obsolete information. In today's day and age, it is absolutely essential to have a great website that clearly gives the impression of the energy present on the campus. We must be present on social media. We must inform the world through facebook and twitter every exciting thing that is happening on our campuses (and there are lots of things indeed happening out here). We must have a large mailing list of academicians around the world (at least Indians and NRIs, if not many foreigners) whom we ping once in six months and let them know the fun we are having doing our academics and research, and gently suggest to them that perhaps they want to participate in that fun for a semester or two.

I see that in most of our communication, we tend to over-emphasize that we are an Institute of Technology, even though half our PhDs are from Science departments, and even though we have other vibrant programs like Economics and MBA. By emphasizing our engineering departments, we make sure that academicians from engineering disciplines know about us (and hence we do get a good rank in engineering disciplines, mostly in top 100). If we want to get close to top 100 overall, we need to make sure that academicians in sciences and other disciplines also know about us.

It may seem like I am suggesting some marketing approaches only to get higher QS ranking, with no impact on the quality. But I believe that greater visibility will lead to easier faculty recruitment, more international students, more collaborations, student exchange programs, and several other benefits that will improve the quality of research and education at our institutes. And some of these steps will also improve perceptions of the employers (which constitute another 10% weight in the ranking). And greater visibility of our research will also improve citation of our papers (which constitute another 20% weight in the ranking).

I really believe that if we do all these things, we will get close to 100th rank in the QS ranking, and if the improvements in ranking are encouraged by the government with higher funding, we can break into top 100 in the next five years.

Perhaps, government can help in the following fashion. It can decide that universities which are more likely to break into top 100 will be given extra funds to speed up the process of doing that. It can select 20-30 universities most likely to break into top 100. These can be top 5 universities in engineering/science/liberal arts/ and so on, and perhaps top 5 large universities with all these disciplines. There can be set goals and associated increase in funding. For example, for the IITs, one could say, once you break into top 300, all new faculty members will be given an extra 50 lakhs of initiation grant. Once you break into top 250, the professional development budget of each faculty goes up from 1 lakh to 3 lakhs. Once you break into top 200, each department will get a one-time grant of Rs. 10 crores for further improvements in whatever aspect they are lacking, and so on.
 (These are just examples, and not very well thought out ones at that. I am just trying to suggest a framework of encouraging certain institutes to focus on improvement in ranking. Of course, faculty members of some institutes may reject such inducements and continue to do the good work that they have been otherwise doing, without an explicit focus on rankings.)


Ankur Kulkarni said...

Very analytical and balanced (as usual).

The last suggestion was something that the GoI seems to be thinking about. There was earlier some talk of navratna universities and now there is a new universities for innovation and research bill in parliament which seems to suggest this. However, none of these bills explicitly tie performance to ranking.

That all of what you have suggested has not been done optimally, shows that we have not been bothered by our rankings. I have always argued that even though rankings are imperfect, we should seriously try to do well at them, because rankings are used by grad students to determine where to apply. We would get far better grad students if show a better ranking and generally do better marketing.

Gautam said...

I agree with all of what you say, but would like to stress that we need to work on the image of Indian educational institutions as well, as in your comment about web-pages being old, shabby and outdated as well as what applicants from outside India have told me about their personal experiences in applying to Indian institutions. Their letters are not acknowledged, what they receive is often a form letter from a Registrar rather than from the chairman of a hiring committee. The form letter is often written in a manner that, while factual, is certainly not particularly friendly or inviting. This does not actually take much work, but the will has to be there, as well as the feeling that this isn't just a frivolous exercise.

Coupled with this, we do need to make a more conscious effort to hire non-Indian faculty, not just because this might improve our rankings but because the experience of cross-fertilization, of new points of view and of new experiences is vital. We do pay - compared to the west - lower salaries, but I don't see the administrative problem in paying higher salaries for positions that are not permanent i.e.. trading off remuneration against the lack of tenure.

Also, I think hiring should be far more pro-active than it is now, in which Departments wait for applications and then process them. It should be possible for each IIT department, for example, to look at quality, (I guess here largely Indian-origin), finishing graduate students and post-docs, to 'woo' those who they think might be good fits and to work with them at constructing a package (startup funds, relatively little teaching in the first year etc.) which could bring them back.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

What Gautam (I think that's Prof Barua) is saying is very true. There is a general need for an image makeover.

But I think there isn't a scientific and systematic approach to figure out the shortcomings of IITs. People are merely guessing that money, autonomy or something like that is lacking. Prof Sanghi, may be you know the answer to this, has there at all been a study of `best practices' - what is it that other universities do, to get a high rank? How do they function? What are their processes? Surely there are many differences between IITs and top-ranking universities than just their funding universities, and we shouldn't just be guessing the causes of a low rank. A systematic study will transparently reveal where IITs fall short. Further, there are many examples of universities, say, in China, that have risen in ranking in a short time. Has there been a study of what these universities have done to achieve this?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Ankur, There have been a few studies. Government had done a review of IITs about a decade ago (and there had been reviews earlier as well). There was this much-maligned McKenzie report a few years ago. We also keep having committees to improve IIT system (like Kakodakar committee). I am not impressed with the quality of discussion in these reports, their analysis, or their suggestions.

In this article, my point has been that without rocking the boat, with relatively simple small steps, one can reach up to a rank of 100. To go higher than that will require a very careful selection of strategies, will require a detailed planning, and will require massive infusion of funds. There is no point in doing all that, if IITs (or other Indian universities) wouldn't undertake even simple steps which are completely within their jurisdiction to improve quality.

The other point of the article is that faculty members (who are the primary decision makers within an Institute) are happy doing their own work, and usually are risk averse to the extent that they would even stop others from doing anything different. Therefore, an incentive system is needed even to make these small changes, and hence small amounts of funds are needed even at the current stage.

Ajit R. Jadhav said...

>> "So the competition for quality faculty became intense..."



Shishir said...

I may add, as I have always maintained, that IITs (older ones) need to grow beyond 'B.Tech' image. All efforts should be made to have good M.Techs and Ph.Ds also so that they can serve as a catchment area for faculty recruitment. Of course, they need to compete with the outsiders trained at presently better universities or institutes , either in India or abroad.
Like it or not, IITs major weakness has been its becoming UG centric. So called brand image of IIT was hyped up because of its popularity of its B.Tech courses (It was hyped up , in no small measure, for business reasons also, by coaching mandis ).I've a nagging feeling that this (popularity and brand thing led to some kind of complacency in IIT management (Senate,Directors and BOG and not IIT council)towards not improving its PG side. M.Tech & Ph.D students are still considered as 2nd class citizens in IIT campuses.
All efforts must be made to attract best students for M.Techs and retain them for high class Ph.Ds. Of course , this issue is related to general employment scene in our country and the social preferences,but a focussed effort needs to be made in this direction.Only then we should be able address some of issues like good faculty-student ration, higher citation index, better industry interface .

Vijayant Singh said...

It's an oft repeated and generally tiring remark by now... but the most effective one nevertheless.

Short, but sour; make the IITs and other promising universities a breeding ground for earth shattering research (be it via MS or PhD or post-doc studies).

The undue and childish emphasis on BTech/BS in IITs is killing the brand and its long-term quality, alas, only a few of the academicians at the helm seem to be recognizing it.

An SB (BTech equiv. degree) from MIT goes to do her MS from Carnegie or even Vanderbilt, then she decides to go for her PhD at Max Plank Institute or Texas A&M/Rice/PennState (you can have many combinations running in either directions) - such is the culture of institutes here, departments have repute, professors and their labs have repute which override the overall repute of the university per se... and they are selected by the students based purely on that.

Consider this, a BTech/BS from IITB, would rather go for an MS from a second (even third) rate US/Eur university, than do her MS/MPhil/PhD/DSc with one of the IITs/IISc/IMS/HRI etc.,(exceptions are there, but the general case is what I'm talking about).

Difference lies here, somewhere deep down, even the Indians think of IITs as a good investment merely for the undergrad studies, only the ones who couldn't get the 'great' placement from their B or C or D grade colleges end up there to get the 'IIT' tag.

A BS from IITs for an Indian student makes a very prudent economic sense by the way -- A BS from a foreign university would be way too costly, why not do it here, and do the more 'meaningful' and 'rewarding' degree from the places which matter -- this is probably the general perception, QS is merely reflecting the same.

What Sainik Schools are to NDA, IIT are to the universities of X (India and other third world countries not included). Kill me if you will for averring in this way, but I'm saying what I've seen so far.

Change this perception first, before anything. It's a painful exercise, let me tell you, you can defeat others in arguments, but not your inner self for it knows what you're going to say (even think) next.

Vikram said...

I would like to point out that IIM Ahmedabad does quite well in most rankings. Can some lessons be learnt from them ?

Rishikesha Krishnan said...

Good post, this is a practical approach to address the ranking challenge.

Arpan Maheshwari said...

There is a news that IIT Kahragpur aims at getting into the list of top 20 global institutes by the year 2020(as drafted in their 'Vision 2020'). Does anyone know what is their strategy ?

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Asking an IIT to improve its ranking is like asking someone to not walk around on the streets in his underwear - it's a basic demand to not embarrass people in your society. If something so elementary is seen as rocking the boat, then I won't be surprised if the current rankings will prove to exaggerations soon. This smugness will take rankings further down.

Saswata said...

I don't understand the problem in implementing a simple economic solution to improve the Masters/Ph.D. programmes in IITs. The B. Techs. should be charged more (there is no logic behind government spending money for subsidizing B. Tech. education that leads to lucrative job offers) and the extra revenue thus earned can be used to pay higher salary to postgraduate students. Higher salary in research will initially help attracting only marginally better students to PG programmes, but will attract much better students after a few years when the initial students helps improving the research quality.

Also, a portion of the research grant should be allowed to be paid to M. Tech./ Ph.D. students as top-ups. Currently, some IITs don't allow this. (The lower the ranking, the more is the number of such senseless rules.)

We always blame the society for pushing the children to non-research careers, but we are not courageous enough to change the basic economic structure leading to this effect. I heard that the government has "decided" to increase the UG fees, but have neither specified it's use (the best use would be to pay higher salary to PG students) nor specified the date of implementation.

Prashant Saxena said...

Among the ideas you've mentioned, one which is very easy and very very important is being active in faculty recruitment.

The present situation is that instead of going out and head-hunting good people, (old) IITs do not even acknowledge people's applications. Going through the comments on this blog by Professor Madras of IISc, it seems that people get an acknowledgement of their application in 3-6 months and the entire hiring process takes over a year (sometimes 18 months).

Perhaps the old IITs can take some lessons from new ones (like IIT Gn) and other reputed foreign universities about their approach towards active faculty recruitment.

ROHIT said...

Hats off to your ability to analyse the issue at the grass-root level and come up with a simple, yet effective solutions for the welfare and improvement of the educational institutions.I could only hope that some one from HRD ministry reads this blog.

Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi, I however had this question lingering in my mind while reading your blog regarding the recruitment of the new faculties-What should IITs do to retain few of the undergrad students to carry out the good research work in their own departments?Some of these students who spend sleepless nights preparing for JEE,dream of clearing the exam and to get admitted in such coveted institutions for their BTech, only desire to fly overseas to get admitted in some foreign universities for the post-graduation courses.I am sure these people excel there as well.I am certain that at least 5-6% of the class would have students who have good research acumen and who can contribute.If among these 5-6% if at least 20-30% prove good, they could be offered positions in the department.Moreover, they will be "home-grown" who will know the limitations of the system and could bring laurels in the limited resources they are provided.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Saswata, Money is just one parameter. An important one for many things, but I am not sure whether it is very important for PhD. PhD student should be able to survive without parental support, even if married, and the spouse does not bring in second income. Beyond this is not going to help too much in terms of bringing good students. Beyond a decent stipend, we need to think of incentives for performance, and not across-the-board raising of stipend.

In a recent discussion at IITK, I pointed out that if we can create conditions (infrastructure, quick resolution of any problems for PhD students, an early thesis evaluation, etc.) where by a student can complete PhD just six months early, the earnings in those six months will be much more than a bit extra stipend that s/he can get if the stipend is increased by 5,000 rupees or even more.

Last year, we had a workshop in which one of the teaching learning expert talked about the problems that PhD students face and how they "train" their faculty members in facing and resolving those problems. Do you think any IIT would like to have such "training" programs, which can again speed up the PhD process and improve quality.

A simple step of advancing GATE by six months would give you better quality students. Do you think IITs would agree?

There are lots that can be done to improve quality, but treating everyone equal can only mean mediocrity. And hence the suggestion that certain institutes and universities where the leadership is willing to change is strengthened in its resolve by offering incentives to change for the better against improved rankings. Very small amount of money can act as incentive to improve quality, till we come to the hard problems, and once there is a culture of change, we will be able to solve those hard problems as well.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Prashant, The problem is that in the government system, any "permanent" recruitment is done by a selection committee, which must have several persons from outside. Holding such selection committees is normally done once a year. Typically holding a committee meeting will cost a lakh of rupees, besides a lot of time. The selection committees are same for Assistant Professor and Associate Professor, but the one for Professor has a slightly different composition.

In the past, institutes would think that when a selection committee is being held, let it consider several applications together. Why spend one lakh on considering each applicant. Also, when we have a meeting any way, why not let them also decide on the promotions from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. And if we are going to consider promotions as well, we would want to give Assistant Professors of all departments an equal opportunity for promotion to Associate Professors position on the same day, so that an accident of scheduling does not decide the "seniority" of a faculty member.

Slowly, the mindset is changing. In IIT Kanpur, we have had many examples of holding a selection committee in between (that is within six months of the previous or the next regular meeting), just to consider one application. In case of an absolute star CV, we have even held such selection committees within days of the department recommendation for the same. But this happens only when there is an alignment of views between the Head of the Department, Dean of Faculty Affairs, and Director. If even one of them has a doubt or does not give this enough priority, the application can be on hold for months.

By the way, most IITs are able to give a visiting or a temporary appointment (of up to 2-3 years, I think) through a completely internal process, which at IITK we have even completed within one working day after the Department's recommendation. But most applicant would not want to join unless there is a permanent job offer on hand. If they are willing to take a bit of risk, the offer time can be reduced considerably.

But the point you make is valid. We should be able to deal with faculty applications in a much faster mode, even within the government constraints. And, even when there is a delay, the applicant should be informed of the delay and the reasons for the same. Even Gautam makes the same point.

Last point: When I had applied for a faculty job, one of the IITs never responded to my emails, application, etc. Long after I had joined IIT Kanpur, and almost two years after I had applied for the job, I received a letter from that IIT asking me to appear before the selection committee. You may want to criticize them for slow response. But if the office could keep application for 2 years, figured out that I must have completed my PhD and would be doing a job, figured out that I am at IIT Kanpur (this wasn't easy in pre-google and pre-internet-search days), and sent me a letter at the correct address, I considered it remarkably efficient at that time, though I politely declined to appear before the selection committee. :-)

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Rohit, it is not exactly the topic of this article, but I think if we provided enough challenges to the top half of the class, they might be enthused about continuing higher education at IITK. By the way, with every passing year, the number of BTech students who want to switch to BTech-MTech dual degree is increasing.

Prashant Saxena said...

Thanks for the detailed comment, Professor Sanghi.

I do understand that IITs work under the constraints of being a government organization and most of the (perceived) inefficiencies are actually procedural requirements.
As you say, it would really help if the candidates are actually kept in a loop about the status of their application.

Also, it won't hurt to have a good and professional looking webpage dedicated to the same. Considering all the perks (campus housing, access to sport facilities, tenure-track, academic freedom(?) etc.) along with a good salary, an Assistant Professor's job is quite a lucrative offer. If marketed properly, who knows IITs may attract many more good quality applications!

Ungrateful Alive said...

Two random comments. "With every passing year, the number of BTech students who want to switch to BTech-MTech dual degree is increasing" --- certainly not universal across IIXs. About allocating more financial incentives to hire faculty members, I can't see beating Indian inflation (especially that "invisible" inflation leading to 650 square foot flats worth 1.4 crores) with IIT salaries any time soon, or ever. I really think this thread should be killed, and the real questions are: Are our graduates reasonably good at what they learn here? And do get to use these skills where they go to work? What's the point chasing ranks if the above questions are often answered in the negative?

Saswata said...

@Prof. Sanghi.

Thanks for the detailed comment. I was not suggesting to treat all Ph.D. students as equals. Each Ph.D.student can have a variable component to her salary which is related to publications, attracting funds etc. For example, a Ph.D. student can be paid some top-up from a research grant for one year, and (s)he will be motivated to work harder because renewal of the grant effectively means extra salary for one more year. Similarly, each student can be paid some financial reward per publication.

Although I agree that the other issues (delay in thesis evaluation, GATE being conducted too late etc.) are important, money is an equally important parameter even at the Ph. D. level. A potential Ph.D. student doesn't really find a barely-manageable salary quite satisfying, as her batch-mates would be earning much more even with (maybe) lesser credentials. Obviously, the Ph.D. salary be can't be as much as the average industry salary, but I don't see any reason why it can't be half of the average industry salary of B.Techs. passing out of IITs. A Ph.D. programme then becomes quite attractive as it gives you a higher degree (which opens more opportunities) without much financial sacrifice.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

I think what Saswata is saying is right. Many bright potential students take up industry jobs because of money, not because of interest. Often there is pressure from home to start earning for the family, not just not take money from family. If you pay them enough so to send, say about 30k home every month (without spouse), the regret of joining for PhD is less. It also boosts their self-esteem.

Remember that there are many who would go abroad for PhD thinking that saving in dollars lets them send remittances (may be $500) home. We can do a lot to attract all these students that we needlessly lose to foreign universities.

Ungrateful Alive said...

(All numbers here are pre-tax.) In the mid-90s USA, a PhD student got a stipend between 1000 and 1300 USD/mo. A masters degree holder working in the IT sector would make something like 5000 to 6000 USD/mo. A PhD degree holder would make something like 7000 to 9000 USD/mo. So there was a 4x to 7x pay cut for doing a PhD. I am not up to date about IT sector salaries in India today. I am guessing masters degree holders make at least 1 lakh INR/mo, compared to PhD students making, say, 20k INR/mo, or a ratio of about 5x.

So the "wisdom premium" here (now) isn't too different from that in USA (then). This, of course, means little, because of two related factors. First, for the same quality, every good and service in India is substantially more expensive (in purchase parity terms) than in the USA, because our economy is less efficient. Second, the threshold amount of money needed to live a decent life is a far larger fraction of middle-class earnings in India compared to USA.

It's hard to argue with precise numbers, but a "wisdom premium" of this nature is inevitable because research is inherently speculative. Despite what resumes would have you believe (i.e., everything that passes between anyone's ears is fit for publication), research is a very lossy enterprise: most ideas and thoughts are not that useful or even novel. Because research must be cumulative wrt the "best prior art", the "wisdom premium" is expected to steadily worsen with time. I.e., the marginal worth of research, compared to making or selling soap, will monotonically decrease. (This will no doubt jar the club that believes in the infinite potential of human innovation. But compare the marginal utility of a iPhone18s compared to the Nokia 3230, with that of British Telecom over cablegrams under the sea.)

Anyway, all this leads to a substantially bimodal quality distribution of PhD aspirants. Some amazing minds do PhD in India because they have no feel for money and how much they "should" make. These are excellent students who could do a PhD anywhere. The other category ... we all know about that category, no need to spend unpleasant words about them. The tragedy is that the middle is very thin, which means the situation is like a worn out electronic fan regulator (no linear transfer from knob position to fan speed). By pouring more money into PhD stipends, you will get to some better operating point, and then you will hit a blank wall. The supply chain of good minds simply is not there. That's what a country gets by neglecting primary and secondary education for decades and expecting to get results by pumping (relatively) lavish funds into PhD level programs.

Bishnoi said...

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Umesh said...

I agree with Dr. Sanghi and we should not ignore Rankings. The suggestions in this post are mostly implementable and will give good return on investment(ROI).
I personally, like the branding part and marketing part. IITK website, lacks not just in Presentation but Information content as well. It is so damn hard to get information on goings on in campus. IIT Guwahati and IITD are doing a far better job with updating the world through their google+ and FB pages. And for first time in recent years, I can see a vibrant community in IIT Guwahati and it definitely changes my perception of it.
On IITB's website you can get a list of seminars and presentation even for department like MME. Compare that to IITK MME website, where even name of Head of Department is not updated. I discovered this when I called up Dr. Dipak Mazumdar few days back to congratulate him on becoming HOD and came to know that he is now ex-HOD and believe me, it is not a single instance.
Social Media is most easily implementable and will start creating awareness immediately. But we must think of overhaul of IITK website design, making dynamic pages and using open source technologies that can build it fast. IITK can even outsource the website building and maintenance part. Cost aside, I feel that would be a good idea, because faculty/people with requisite skills are in short and already stressed out with academics alone. Anyways, their time would be better spent on Research rather than making some webpages. The website could be developed so that it leaves enough hook points so student's can contribute content as well as develop plugins etc.

Chandresh said...

We all know accident of birth has a influence on the type of opportunities children get in India. Typically, CBSE and ICSE students are luckier than state board students. No point debating this fact.

After entering IITs, some initiatives like 1 year preparatory and English language skills indirectly help non previldedged students. Even SC/ST/OBC/PD reservation candidates would possibly (is it true?) be skewed towards State Board students.

But, what initiatives have IITs taken specifically to enable state board students to catch up within the 4/5 years they study at IITs.

Objective measures of success of IITs in transforming such state board students are:

i) No statistically significant variation between the mean and std deviations of final graduating CPIs of CBSE and State Board Students.

ii) Parity in per student undergraduate research outputs.

This is the best service that IITs can do! Any ideas?

Saurabh Joshi said...

why is it IITs responsibility to bring state board student with CBSE students? Wasn't the purpose of IIT to put India as a technical leader in the world? To expand research frontier? To innovate for the betterment of India?

How can IITs achieve all these goals if people want it to be socialistic in nature rather than elitist where only the best should survive? How does it matter who these 'best' are as long as they are fulfilling the objective mentioned above?

I firmly believe that IITs should be elitist and focus only on competing with the world in terms of innovation and research. IITs must be shielded from socialistic responsibility to make sure that all sections of society gets equal seats into IIT irrespective of their performance. Let the best go into IIT irrespective of caste, region, board etc.

PS: I studied in state board.