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Update on the UGC Faculty recharge programme

December 3, 2011 1 comment

Update on my previous post:

On their homepage, the UGC FRP makes an announcement :

We are currently processing applications, batch wise, with 30th June, 2011 and 30th September, 2011 as application cut-off dates. And, we hope to be able to complete the process by the close of the year.

It is bad manners to pick on typos, but I wish the UGC, being the highest body overseeing our Universities, could be more careful about typing albeit or remember that wise (adverb) is combined with the preceding noun to make one word.

But of course, the bigger problem here is that they haven’t finished making a short list for the applications made before 30th June, 2011. And it’s already December, they have another set of applications made before 30th September, and will have a third set by 31st December. At this rate, how are they going to call people for interviews, how will they make the selection, and when will they appoint/place the selected candidates?

And will they manage to send the salaries in time? They are known to be quite notorious about sending the money for research fellowships — the JRFs and SRFs have to wait several months before their money starts coming in. Will the universities pay the faculty in advance, in anticipation of the money to be remitted by UGC?

From an academic point of view the programme is poorly thought out, as I mentioned elsewhere. If the administration is worse, as it seems to be, this  will turn into a grand joke like so many other grand plans of the higher education department (who cannot even correctly spell the name of their ministry).

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Bhagavadgita in IIT

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

It seems that in a thermodynamics class at IIT Kanpur, the teacher referred to the Bhagavadgita — a reversible process is apparently what the book had in mind when it said `do your work without any hope of benefit’. Shouldn’t that be an irreversible process?

UGC Faculty recharge programme: much ado about nothing

May 28, 2011 35 comments

I was going to title this post `What were they thinking?’ but then decided against that because I could use that title so often that it should really be a category or a tag.

The UGC has come out with a programme called the Faculty Recharge Programme, which was advertised in national newspapers yesterday, and has appeared on a dedicated website here. They plan to appoint assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology and `Engineering and Earth Sciences’. The new appointees are expected to be at the forefront of research, and be willing to teach six hours a week — presumably at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. The expressed hope is that this will raise the level of scientific research at the universities with the side effect of attracting students to a career of research.

In order to attract `talent, the new appointees are promised salary at par with the central universities no matter where they are. But they can be posted at any university in the country, although they do say that the location of the new faculty will be through `harmonization of their own preference, response of the host Institution and availability of infrastructure’.

On the face of it, this sounds like the seed of a new IES — Indian Educational Service, which was originally instituted during British rule (J.C. Bose, P.C.Ray and P.C.Mahalanobis had been members), but is this really going to attract people?

What I find disturbing is the sentence Initial appointments at each level shall be for a period of 5 years, extendible through peer evaluation by successive 5-year terms. This is understandable for Assistant Professors, who are at the beginning of their careers, but Associate Professors and Professors are going to be people who are required to have done a reasonable amount of research and publish regularly, so these people already hold jobs at research institutions or at teaching institutions with some freedom to do research. But those jobs are permanent jobs, not five year positions. And they are also likely to be of an age where stability is important. They are likely to have families, who are settled down, or settling down, working, going to school, wherever they are. So why will they up everything and (very likely) go to a different part of the country, in a job which,   following a peer review, […] may be terminated, extended or elevated to the next higher level. Associate professors have a chance of being `elevated’ to the next higher level, but professors do not have even that. So why would anyone sensible, anyone who is doing some research and some teaching, be interested in a Professor’s position?

Any of the research laboratories pay allowances etc at the same rates as the central universities, and at the levels corresponding to associate professor and professor, pretty much the same salary. People already at universities, even if they are not central universities, get the same salaries, possibly with some lower allowances. But universities give their faculty time to do research, and the stability of a permanent job. There is no real incentive for any of these people to move to a five-year position, which is very likely in a different part of the country.

Then the only people who will apply for these positions are those in colleges where they are unable to do good research, or people in post-doc positions. While there are admittedly some people in colleges who could do better research at universities than what they are doing now, such people are not many in number. And even then, would they opt for the instability of a five-year position, unless they are at the very beginning of their career?

If they really want good people to join, they should remove the 5 year stipulation, at least from the higher positions. Otherwise this service will be filled with only those who cannot get a permanent university/research institute position.

IITs not world class — but just how good are they?

May 24, 2011 Leave a comment

`IIT faculty are not world class’  said Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment. Ramesh, himself an IIT graduate, also mentioned the IIMs together with the IITs, and his  lament was about the quality of research done at these places. He believes that the IITs do not do good quality research, and thus does not attract the best people.

I decided to take a quick look at the research record of the IITs, as measured by the Web of Science (subscription required). The way I did it was to search for Kharagpur in the Address box, then refine it by Institutional Affiliation to the IIT, and break the search in two parts, one for 1986-2000 and the other for 2001-2011.

I was slightly surprised by the results — about 4500 papers for the first lot, and 9500 papers for the second lot. So the number of papers has doubled. The citation count was about 24k? for the first lot and 37k? for the second lot. And the h-index for each lot is about 60. This was somewhat higher than I was expecting, but perhaps not that high, given that IIT Kharagpur has about 470 members of faculty — so 9500 in 10 years is about 2 per faculty per year, an acceptable number. But I am not sure how to interpret the number of citations or the h-index. I would have expected somewhat lower figures for a `bad’ research institute of this size and age, so perhaps it’s not that bad. But how good is it?

Perhaps I’ll do the same search for the other `old’ IITs and try to find some meaning in the figures.

With all the caveats about indices, of course.

Teaching without grading

April 19, 2011 Leave a comment

This should really go into a category of real life dark humour or something similar. It seems that some faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute have come up with a truly original position. They taught some courses, set the exam papers for those courses, but then refused to grade the papers, saying that they are not bound to grade papers by their service rules. Since the students were in their final semester and in danger of not getting their B.Stat degrees, a committee was constituted, which conducted and graded another exam on the same subject.

Now of course some other faculty have joined them, or at least expressed an wish to do so. The academic council, a toothless body in any case, has not come up with any idea of what to do if more faculty take this position. It is also not clear what brought this on. Someone suggested that Bhatnagar awards might have caused some kind of madness.

Grading Indian education

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Some sort of a global ranking of universities has come out, and it seems that Indian universities have done rather badly. The highest ranked Indian institution is Bombay IIT at 187th in the list and IIT Delhi at the 202nd place.

Among Asian universities alone, the picture is not much better — IIT Bombay is at the 36th place, followed by the IITs. The regular universities are further behind — the University of Calcutta coming at the 99th place.

To those of us making a living out of education, this does not come as a surprise. Politicians have long controlled all aspects of higher education, with mainly two goals in mind. One is the goal of creating influence, which is perhaps the primary goal of politicians. Universities provide a fertile breeding ground for their lieutenants — colleges provide the foot soldiers. So the students’ union elections get the big parties involved. Often government machinery, including the police, is brought out to influence the students’ election.The university administration, appointed by the government, often takes sides in these elections. The result is an atmosphere of distrust and fear,  and a sense in the campus that the administration exists only for a part of the university population.

The goal of creating influence and following is also behind various laws regarding reservations in the student and faculty populations. Reservations ensure that a large section of the students often do not meet the same criteria for admission as others. And perhaps more importantly, many of the faculty are downright incompetent. This last is not only a result of official reservation policies, but also because `unofficial quotas’ lead to hiring/promotion of incompetent people simply because they are close to some politician, either by birth, or by stated political affiliation.

The other goal for the politicians is of course money. Education has a lot of money in it,  both government and private. Nearly all private colleges and universities, mushrooming around the country, have the sole aim of making money for their `owners’ who usually double as principals or rectors. The promise of a degree, usually not much better than a vocational diploma, nets a huge `capitation fee’ in addition to the usual admission and tuition fees. Since the supreme court put a cap on such fees, these are taken in cash, usually without a receipt. This leads to several million rupees of unaccounted money for a small college, to much more for the `universities’. The big owners are themselves politicians, but many more colleges simply provide a cut to the politician who arranged for the land and necessary permits. This of course does not directly affect the IITs or the government  universities, unlike the other kind of interference, but this does create an overall atmosphere of corruption and a lack of faith in the education system. Anyone with a lot of money can  get into one of those private colleges even if they qualify for the government colleges, and once they are in, they must be granted a degree, since the colleges have taken much more money for their admission than they are legally allowed to take, and much more than is really required for a good education.

Everyone suffers as a result, as we can see from the university rankings.Is there a way out? Sure, but it requires political will, judicial action (or perhaps judicial activism) and perhaps a lot more activism from the people.

Perhaps I will compile a short list of people in the faculty of various universities who have close relationships with political parties or politicians. Interested readers can then supply more names and/or submit RTI queries to the universities in question regarding educational qualifications of such people. And of course there are other reasons for the decline of education in India, in particular in the IITs, some of which I can also discuss. All in another post.

Crash doctorate?

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The MHRD wants the IISERs to let students finish a PhD in six and a half years after finishing high school. Apparently it will lure the `best brains’ back to research. Perhaps they should first concentrate on luring brains, of any quality, back to MHRD.