29th April – Competing for the best

The flow of academics, for decades, has been from India to other countries. This flow of talent has heavily impacted the availability of highly qualified academics in Indian universities.

competing

To counter this “brain drain” and to quickly improve top Indian institutions, the Narendra Modi government introduced flagship programmes such as the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN), Visiting Advanced Joint Research Faculty Scheme (VAJRA), and Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC).

The goals –

  • Internationalisation in general and the appointment of global staff is central to the new ‘Institutions of Eminence’ programme.
  • The goal is even more lofty after the IIT Council, last year, recommended the recruitment of foreign faculty on a tenure basis.
  • The Graded Autonomy Regulations of the University Grants Commission also now allows the highest performing universities to hire up to 20% foreign faculty on tenure basis.

The reality –

  • It was reported recently that there are just 40 foreign teachers at all of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) — 1% of the total faculty of 5,400 — despite the government’s goal to attract 20% international faculty at higher education institutions such as the IITs.
  • It is virtually impossible for India to attract large numbers of international professors of high standing and ability without dramatic changes in many aspects of the existing governance structure in higher education. Dramatically enhanced funding would also be required.

The talent pool

There are two kinds of international academics to be considered.

  1. The first category is accomplished senior professors — these would be very difficult to lure to India. Established in their careers, with attractive international salaries, and often with family and other obligations, they are embedded both in their universities and locales.
  2. The other group are younger scholars who may have fewer ties to universities and societies, and are thus more mobile. Further, some, depending on their disciplines, may have difficulty in locating a permanent academic job at home due to a tight academic job market. They also will not add to the immediate prestige of the Indian university which hires them since they do not have an established reputation. However, they can provide quality teaching, research and they often bring a useful international perspective.

The real targets –

  • The main possibilities for mobility are academics of Indian origin (non-resident Indians) who have successful careers abroad and who might be attracted back. The major recent initiative of the Indian government, GIAN, has been successful in attracting many academics of Indian origin from different countries for shorter durations.
  • In some ways, the best Indian universities would require a kind of “cultural revolution” to join the ranks of global world-class universities — and to be able to lure top faculty. The structural and practical realities of Indian universities make them generally unattractive to academic talent from abroad. A few examples indicate some of the challenges.

What must be done?

  • Indian academic salaries are not globally competitive, even taking into account variations in living costs. In the U.S., senior academics at research universities typically earn around ₹8,970,000 and up annually, and those at top universities can earn ₹13,800,000 or more. China, which is also actively luring top international faculty to its research universities, is offering salaries of ₹6,900,000 or more along with additional research funding.
  • International faculty cannot be offered long-term appointments in Indian public institutions. A five-year contract is all that is available. Thus, there is little job security.
  • Obtaining research funding is difficult and the resources available, by international standards, are quite limited.
  • A few ‘elite’ private universities and the management institute Indian School of Business have adopted different strategies; for instance, ranging from attracting foreign nationals, to Indians who studied at prestigious foreign universities to their institutions by offering higher salaries and other benefits than are available to local hires. Hence, we must look at maximising the possibilities of financial remuneration and research opportunities in our public educational institutions to attract the targeted faculty of both Indian origin and foreign origin experts.

SourceThe Hindu

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