Thursday, June 25, 2009

Attracting Talent: Lets Talk about Money

My post on attracting talent has generated a lot more interest than I expected, the reason is because Prof. Madras show interest in it. His comments on my observation that the salary of Assistant Professor in India is comparable to anywhere in the world, was taken much seriously. I know for many people the salary what IITs or any other faculty position in India offer is not good enough, so I am elaborating it here more what I think about it.

- Academia is not about earning money, nowhere, whether in India or in USA. Faculty salary in USA is much lower than what industry offers or what doctors or lawyers earns. It is one of the main reason American student don't prefer to go for Ph. D. program and all universities rely heavily on foreigners for their research programs. The salary of Assistant professor in R1 university (I am talking about top notch university) is $10-15K more higher then what you will earn as a primary school teacher and lower then what many colleges or smaller universities offer. If someone wants to earn more then that, one should not go to academia in the first place, Industry or IT sector in India is the place to go.

- I think it is not fair to compare salary of Assistant professor in India with salary of Assistant Professor in USA. Salary of Assistant professor in India should be compared with other professional in India, and here I think it is very much comparable, at least what I have seen in north India. Assistant professor salary is equivalent to what civil judge, deputy collector or any other class II officer will earn, what lawyers or doctors will earn in the beginning to middle of their career and I don't see any reason why we should earn more. It is public money and higher education in India serves very small population in India. I believe salary and working condition of primary school teachers should be made better to attract talent there. Neglecting early education could be very costly for future.

Having said that, I am not against faculty earning handsome package in India, but my point is that for many people that is not the main reason for not returning to India. They perfectly know that their salary will be lower. There are other factors also come in play. People want or don't want to return to India for variety of other reasons as well. Let me try to compile these reasons taking examples of people I know;

- Some people loves scientific research and its competitiveness, and USA definitely offers better atmosphere for that. One fellow didn't take offer of IISc and prefer to stay in USA. He thought that he can use his love for science research and talent better in USA than in India. I know for sure his salary for his expensive town is much lower what a school teacher will earn there. But he knows once he is successful, he can earn much more.

- Some people simply convert their dollar earning to Rupees and will never return no matter what.

- For some people it is the bureaucracy everywhere in Indian higher education system which is a major concern and reason for not returning.

- For some people it is local and regional politics in the universities and institutes which is bothering factor.

- For some people growing children is a big concern and they are more comfortable in Indian society and want to return.

- Other people whom I know want to return because they want to be close to their family and relatives.

- For some people it is the life style or culture or food. They are simply more comfortable inside India and will return if provided adequate opportunity.

And many of these people from last 3 category will go back if Indian higher education takes it seriously and pushes it aggressively. India has to take initiative if it wants better academic/scientific future.


Anonymous said...

Just to make a point. An assistant professor's salary in R1 Univs. (I am talking about top 25 engineering schools in USA) is definitely more than $10-15K when compared to primary school teachers... it is easily twice... in fact at an R1 school there is a $25K difference between an english prof. and engineering prof. Get your facts right...

Anonymous said...

Academic salaries are low everywhere. But the direct comparison between US and India isn't apt. The fact was - and still is - with the salary of a even a full prof. in a top Indian univ/IITs/IISc, one can't afford to have certain minimum necessities like an apt/house in any of the major cities in India, as Prof. Giridhar points out - and this cost factor in increasing by the day. This is not at all the case in the US. Another thing is the salary differential between peer groups in academia and industry - this is ridiculously high in India. For eg, a full prof. in many R1 univs get around $150K, where vice-president level officials might make around $500K. This ratio is much larger in India. Those who take refuge in statements like "acad salaries are generally low" don't seem to see these - or don't want to see.

Comparison with IAS folks again do no good - becasue the kind of perks they earn is simply out of bounds for everybody - and many of them, at retirement, are worth way more than their lifetime earnings. Just a look at the IAS colony in Bangalore, you'll know what I mean. Whereas the poor prof. usually ends up in his native village fighting old-age ills, often queing up the village dispensary for free medicines!

Rainbow Scientist said...

For Anon 8:53 AM:

Of course salary of an Assistant Professor very much depends on the field of the study and the place. but here is the source of my data

at UIC, a chemistry or physics Assistant professor salary is approximately 65K-70K after few years of post-doc and at University of Chicago it is slightly better (70 - 90K). The Chicago public school salary structure is approximately like this, if you enter after Bachelor degree with no experience, you start at 45K, with master again with no experience, its around 55K (if you have multiple master, you can get better) and with Ph. D. it is around 70K, considering all the benefit package, many time school teacher with few years of experience earns reasonable money and sometime even better then an Assistant Professor after same years of schooling. The difference starts later when one gets tenure and is successful in running a highly competitive research program.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Rainbow scientist,

A faculty in IISc or IIT in Bombay/Madras etc can not afford to buy an independent house in a good locality but this is not the case in USA.

Also, the comment that academic salaries are low everywhere does not mean much. The differential between academic and industrial peer group is important. Currently, the difference is 3-4 times. Though I earn a professor's salary, my graduating master's students who go to industry earn more than me. Thus the starting pay of my master's student is higher than my salary. That simply does not happen in the USA.

Finally, your comment and comparison between IAS officer and an IISc professor is not apt. Though I might get the same salary as the additional secretary in the government, the perks are entirely different. For example, I do not have a government car for use.

This does not mean that I am unhappy. On the contrary, I love the academic freedom that IISc offers and I would not leave IISc for money. But then that's me. Money is an important issue in making a decision between academia and industry for many aspirants.


Giridhar Madras

Rainbow Scientist said...

Dear Prof. Madras,

Thank you so much for your comments. I value them very much. It is not true that faculty at USA can afford to buy independent house in good locality. If they buy it is only because of 30 year mortgage. We just managed to buy a 3 bedroom apartment little bit far from university campus with the support of 30 year mortgage, university second loan and Obama's money whereas my brother bought independent house in Bilaspur being a lawyer.

There is same difference between industry and academia or new faculty and old faculty in USA. Many times here old faculty fights because new Assistant professor get better starting package then what they are earning after years. these are facts of life. In industry starting salary is 80 - 100K after Ph. D. I have some friends working in industry just after Ph. D. earning this salary whereas those who went to do post-doc are earning 35K, and no benefit including health care.

Again, I am not against good salary for all university, IITs and IISc faculties. My message went wrong, I wanted to tell Indians who are working abroad that it is good enough salary with stability and they should consider going back if they really wish so.