Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fight for the position of the best Indian Institute

There is an interesting discussion going on at the blog of Prof. Madras on the article of Dr. Ganagn Prasad about the ranking of Indian research institute. If you read comments of this post and other blogs which discuss the topic, the main issue seems that which institute is better within India and why? You can also read all the short comings of the study at these comments and postings.

I am less interested in knowing if IISc is slightly at higher rank due to biology or if IITs are at lower rank due to high undergraduate teaching load. Also, it is known fact that NITs or any other state university will have even lower rank than IISc or IITs because of many factors. In my opinion if you take a look at the article of Dr. Gangan Prasap or article of prof. madras, one thing is quite clear that all of the top institutes in India can be grouped together in similar class. They may be little better or worse compared to each other, but far below in the research output compared to best institutes on the world. What are reasons and what can be done to make our best institute even more competitive? I would be more happy to discuss and see discussion on this line instead of the usual fight between IISc and IITs. Similarly other interesting questions are, what can be done to improve the quality and quantity of research output of NITs or State universities. what are the realistic expectations?

I have been to IISc and in my opinion it is pleasure to be there and do science there. You have world class facilities with motivated students and faculty and excellent campus. so what can be done to make it even better than what it is today. Can we have more "Science" and "Nature" articles from IISc or IITs? what is lacking?

I have also worked at a state university and can tell that if they are bringing any single article out in any international journal, it is an achievement by itself. The current atmosphere and support level is pathetic at these places and one should not expect increase in research output of these institutes without changing overall structure of the system and without providing adequate support in place. Also, one should be realistic in the expectation.

Here are some of the points which come to mind:

Administrative Structure, Interference and Colonial Hangover: This factor is one of the major factor for low motivation and output in any Indian Institutes and universities. Indian administrative system relies on no-trust policy and pyramid structure for decision making. This leads to unnecessary harassing and delay in any work which faculty wants to do. Be it purchasing of some instrument for research, or attending some conference abroad, adding new courses or going to sabbatical, administration is biggest hurdle in smooth functioning of these institutes. You need lengthy process, permission of highest authority (in state colleges, it means principal secretary of Higher Education Department sitting in state capital) and sometime bribe to babu. Without changing it, I can not see how things can be improved at the level it is expected.

Poor Infrastructure: This factor is specially important for NITs, state universities and colleges. Most of these places don't have basic library facility (that means no access to any international journal in the field) and other experimental and technical support needed for research. Faculty is loaded not only with teaching load, but lot of other administrative or even clerical load. While working at state college, I have worked in examination cell (checking total of students marks), admission committee(sorting hundreds of applications according to the board examination marks etc), counting attendance of students and providing data to the principal, checking stocks (that means counting old things in the store room of the department), as an election officer during national, state or municipality elections. Most of the faculty time at state universities, colleges and NITs are consumed in these clerical work leaving little time or motivation for any scholarly activities. These jobs are mostly clerical and using faculty for these jobs are wasting their motivation and talent.

Money: Experimental research needs money and academic freedom for faculty. More private partnership to research programs could be partial solution to this problem.

Any other suggestions, dear readers?


Sachin Shanbhag said...

While I agree that research output has to be increased and these citation metrics are perhaps important measurement tools, I worry that things will be taken to an extreme, and universities and professors will guide their futures to make these statistics look pretty. This is already happening in China, where researchers are awarded money depending upon the impact factor of the journal they publish in. In my opinion, this is exactly the path to avoid.

I am of the opinion that hiring and maintaining a nucleus of smart and dedicated faculty is a bigger part of the solution than otherwise thought.

I am a professor in an US university, and this overemphasis on quantity has started to erode quality.

Rainbow Scientist said...


I completely agree with with you about erosion of quality due to over emphasis on quantity in the US system. Indian system has to find its own solution to improve the quality and quantity both within their own system. Copying American system is never an answer. Problem is that it is hard judge one's scientific output outside of your own field, so the impact factor, citation index etc can be taken as a measure, but it should not be the only criteria. For the same reason, working in Europe is much more fun.

Science has two main dimensions, one is linked with scientific curiosity, and another is linked with economy of the country. Contribution of Scientific research to the US economy is enormous, and can not be ignored. I wish some of it could be replicated in Indian system. Irrespective of citation numbers, I wish there should be cohesive direction of science to solve some of the country's problems.