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Where's the brain?
Forget the Joshi/IIM-IIT spat, there's a huge shortage of qualified
teachers, and it's getting worse says Sunil Jain

Published : January 28, 2004

For over two years now, though the attack is a lot sharper nowadays, Human
Resources Development (HRD) Minister Murli Manohar Joshi has been waging a
battle against what he feels is rampant elitism on the part of premier
educational institutions like the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs)
and
the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
According to the minister, these institutions don't justify the grants they
get, they're overstaffed, do little research and basically cater to the
needs of the elite.

And, using recommendations of the U R Rao committee set up to review the
country's technical education system, Joshi is planning to radically slash
fees in these two institutions, perhaps double the number of seats in the
IIMs and even examine the possibility of some reservation for poor
students,
perhaps abolishing the group discussion portion of the selection process
that he feels is a source of discrimination against students from
non-elite
backgrounds.

While few deans of the IITs or the IIMs are willing to take on Joshi
directly (this could see Rs 600 crore of annual government grants
disappear!), even a casual perusal of the Rao report suggests the minister
has used the recommendations selectively.

Joshi, for instance, says the Rao committee makes it clear that fees in even
US universities is not more than 30 per cent of the country's per capita
incomes and that by using this logic, India's fee for technical
institutions
should not be more than Rs 6,000, going up to perhaps Rs 20,000 if the
purchasing power parity formula is to be applied. If this is done, fees at
IIT/IIMs will be a fraction of those charged by less-exalted private
bodies.

Well, the Rao committee did not explicitly make this recommendation - its
recommendation (10.4.1.7) talks of how unaided institutions (ones that
don't
get government grants) are charging exorbitant fees, and suggests the All
India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) fix guidelines on how fees
are
to be fixed for both aided- and non-aided bodies, including subsidies for
poorer students. It suggests this be done by dividing up the cost of
education between the government, the employers and the students.

But where did the Rs 6,000 figure come from? In an earlier chapter, the
report notes that fees in US colleges are typically less than 30 per cent
of
the country's per capita income. But, the table that shows the fee structure
in various universities like Harvard ($11,000), also shows that the
assistance provided by the universities varies from half to two-thirds of
the total cost.

Says P V Indiresan, former director of IIT, Chennai, and a member of the Rao
committee, who came up with this formulation, "If you assume the average
cost of an engineering degree is Rs 100,000, and you restrict the fresh
intake to 50,000 a year, the subsidy that the government and industry will
have to share is Rs 2,000 crore."

If, however, says Indiresan, you take the actual intake of fresh
engineering
students of 360,000 this year, the subsidy burden will go up to Rs 14,400
crore a year.

To put this in perspective, the government's total education budget is under
Rs 10,000 crore a year, evenly divided between elementary
education/literacy
and secondary/higher education. The HRD ministry, however, dismisses this as
hyperbole, saying that all that it's talking about is to lower fees in just
the IIMs and the IITs, and so the additional cost will be marginal.

In any case, according to the ministry, it already provides a subsidy of Rs
2.5 lakh a year per student for the IIMs and Rs 1 lakh for the IITs.

As for the actual additional burden imposed by the planned move, the
ministry's asked for costing details from the IIT/IIMs. A former head of
one
of the IIMs, who has requested anonymity, points out that while this is
ostensibly being done in the name of the poorer students, there is not
even
one instance of a student having cleared the entrance tests and not being
admitted because he/she couldn't afford it.

Another bugbear for Joshi is that while his calculations show universities
like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lincoln have a
teacher-student ratio of 1:10, and others like Penn State and Pittsburgh a
1:17 ratio, the IIMs have a mere 1:4 in the case of Bangalore, 1:5 for
Ahmedabad and 1:6 for the rest.

Not true, says a former head of an IIM. The Kurien committee, according to
him, said each professor should do about 180 hours of teaching a year, and
IIM professors do a lot more.

Unlike in the US, IIM professors even mark answer sheets. Devi Singh,
director of the IIM, Lucknow, however, chooses to duck the question,
saying
he has not studied the data carefully, but "demanding higher performance
from education institutions in terms of research is not a bad idea."

At a Roorkee University function, Joshi launched a broadside on the IITs,
claiming that, relative to the aid it got from the government, Roorkee's
contribution was a lot greater, in terms of the number of PhDs it
produced,
the research papers and the number of heads of the railway board and other
such institutions who were Roorkee alumni.

Indiresan, however, says this is more political than anything else. "I was
chairman of the committee that doubled Roorkee's grants to Rs 50 crore...
does this mean Roorkee should produce double the number of PhDs now?
Universities are not made by money alone and there's no point just
counting
papers, you have to look at their quality. At one time, Garhwal University
gave more PhDs than the IITs, but where's the comparison?"

But while the Joshi-IIT/IIM row will sort itself out, one way or the other,
the real issues in the Rao report have got scant attention. According to
Rao, though the sector is booming, the quality is dramatically falling,
with
the number of adequately qualified teachers falling short by as much as 80
per cent in some cases.

Indeed, the report points out, India is just not producing enough PhDs and
MTechs - in a sense, even if one disagrees with Joshi's prescription, this
is one of the points he's making. The report, of course, severely indicts
Joshi's ministry and the AICTE, which presides over technical education in
the country, when it says few technical institutes in the country have
anywhere near the kind of faculty they need.

Says Nitish Sengupta, MP and director-general of the International
Management Institute B-school: "I've been on an AICTE committee that
inspected one potential B-school and it was obvious the 'library' actually
belonged to a bookshop, the computers had been hired for the day, the
'professor' was an employee of the computer firm. yet, three months later,
the institute had been 'AICTE-approved'!"

The report recommends AICTE start de-recognising institutions that do not
conform to basic standards, and regularly put out relevant data, like the
performance of their students and the faculty qualifications, of the
institutes under its purview.

According to a study by Professor J P Srivastava, the Rao report points out
that India needs around 10,000 PhDs over the next three to four years to
meet the basic needs of its engineering institutions.

Another report cited, one by Anil Kumar of National Technical Manpower
Information System, says there is a 60 to 80 per cent shortfall in
qualified
teachers in engineering institutions in the country even today.

In 2000-01, Indian engineering institutions required 60,970 teachers and
this was broken down into 8,710 professors, 17,420 readers and 34,840
lecturers - in terms of professional qualifications, what was required was
26,130 PhDs and 34,840 MTechs.

What was available, however, was 5,862 PhDs and 11,035 MTechs. Even if you
go by Srivastava's figures, the shortfall of PhDs has gone up from 33 per
cent in 1990 to 55 per cent in 2000 and to around 70 per cent today.

Matters are worse in other disciplines such as MCA, MBA, pharmacy,
architecture and town planning. Today, while 930 business management
schools
in India have an authorised intake of 64,403 students each year, they have
less than 4,000 teachers - that translates to around 32 students per
teacher, as against the maximum permissible level of 20.

If you remove the IIMs, the rest of the B-schools have less than four
teachers each on an average. Things are so serious that the report
recommends that teams of experts be sent from India to the US/Europe to
interview candidates there for faculty positions!

If the NDA wins the elections, and Joshi returns as the HRD minister, he's
going to have a lot more than just the IIMs and the IITs to worry about.