Wednesday, February 27, 2008

20 students per faculty member

When I linked to the interview of Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor of UC-Berkeley, I should have highlighted this:

You spoke about the state having a responsibility to provide access. How does UC Berkeley ensure that it does not fail in ensuring this?

We have a sophisticated admission system, which looks beyond normalised test scores while admitting students. The university admits one-third of its students from poor families; we have a robust financial system to support this. Of the nearly 6,000 fresh admissions every year, nearly 2,000 are students who have transferred in from community colleges.

We help students from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing preparatory classes and extra tutoring. In an effort to allow more students to avail of education at UC Berkeley, we have a higher number of students for every faculty — it is one faculty member for 22 students as against one for ten at MIT.

M.A. Pai, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also mentions similar figures in an article on improving India's technical education:

Currently, the student-to-faculty ratio at many IITs is more like 10:1, which is a luxury, compared to the 20:1 in most US public universities.

We should not forget the fact that a large army of teaching assistants make it possible for the US public universities to boast about their large student/faculty ratios. [Here's something about what a bad TA could get away with!]


  1. Fëanor said...

    I'm not sure what the TA scene in the IITs is, but during my sojourn at IISc, several of the CS courses had TAs. So did the SERC ones. It was possible for ME students to earn some money as well by helping out with some courses across campus. There were no teaching duties, though, only correcting papers and assignments. How are these things organised these days?

  2. cipher said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  3. cipher said...

    I wonder why all classes in IITs are crowded to the core with that "highly luxurious" 10:1 ratio. Perhaps most faculty don't offer their services then, at least to the undergraduate students. Ask any undergraduate student who graduated in the recent years and he would tell you that most of his classes had been at least 40:1 and in many a "branches" 60-80:1. Add to that the abysmal absence of TAs, the absence of faculty office hours and the absence of an assignment culture where people actually do their own assignments. Insiders already know that IITs turn a group of relatively high IQ students into dumb lazy no workers "on an average". Perhaps that figure of 10:1 is dated or may be its calculated in a way which bypasses reality.

  4. Abi said...

    Fëanor: The CSA Department may still have a few TAs (I'm not sure here), but most other departments don't. For example, we never had TAs in our Department even when we had the 4-year Integrated ME program.

    On the other hand, I should mention that we don't really need TAs, because our student/teacher ratio is around 5!

    Cipher: I'm sure you would be surprised to learn that the actual figure for IITs is more like 7 (according to the Rama Rao Committee report). Here's my best guess as to why there is a disconnect between a low student/teacher ratio and the actual classroom experience.

    IITs have quite a chunk of faculty members in departments devoted to niche subjects (naval architecture, for example) or post-graduate courses (Applied Mechanics, for example). An undergrad student in mainstream engineering subject (Mechanical or Electrical engineering) would not see these people!

  5. Anonymous said...


    Another factor is that every undergraduate student follows a fixed set of courses in his/her 4 years of study, with only a few elective courses.

    So, each batch of students are taught subjects by individual professors, and the ratio is more like 40-50:1

    Even in elective courses, only a small list of electives are offered at the UG level, and even there the ratio is much more than 10:1

    I don't see the point of boasting about a ratio of 10:1, when never works in practice.

    And the TA's are almost non-existent in most courses (atleast, in my dept), and when present, they are usually woefully ignorant of the subject and are never prepared for a Q/A session, or HW discussion. In some cases, I even wonder how they got a B-tech degree!

  6. Sriram said...

    In the physics department, we use teaching assistants regularly, and with good results. They don't teach the course, but they grade homework assignments and run tutorial sessions, and really make it possible for us to teach seriously without worrying that it will take time away from research. TAs are required to have cleared their comprehensive exam, and are paid at a rate defined by the Institute (the Dean's office, I think) from Special Assistance Programme funds. The TAs themselves like it, primarily because it is an opportunity to brush up on fundamentals.

  7. Anonymous said...

    The figures of 40:1 to 70:1 for IITs are unavoidable. Each department needs to teach basic department related courses - and obviously, if the department has a batch of 70 students, you end up with a 70:1 ratio for the class, unless you ask 2 profs to teach the same stuff, in different sections.

    The scenario is a bit better for electives, although I always felt a wider choice of elective courses (and consequently an even lower student: faculty ratio for those courses) would have been nicer. Dunno if the IITs have enough manpower for increasing the # of electives being offered.

  8. Soumen said...

    Course news bulletin posting from an instructor in IIT Bombay. It is very easy to pontificate about ratios from halfway across the world.

    On Friday, 29th Feb, I wrote: "Also, I will bring out the second
    assignment during the weekend."

    To which JJJJ responded: "The first assignment is not yet published".

    This was shocking, to say the least. As per my records, I marked HW1 as "out, 2/10; due, 2/28" (see attached PDF) and emailed it to the TAs on 10th or 11th Feb at the latest.

    So I wrote to JJJJ, CCing the TAs: "I sent hw1.pdf to the TAs many
    weeks back". At which point, DDDD (one of the TAs) responded: "We do not have privileges to upload documents. We will do it soon. Kindly grant us permissions."

    So for three weeks, the TAs were waiting for me (without telling me,
    btw) to add permissions to Moodle so they could post the homework. When they could just have posted a forum message and attached the PDF file, like I am doing now.

    Or hey, used carrier pigeons. Or gone to hostel rooms and read the
    homework aloud to each and every student taking the class. Which is what they would do if a document related to their job or their health was at stake. I was expendable.

    This says a lot about how Indians (do not) work as a society. It is
    extremely depressing to me. And now the TAs will say they are sorry, of
    course. But that won't change anything.

    The homework is still due on 2/28. Which means none of you submitted it. In a relative grading world, and especially a world where the job market will not evaluate you on how dependable you are in such matters, why would you care?