Whenever the topic turns to the creation of new institutions -- be they IITs or Central Universities -- you get people expressing this concern: "But where will they get their faculty from?" The latest to join this grumpy and not-so-gruntled group is Pankaj Jalote. The picture he paints is pretty grim indeed.
... As a PhD is necessary for a faculty position in an IIT, we ... need about 500 fresh PhDs in engineering every year to provide the faculty for the IITs.
Let us look at the supply side. An IIT produces about 100 PhDs a year in engineering, which means a total of about 600 PhDs are being produced by the top institutes every year. More than half of these will join lucrative careers in industry or go overseas (the actual percentage is likely to be higher). Of the remaining, many will not be acceptable to IITs for faculty positions (as not only a PhD is required, the quality of work and past education record also must be good.) So, even after stretching the limits, there will be less than 100 suitable candidates available for these 600 faculty positions!
Clearly, the problem is not solvable by resources within the country. There is, however, a large pool of PhDs in the US (and elsewhere) of Indian origin. According to one report, the number of Indians who got PhDs in the US in computer science (CS) in a year was 275 (out of about 1,000), which, incidentally, is about 10 times the number of PhDs produced in India in CS. The number of PhDs in other disciplines would be of similar order — according to a NSF report about 1,500 Indians were awarded PhD in science and technology in 2006. If we consider the graduates of the last few years, a thousand-strong pool of Indian PhDs exists in the US in each discipline.
It is this pool of resource that is our only visible hope for meeting the faculty crunch — if only we can attract some of them back.
I agree with much of what he says, and I certainly don't want to downplay the challenge that the IITs face. All I want to say here is that the pool of candidates is far larger than fresh PhDs, and it's not clear why Jalote doesn't want to consider the other options in this bigger pool.
Who are these "other options"? Professors at other colleges and researchers in our research labs.
The IITs may want to pluck them from their current places, but why would they want to move to IITs? There are many reasons, but the bootomline is that the IITs are still the best bet in India for folks interested in teaching and research. To begin with, IITs enjoy enormous prestige and respect. They offer a great deal of autonomy. They offer a research environment -- infrastructure, research grants, travel money -- that people at other institutions can only envy from afar. They offer access to some of the best student talent India has to offer. And, salaries are much better at the IITs than at research labs, NITs and universities!
In most disciplines (except perhaps computer science and allied fields), India's vast system of research labs -- CSIR, Defence, Atomic Energy and Space -- employ a huge number of researchers. Similarly, the NITs and university engineering colleges also have a fairly large number of faculty members. Granted, not all of them are going to be of great interest to the IITs (and not all of them may even want to move to the IITs), but given the advantages of moving to the IITs, they should be able to attract some of the more successful professors and researchers from these places.
Are there examples of high-profile institutions that have poached from our research labs and universities? IISERs. I know of a few people who have moved to IISERs from research labs and universities. [If you have some statistics, please share them -- either through comments or by e-mail. ]
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However, there is a cost to this kind of poaching: it will shift the HR challenge to the other institutions and research labs. They will have to find ways of becoming attractive destinations for promising faculty members and researchers. This task, however, is not easy because many of them carry the burden of their past in terms of hierarchical organizational structure (and mindset), poor infrastructure (not applicable for labs belonging to the strategic sectors), and a salary structure that puts them at a disadvantage.
Let me admit (once again) that the challenge posed by the faculty shortage is a big one. However, my (somewhat) limited point is this: because they can resort to poaching as a part of their faculty development strategy, IITs enjoy a huge advantage over the other institutions in facing (and overcoming) this challenge.
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BTW, poaching is available as a HR strategy to NITs and Central Universities as well; they certainly are better places to work at than are many of our State Universities and Colleges. I'm not so sure about whether they offer any advantage to people in our research labs, though.