Shreesh Chaudhary, a professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-M, returns to the theme of "why Indian science and technology institutions (STIs) [such as the IITs and IISc] [are] known globally and Indian institutions of humanities and social sciences (HSIs) are not, even when we have a tradition of humanities and social sciences?" [He had an earlier column in The Hindu on the reasons behind the success of STIs]. He identifies are three reasons — structural, financial and managerial:
Except in the very recent past, STIs have experienced little political interference. People like A. L. Mudaliar, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, H. N. Sethna, Darshan Singh Kothari, M. J. K. Menon [I think he means M.G.K. Menon], Raja Ramanna, C. N. R. Rao, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, M. S. Swaminathan, Kasturi Rangan and Russy Modi have been on their boards and have protected their charge.
HSIs, on the other hand, have not been so lucky. Hardly a humanist of the calibre of S. Radhakrishnan is available, or likely to be appointed Vice Chancellor, or even as a member of the university executive council today. HSIs do not have the autonomy of the STIs. No one knows why CIEFL became EFLU one fine morning, and why its mandate was changed from research and teacher training in foreign language pedagogy to graduate and undergraduate teaching done by any number of other colleges in and beyond Hyderabad.
STIs make all appointments without reference to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). HSIs have to seek sanction, often go through the UPSC and even the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity of the Government of India, to announce a vacancy.
STIs, besides MHRD funds, receive substantial amounts from other ministries and national bodies.
An IIT spends nearly Rs 300 crore annually of the government money, besides donations from alumni and grants from foreign agencies, industry, and NGOs. HSIs have only MHRD crumbs. STIs award as many research fellowships as the number of eligible candidates. IIT, Madras alone takes nearly 300 research scholars every year. For over 300 universities, the UGC selects fewer than 300 research scholars annually.
HSIs, therefore, do not attract graduates of sufficient merit in sufficient numbers to their research programmes. HSIs provide a poor work environment to their faculty. Their offices, computers, libraries, phones, faxes and vehicles are always inadequate and antiquated. With the exception of JNU, professors at HSIs receive lower salaries than their counterparts at STIs.
Indian STIs may not be the last word in probity, they may not have made great teams, but they have made enough decently functioning ones. That a test like Joint Entrance Examination for admission to the IITs has gone on without a scandal for over 40 years in a country like India — counted among the top ten corrupt countries — is a huge compliment to the systems STIs have created and maintain.
The humanities and social sciences community of India could not save one American Studies Research Centre at Hyderabad, in spite of decades of support from the U.S. Government. The Indian Institute of Advanced Study at Shimla, the result of a dream of the likes of S. Radhakrishnan, has a rather long list of fellows who enjoyed its hospitality without turning in a script. HSIs have become back numbers, proud only of the past. STIs only help create skills.