In their zeal to hype things up, many journalists tend to portray the IIXs [where X=T,M,Sc,SER, ...] as mega-meritocracies which are one up on Lake Wobegon. IIXs, according to them, are places where everyone is not just above-average, but outstanding! They then peddle the nonsense that the IIXs deserve to create their own rules, including the freedom to pay salaries comparable to those in the private sector!
Not surprisingly, some folks in IIXs are keen to play along, and brush aside the huge disparity in performance levels in their institutions [see this post by Giridhar on the Gini index in reserch output -- which measures the level of inequality in output -- for one IIX: the IISc.]
But what the MSM reporters fail to notice -- I'm looking at you, Manu Sharma! -- are the ample clues in the behaviour and demands of the faculty unions.
Specifically, do they ask for a ruthless hire-and-fire policy? Do they ask for annual performance evaluations that will determine year-end bonuses (or, the raise for the next year)? Do they ask for differential salaries across disciplines -- based purely on demand and supply -- leading to stratospheric salaries for a computer scientist and a below-poverty-line ration card for a physicist?
Faculty unions are not meant for demands like these. Almost by definition, they are meant to take care of the interests of their median (and weaker) members.
Of the weaker members, there are plenty in the IIXs. To their credit, IIXs also have a fair share of high performers.
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It is possible -- and definitely not inconsistent -- to have a salary structure that takes care of the weak and also provides sufficient incentives for the strong to keep up their stellar performance.
But, here's the thing: the Pay Commission is not the mechanism for dealing with high performers. For all its lofty rhetoric, its recommendations have a singular focus on the median worker.
Take annual increments. While everyone will get a 3% raise, what can a high performer expect?
4 %. Yes, you read that right. Four percent!
Until now, the main mode in which high performers are recognized is through promotions (in some cases, early promotions), without which higher salary bands ("scales") were just not accessible.
The Sixth Pay Commission has mucked up this one too. With time, almost all the faculty members in IIXs will get into the highest pay band (Pay Band 4). The associate and full professors are already there; so will the assistant professors (after the acceptance of the demand that they be placed in Pay Band 4 after 3 years).
Thus, assistant, associate and full professors will top out at Rs.67,000. At this top end, the only thing that separates an assistant professor and a full professor is the Academic Grade Pay, and this difference is only Rs.3,000 or 4,000, or just about 5%.
I'm sure you find this underwhelming. I do, too.
With the incentive structure being what it is, you would expect a huge spread or variability in the quality and quantity of work done by people. This is precisely what you'll find at IIXs: they have many who just amble along, while a few are busy sprinting -- just in case you haven't done so, you really ought to go read Giridhar's post!
Thus, deep skepticism should be the response when someone peddles arguments like "We get 50K here, but we would get 500 K at Harvard; so we deserve at least half a Harvard-salary!" While it is entirely possible that the sprinters would find a place in a top university anywhere, the claim that *all* the faculty in IIXs and especially the amblers are super-fantastic is ludicrous.
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Bottomline 1: Given this scenario, it is entirely appropriate that the new salaries for IIXs are roughly in line with those of other (similarly situated) government employees. It is also entirely appropriate that the faculty associations are restricting their demands to those that remove anomalies in which similarly situated people in the old regime have ended up in drastically different situations in the new regime.
Even the good folks in that Mecca of management mantras, IIM-A, justify their demands for a better deal using this argument:
IIM-A, which has taken a lead among the IIMs, has formed a 3-member committee to highlight the pay commission recommendations. The main grudge is the percentage increase in salary for IIM faculty has been lesser than that granted to their counterparts in other government agencies.
Bottomline 2: Instead of expecting faculty associations and pay commissions to take care their special needs, high performers in IIXs (and other institutions too) should focus on and exploit the many ways that are legally available (and seek to create those that are desirable, but not yet available) to augment their salaries.
Bottomline 3: Extravagant claims about the superiority of *everyone* at IIXs are just that: Extravagant.