Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kaushik Basu on faculty salaries ...

Previous posts on faculty salaries: 1, 2, 3.

Via Pradeepkumar: In his BBC column on the (sad) state of higher education in India, Kaushik Basu, a Cornell economist, spends some column space on faculty salaries:

With universities in research-active nations, including China, switching over to the "star system" - where for leading academics salaries and research funding are allowed to rise to match productivity - there is no choice for India.

Our government has to allow pockets of excellence to emerge and to allow them to bid for the best researchers.

Most current academics will tell you that the salary was of little consequence in their choice of career.

I think they are right. But to survey only the ones who have chosen to be academics is to miss out on people who are sensitive to salary and therefore did not choose to be academics.

To attract some of the best minds to fundamental research, especially with top corporate salaries on the rise, we have to permit research funding to match a scholar's productivity.

A professor at a top research institute told how they recently hired a talented PhD, who was earning a big salary in a leading IT company and was giving that up to earn the standard 14,000 rupees ($305) per month for a starting academic.

This is roughly what a senior call centre worker earns.


Just a quibble, though. Rs. 14,000 is what is known in our bureaucratese as the 'basic' salary. The gross salary would be in the range of Rs. 20,000 to 25,000, depending on the city and on whether house rent allowance is included. The larger point, of course, remains valid.

I'm not sure about Basu's contention here. I believe [and please correct me if I'm wrong here], many European countries have the same salary structure across disciplines (like India does). The differentiation (in sciences and engineering, at least) is largely through other status indicators such as high performers getting bigger lab space, a bigger direct funding from the university (to support more students and post-docs) etc.

In other words, European countries (and Australia? New Zealand?) also have a 'star system', but it's based on non-salary status markers.

Is the lack of a salary-based 'star system' the main impediment to attracting more and better faculty candidates to our Elite Institutions?


  1. chitta said...


    IBM Research labs in Delhi is offereing a recent Ph.D that I know $40,000/year. They have many such Ph.Ds. Many of these Ph.Ds, if offered similar salary, would be happy to go the EIs.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Ahem. Interesting articles you have included here.

    In response to your previous post -though the *hiring monkeys* part is contentious, I do agree with the general premise that not as many students are currently interested in academia precisely for monetary reasons.

    Effort vs. fruit (monetary) is not very appealing to most. Having said that, I think most people who do think of academic careers are well aware of this and not expecting dividends (monetary)! I think the "star system" would spoil the equilibrium as it exists currently by breeding "corporate" attitude so to speak. But then again I am speaking from the perspective of an engineering grad student (in US) having worked in one of the so called "high productivity" labs! :)

  3. Unknown said...

    @Suhasini: that is so retrograde, and so indian "chala hai". its taking the guru system a little too far. as if gurus should be great people, living on peanuts n fresh air, imparting education and knowledge with a smile on their face, happy to receive whatever gurudakshina (alms?) students leave behind. spoil the equilibrium?? ha ha. spoken like a true indian. keep up the good work in the US, buddy.

  4. gammagal said...

    well, one of the biggest problems with the EI's is certainly the faculty salaries. Another one is the funding situation for research itself. For some reason even excellent reseachers, previously publishing in world class journals (from top institutions in the US), when they do go back to one of the EI's are unable to keep up to their own standards. Unfortunately, instead of improving the standards of the EI, they retrogress into doing 'Best in India' rather than the best in the world research. My interpretation of this is poor infrastructure of the departments and also really low funding amounts. From my reading at other sites, the average startup money for a new faculty member is about Rs 10 lakh (please comment if I'm wrong)..this is barely enough to buy enough new instruments or even buy enough of the usually expensive reagents (most made abroad) for (biological/chemical)research. Hence people try to do the best within their means, which may not be enough to do breakthrough work..
    just my two cents..

  5. Unknown said...

    I believe Dr (Chitta) Baral was speaking of someone I know well ;-)

    I will agree, many more people would move to academia if the peanuts were well golden.

  6. Anonymous said...

    Actually, it is presumptious to believe that academics are particularly self-sacrificing and do not care about money. The population of academics is like a population of any other group where the law of large numbers applies. Money is most definitely a concern. Currently IITs/IISc attract a very small fraction of potential applicants - a large fraction does not even consider academia. Also, the comparison with Europe is misleading. Any employment provides a certain minimal standard of living there. Being an academic in India is at the bottom-end of the salary ladder. I completely agree with Kaushik Basu -- India can continue with this system at it own peril. On the other, a reasonable number of talented people are still there at these institutions -- hats off to them for staying on inspite of trying circumstances (as compared to institutions abroad where they can easily find employment).