Sunday, July 12, 2009

STIs and HSIs

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:

Sidebar: Ashis Nandy's 2004 column in ToI recounts the kind of damage inflicted on our universities by the Indira Gandhi regime: "Long before an emergency was imposed on the country by prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975-77, an emergency was imposed on Indian higher education in the early 1970s."

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Structural (autonomy):

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.

Managerial (governance):

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.


  1. _ said...

    This is going to sound like an idiot comment going off on a tangent, but how did you get the sidebar? Do you hand edit HTML or use some fancy client to post blog entries?

  2. Anonymous said...

    I must confess to being somewhat disappointed when I read the full article in the Hindu. The author does not espouse a single cogent reason for why the Indian taxpayer should support humanities education, other than an uninspired remark about how science and technology institutes teach skills (whatever that might mean) and humanities institutions teach how these skills can be put to use for the community. If nothing else that seems to call for more community oriented management programs like those offered in IIMA and IRMA, institutions that are comparable, if not superior, to IITs/IISc in reputation and funding. Also I fail to understand how the author can connect the decline of eastern European countries to their purported lack of support for math, philosophy and music.

    In a country where a significant proportion of the population cannot feed itself, surely the Government cannot be expected to commit funding resources based on such insipid arguments.

  3. Anonymous said...

    why Indian science and technology institutions (STIs) [such as the IITs and IISc] [are] known globally .."

    Huh? And on precisely which globe?
    Unlike the sciences and engineering, the humanities never claimed to bring any "prosperity"; it is the science and engineering institutions which draw disproportionate amounts of taxpayer money that need to be abandoned first.
    There are certainly more world-class intellectuals, artists and other humanities types working in India, than there are truly world-class scientists. Enough said ...

  4. Amrutha said...

    STIs do not necessarily produce world-class scientists. However, they do produce good engineers, and employable managers. Also, there is no question of "abandoning" any institution in favour of another. The question now, is to ensure that HSIs are not completely neglected and that they are given the kind of monetary and infrastructure support they really need.

  5. Anonymous said...

    @Amrutha: I disagree with the very premise of the question. STIs have received more taxpayer money compared to HSIs. While HSIs may be in bad shape, normalised by amount of money spent, STIs I feel are worse off.
    STIs might produce good engineers and managers (very questionable), but they've hardly produced good engineering or decent management - just look around you!
    My general point is that its ludicrous to say that STIs are doing much better than HSIs. If I was the government, I'd be more interested in fixing something where I spend a lot more money and get very little in return, i.e., STIs.