Thursday, September 03, 2009

How not to ask for a pay hike: 2. "All of us - yes, all of us - are outstanding"

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.

* * *

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.


  1. Take annual increments. While everyone will get a 3% raise, what can a high performer expect?

    4 %. Yes, you read that right. Four percent!

  2. 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.

* * *

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.


  1. Anonymous said...

    The following is assuming assistant professors are shifted to PB-4 automatically after 3 years.

    (i) is not promoted at all: saturate in 23 years of service
    (ii) is promoted to Assoc in 3 years and remains there: saturates in 18 years of service
    (iii) is promoted to Assoc in 6 years and remains there: saturates in 21 years of service
    (iv) is promoted to Assoc in 3 years and prof in 4: saturates in 18 years of service
    (v) is promoted to Assoc in 6 years and prof in 4: saturates in 21 years of service
    (vi) is promoted to Assoc in 6 years and prof in 6: saturates in 21 years of service

    Now consider the case, AP is not promoted at all. He will saturate in 23 years of service. In IISc, consider he will get promoted in 12 years to full prof (normal case), he will saturate in 21 years. This means there is practically no use of getting promoted ! (except the difference in grade pay??)

    Also, 3% pay for some and 4% raise for other has NOT been approved. Everyone will get only 3% raise.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Bottomline 4: There can be only one bottomline.

  3. Abi said...

    @Anon1: Thanks for that informative comparison.

    Thanks also for the clarification about the 4% increment. I knew that it was in the SPC recommendations, but didn't know that it was not approved.

    @Anon2: Touché!

  4. jackofalltrades said...

    In yesterday's version of Outlook on BBC's world service (radio) there was a segment on how well a small town in Bihar was doing in cracking the JEE. The stories about the students were quite inspirational. However, I also learned from the program that there are several Nobel laureates on the faculty of the IITs. Can someone tell me who they are?

  5. Anonymous said...

    Abi, u mention topping out at 67K for all levels ? Are you saying that Asst Profs. if they don't get promoted to nxt. higher level will keep getting increments even after reaching pb-4 (which from ur earlier post is 47K) ? If that is how pay scales wrk then I was not aware of automatic increments (excluding DA and inflation based increments) with age. I presume that is the same with Assoc. Profs/Profs since the net starting salary is 52,300/58,500

  6. Anonymous said...

    In your post "Specifically, do they ask.........high performers"

    These statements basically summarize the difference between capitalist/western model of survival of the fittest to semi-socialistic/mixed economy Indian model of basic/average goodness for all. Being a govt. insti rules/policies I suppose should cater to this philosophy unless you explicitly identify hindrances to growth/excellence/retention/recruitment/retention coz of such rules. If clearly highlighted then there should be avenues for reframing the rules.

    At the same time I would say that there should incentives in terms infrastructural investments or otherwise to increase the pool of state/central/private univs. and colleges who can rise up to compete with the premier instis...what is the "premier" is best left to some kind of accreditation council (based on national and international metric)

  7. Anonymous said...

    "Abi, u mention topping out at 67K for all levels ? Are you saying that Asst Profs. if they don't get promoted to nxt. higher level will keep getting increments even after reaching pb-4 "

    Yes, one will keep on getting 3% increments till 67,000 is reached. This will be irrespective of promotion. This is the primary reason that everyone wants to be in pb4.