Sunday, June 05, 2011

Kakodkar Committee Report: Part 7. Our awesome junior faculty will take NITs up the quality ladder. In just 15 days! Satisfaction guaranteed!!

The Kakodkar Committee works within a paradigm of absolute superiority of IITs over almost all other institutions -- including the NITs, the IISERs, the NISER and the IIITs (but excluding the IIMs). So, when it talks about these other places in Chapter 8, every single word in it is dripping wet.

With condescension.

Here's how it all starts:

... While a lot has been done to improve the quality of these institutions, they still need a push to go up the quality ladder. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is willing to provide generous funds; but that alone will not improve the quality. The quality of the faculty needs to improve and the culture of these institutions needs to change.

These institutions need to be nurtured in order to take them to the next level of quality in undergraduate education and research. Only so much can be done from within these institutes. ... [My emphasis throughout]

At this point, I was looking for recommendations that might go like, "the IITs are doing well because of X, Y and Z, so we should create an environment that allows these institutions to get X, Y and Z (in the next 10 years or so)." [where X, Y, Z might be autonomy, generous funding, low student/teacher ratio, etc].

No such luck.

The Committee's is so drunk on its own patronizing tone at this point, that it goes totally berserk.

... There has been some attempt in the past to get IIT faculty associated with NITs, but this has not helped much. The primary reason for this has been the association of established senior faculty of the IITs who have very little time on their hands to nurture these institutions, even if they wanted to. In recent times, the IITs have occasionally attracted some very high quality young faculty. They have the energy and will to change the education system. The proposal is to involve such exceptional faculty in enhancing quality at these identified institutions. Now, even though they are young, they have their goals cut out and hands rather full with building their research groups at the IITs and, maybe, developing relationships with industry. Since they would not ordinarily involve themselves with identified institutes, the proposal has to be different in order to attract them.

It is proposed to identify 5 youngsters (about 35 years in age) for association with each of these identified institutions; the identification will be carried out in consultation with the Director and Chairman of the Board of Governors (BOG) of the identified institute. They will be inducted into the BOG and Senate of the institute and tasked with helping drive excellence in these institutions by leveraging their association with the IITs. One would expect them to:

  • Help an NIT Director take the institute to the next level of quality

  • Build relationships with the young faculty at NIT, and encourage and guide them to take their institute to a higher level of quality

  • [And on. And on. And ...]

[My emphasis throughout]

The Committee expects all this.

From . Newbie . IIT . Faculty.

Who would spend all of 15 days in a year at "their" NIT.

If this doesn't define surreal, I don't know what would ...

Financing College Education: Human Capital Contract

An important part of the recommendations by the Kakodkar Committee is about financing college education -- which we discussed here and here.

In the second post (and in the comments), I expressed my preference for a 'post-paid' model in which students repay the cost of education through a higher tax on their income. I like it especially because of the insurance component -- if you, somehow, end up with a low income, you are not burdened with a hefty repayment obligation.

This is a government-funded program in Australia, and a variant has just been introduced in the UK.

A couple of recent articles in NYTimes by David Bornstein talk about an essentially similar scheme, but implemented by the private sector:(a) Instead of Student Loans, Investing in Futures, and (b)A Way to Pay for College, With Dividends. Here's an excerpt from (b), where this scheme is given a nice name -- Human Capital Contract:

If you were a student looking for financing to pursue a degree in social science, would you accept an offer of $16,000, in exchange for paying 4.5 percent of your income for 10 years after you graduate?

... In exchange for the financing they receive, the students commit to repayment schemes along the lines of the one outlined above (the terms vary). After the time period elapses — it’s always 10 years or less — the obligation expires, no matter how much has been repaid. [...]

... [H]uman capital contracts are not a new idea. The Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman proposed them in the 1950s. Decades ago, Yale University experimented with a program through which students could postpone tuition and repay it later as a fraction of their income. The idea was abandoned after the introduction of federally subsidized loans. Australia allows students to pay for college through a special tax after they graduate, which operates in a similar fashion. And in 2009, the U.S. government introduced income-based repayment for federal loans, which are available to students whose debt is high relative to their income. What’s common to these programs is that they all try to lessen the financial burden of a college education by shifting from fixed loan obligations to payments that fluctuate based on income.

Links ...

  1. Academic Destinations. A collection of articles, pics, personal narratives, infographics on quite a few (non-US) countries. While India merits just a brief sketch, Germany gets a much more extensive coverage.

  2. Jane Brody in NYTimes: A good night's sleep isn't luxury -- It's a necessity.

  3. Andrew Gelman on The "cushy life" of a University of Illinois (@Chicago) sociology professor

  4. Johann Hari in The Independent: It's not just Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The IMF itself should be on trial: "Imagine a prominent figure was charged, not with raping a hotel maid, but with starving her, and her family, to death."

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Jairam Ramesh of the Day

Prof. C.N.R. Rao, a couple of days ago:

Referring to the demand for sophisticated equipment for research labs, Professor Rao said in a lighter vein: “Shortage of equipment will make brains work better.” Referring to the premier IISc., he said, “The IISc. is characterised by very mediocre research mainly because they have a lot of facilities.”

This cuts a little too close, so I'll have to restrict myself to just this, rather obvious, point: Coming from someone whose institution boasts some of the most awe-inspiring pieces of equipment (including this beauty, alleged to be among the most expensive phallic symbols in the world), this is a bit, well, rich.

Shashi Tharoor of the Day

Not quite surprisingly, Jairam Ramesh does it again:

Jairam Ramesh, India's minister of environment and forests, suggested the middle-class 'English-speaking women' who usually attended conferences on biodiversity and other green causes were useless compared with tribal women who had waged successful campaigns.

Speaking ahead of an event to mark World Environment Day, Mr Ramesh said educated ladies were "not required anymore."

"Sitting inside Vigyan Bhawan [New Delhi's main conference venue] and listening to well-drafted speeches yields no results. This year we have invited about 100 tribal women from all over the country," he said.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Links ...

With all that stuff about Kakodkar Committee Report, it has been a while since I did one of these. There's a lot to link to, but this will have to do for now:

  1. Winners of the Worst PPT Slide Contest

  2. A great infographic on Arab Spring [h/t: Chris Blattman]

  3. If you use Google, here's some advice from the company on ensuring your information is safe online.

  4. The Bilingual Advantage. Claudia Dreifus of NYTimes interviews Ellen Bialystok, a professor of psychology at York University, Toronto [On strong recommendation from Mark Liberman of Language Log].

  5. Gary Taubes in NYTimes: Is Sugar Toxic? Scary story about the true badness of sugar (more specifically, fructose, which forms a big part of sugar, and sugary drinks). Caution: will change your behaviour -- just as it did mine -- in the presence of sweet stuff.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Kakodkar Committee Report: Part 6. Forget Ranking, Let's Do Some Re-Ranking

Chapter 2 of the Report has a section entitled "IITs and Global Scene in Engineering Education" in which the Committee considers where the IITs are in the rank list produced by QS World University Rankings. It turns out that IIT-B is the first Indian entry in the list, at No. 187, followed by IIT-D, IIT-K, IIT-M, IIT-KGP, University of Delhi, IIT-R, University of Mumbai, etc.

Now the Committee tries some innovative spin:

[University ranking and the methodologies] need to be used wisely in order to derive benefits. The following simple scenarios bring out certain interesting observations. Many of the top-ranking institutions have a Medical School. QS has classified all IITs to be without a medical school, which is accurate.

You know what they did? In their own words, they "[looked] at institutions that are classified by QS to be focusing on all 5 areas but do not have a medical school." In other words, they just dropped all the universities with a medical school, and re-ranked the universities! And the result is ... [Drum roll, please]

IIT-B is now at No. 21!

Fabulous, isn't it?

The Committee doesn't produce the full list produced by their innovative re-ranking exercise. But, going by its description of what it has done, its "new, improved" list would not include the University of Michigan, UCLA, and UCSD because they have a Medical School. Nor would it include Cambridge, Cornell, or Stanford!

Clueless? Disingenuous?

You decide.