Recurring Decimals…..

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Nitpicking TOI and ‘reverse’ brain drain

with 5 comments

God forbid, we don’t expect much from the TOIlet paper Times of India. But one would think they’d possess a basic sense of geometry. This story about hiring of European professors at IIT, starts off with a gem of an unintended double negative:

Call it brain drain reversal of 360 degrees.

Err…..360 degrees will really bring you back to the same position. Oh, wait a minute: its 360 degrees of the reverse – so its all right, I guess. Also, I thought reverse brain drain was the returning of qualified professionals to their own country – this sounds like a brain drain for the European countries 🙂 ! Well, this is just nitpicking and isn’t really the worst offense comitted by the TOI.

Coming to the gist of the article:

To overcome the scarcity of quality faculty, India is looking forward to recruiting professors from abroad, primarily from European countries. And what could be a better place than the IITs to kickstart the process.

I am always a little skeptical when I hear claims like this. So let us ask – why would well qualified faculty from European (at least the western European) countries want to work in India full-time? Sabbaticals, I can understand – but working in a totally different culture and a different language (the article mentions French researchers) seems daunting. Generally, the major considerations for most scientists/engineers while looking for a suitable faculty position are: intellectual environment, research facilities, quality of students and monetary rewards both for salary and grants. Different people emphasize different criteria in their final decision. Now, there is no question about a great intellectual environment and good students in the IITs. The article also says that remunerations are similar to European countires based on purchasing parity. But the clincher seems to be:

IITs offered a comprehensive package to European faculty who had shown interest in participating in research being conducted by int ernational (sic) firms opening R&D centre and also in meeting the requirement for teaching staff in India.

So it seems they all want a piece of the Google/IBM/Microsoft’s India based research center pie! Well, I have nothing against IITs trying to attract faculty of high calibre from the global marketplace. This is how the United States got their edge in scientific and technical research. But too often, I have noticed a deference towards faculty from US/Europe just because of their skin color (a sad aspect of the colonial hangover – but true nonetheless). I just hope the goverment’s, and therefore the tax payer’s money will not be used for salaries of opportunistic mediocre caliber faculty from Europe who are coming to India just because they did not get a job in their own country.

Additionally, I am a bit surprised at the statement about the scarcity of faculty in India. The evidence is anecdotal, but I personally know of quite a few people, brilliant ones, who have completed PhDs in the USA and would like to return to India. These students would really jump at a job in the IITs (I also know of someone who did get a job at IIT-Mumbai but was forced to leave due to severe lack of research facilities).


Written by BongoP'o'ndit

May 10, 2006 at 9:09 am

Posted in India, Personal, Rants

5 Responses

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  1. I like this format.
    Good post too!


    May 10, 2006 at 3:26 pm

  2. See, I told you, this was the best format.

    Ha! You have been reading the TOI, shame on you!:)

    Sesriously, I do share your misgivings to a large extent. I am not sure why would anyone Professor of repute would want to work in IITs, as far as I know their research output is not that great.

    I also read about the the Public Health College which they want to establish in India, with top NRI faculty from USA. I am not sure how many ”top” tenured NRI professors would go back for a salary of one lakh Rs a month.


    May 10, 2006 at 6:23 pm

  3. @ Neela: Thanks !

    @ Confused: Yes – I have had to expose my guilty dark secret (head hangs in shame) :-)…….but you have to admit – they do provide a lot of scope for fisking.
    The real truth is a lot less scandalous. In general, I try to avoid both Indian Express and TOI – for the simple fact that their websites are a pain with popups and banners and what not. I noticed the headline ‘brain drain reversal of 360degree’ on and found it amusing enough to click the link.

    About research at IITs – I have to disagree a bit: the output is certainly not uniform but some profs do have good productivity. Depends on various factors. @IIT-Mumbai, the Chemistry dept and the Biotechnology center does some real good research – it is the legacy of a fromer Head of Dept who inculcated the habit. IITK also boasts a good Chemistry faculty. Comp Sc. depts are also pretty good all over. But, as I mentioned – my friend was disillusioned with the Mech dept at Mumbai. IITs are no IISc in research, but then their primary focus is really education – not research.

    Some top tenured profs can be lured to India – but not only with money…they need to be shown that they will have top quality research, administrative and infastructural support. I wonder what model the Indian School of Business follows – they seem to be pretty succesful .


    May 10, 2006 at 8:42 pm

  4. I do like Indian Express, though I agree their site is a little pain in the ass but their coverage is far superior to say TOI or even HT.

    About IITs, I acknowledge my knowledge is limited to what people generally say about their research output and number of articles published in peer reviewed journals. Also, the number of PhDs produced is less. About individual departments, I willingly defer to your superior knowledge.

    You are quite right about luring professors to India, but if those things were readily available most of them would never have bothered moving to US! I say most, not all.

    ISB is a private school, it charges a lot of money, it has collaboration with some of the top business schools in the world, I am sure their research funding is high. Just guessing.


    May 10, 2006 at 10:07 pm

  5. Confused: The movement of high quality researchers to India will happen eventually. Right now a lot of techies are moving back due to the great opportunities.

    With GE Health Sciences and Sigma setting up shops in India, quite a few biotech and chemistry PhDs are moving back too. Additionally, lots of Indian pharmas are starting to invest in research instead of doing just development. However, academic research facilities are still lagging behind.

    Privatization is perhaps the way to go.


    May 11, 2006 at 8:27 am

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