Professor M S Ananth, Director, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, does not expect tangible deliverables from the Global IIT Alumni Conference, but acknowledges that such repetitive interactions can ultimately pay dividends in realising at least part of the objectives.
In an interview with rediff.com, Ananth, who was in the United States recently to deliver the keynote speech at the US Chemical Research Council conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then came down to Washington to meet with IIT-Madras [ Images ] alumni, said, "I don't expect any direct take-off from any of these conferences."
"You are too naive if you expect anything like that. But the idea is, we do not communicate very well except by repetition and this is true of all groups. So we need several meetings before we can communicate exactly what we want to do and how it synergises with what they want to do," he said.
Ananth, who will return to Washington along with other directors of the various IITs for the conference, predicted, "Till that synergy comes it won't happen; it can happen only by these frequent meetings."
However, notwithstanding his reality check, Ananth acknowledged, "Of course, the idea that alumni are interested in their alma mater is a very important concept. It is a new concept for India [ Images ]. In India it's just not there. So what we need to do is leverage this warm feeling and out of the various discussions, we will get ideas."
"Thus, the purpose is to find ideas which can actually achieve some answers to some of the deficiencies we've seen in the system, without culturally giving up our backgrounds," he said.
Elaborating, he explained, "The setting is different -- what you can do professionally in the US is not the same thing you can do in India -- it's not even desirable. So the idea is to discuss it. In fact, I have given a vision paper to the pan-IIT alumni associations in which I have raised these doubts -- how does one build in the Indianness."
Ananth argued, "My contention is that as a civilisation and in the process of accepting the logical form of the West we have given up the intuitive form, and we should retain both. Only then will we have a good chance of synergizing."
But beyond the philosophical, he lauded the pan-IIT alumni concept saying it was good because "it makes sense to combine the IITs together because in terms of numbers we are very small."
"If you look at education in India, undergraduate education now has 450,000 students entering, the numbers are increasing, and out of the 450,000, IITs handle 4,500 -- just one per cent. So in a sense we need more IITs."
But Ananth said the "main alarm in India" among IITs "is post-graduate education," and perhaps echoing the concerns of his fellow directors of other six IITs, bemoaned, "We have 20,000 seats of which only 10,000 are taken, and given that only 20 per cent of post-graduates will come into teaching, we have effectively 2,000 teachers available."
When the argument was made that in a free-market economy, people are motivated by ultimately how much they are able to take back in terms of compensation and other remuneration and if there was a serious shortage of faculty why not come up with a compensation scheme that will be an incentive for people to come and teach and make more money, he said it is easier said than done.
Ananth asserted, "It is not possible in the current context. As far as government institutions are concerned, the maximum salary you can draw is that of a Cabinet Secretary. Then there is a hierarchy. Next to the Cabinet Secretary, you have the regular Secretary who draws Rs 26,000 as basic salary per month."
"So therefore, the IIT Director shall not get more than that -- and if the IIT Director gets that, you can imagine what the faculty gets," he said.
He acknowledged that the faculty was free to consult and earn extra income, and that "there is no cap on that at all. But on the other hand, consulting is a very demanding thing. Nobody is going to give you money unless you deliver, and delivering requires time."
"So basically, we are looking at maximum of one day in a week that a faculty member can spend in order to earn money, and it takes time for you to build up that kind of a reputation," he added.
Ananth said the question is, "how do you get a larger faculty," and noted, "I have hired 130 faculty members in the last three years, of who 36 have BTechs from various IITs who've done PhD abroad and come back.
But I have lost 90 by retirement and so I am running very fast to stay where I am.
"I am at 350 faculty-member strength and it's not as if I don't get applicants. I had 600 applicants for something like 30 vacancies in one department which is typical. But 30 is all I could call for the interview. We had to screen the rest out. These were PhDs from abroad but they had no publication record and they just didn't measure up.
"So you have to be careful and, secondly, there is a difference between the marketplace and educational institutions -- the values are different. You cannot import one into the other and while it's important that the outside be competitive, the academic environment by its very nature, it has to be cultivated."
Ananth said he does have adjunct faculty and that IITs have several provisions whereby people can be hired without PhDs in management -- "it is one of the exceptions and there are similar provisions for architecture and planning where we can also take people without PhDs."
"And I have adjunct faculty who don't even need a master's degree. So adjunct faculty is perfectly possible and we have that. But I am talking about core faculty."
Ananth said, "Every Indian has to make a decision whether to go into an industrial or academic career and the next question is, do you want it in India or the US. I believe the choice is not hard to make."