Friday, June 12, 2015

Wanted: Faculty that fits the bill at IITs

With the undergraduate class of 2019 set to enter India's premier technology institutes in a month's time, here is a shocker. Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are facing a faculty shortage of 30-40%. There is no dearth of people interested in the job, but often these candidates don't match the requirements of the top tech schools.

At IIT-Kharagpur, the shortage based on the ideal ratio of one faculty member for every 10 students is more than 40%. It needs 435 more faculty members for the existing student base of over 10,000. IIT-Bombay, which currently has 687 faculty members including part-timers, has a shortage of 213. Other IITs fare no better.

The problem lies in the availability of quality faculty members, said Kushal Sen, dean faculty at IIT-Delhi. The IIT is usually flooded with hundreds of applications at any given time. “Only three to five of the hundreds of applications that we receive are worth selecting,“ said Sen. IIT-Delhi hires around 30 faculty members every year. It tries to attract talent by doling out research grants of Rs. 100,000 for peripherals and Rs. 1 million for equipment. It currently has 523 faculty members for 7,800 students.

Fearing it will lose competent faculty to competition, IIT-Kanpur recently closed a hiring in less than two weeks compared with the usual three to six weeks. “It was a question of losing out this professor to competition had we prolonged, hence we had to quickly close this with an offer letter,“ explained Manindra Agarwal, IIT-Kanpur's dean for faculty affairs. Other IITs are also working round the clock in getting good faculty talent as well as promptly closing the hiring.

Most of the IITs are looking overseas to meet the demand for faculty. Of the new faculty hired in the past five years, around half are foreigners at IIT-Bombay. IITs in Delhi, Guwahati, Gandhinagar and Kanpur are all trying to grab the best from overseas. IIT-Kanpur has an office in New York while at other IITs, representatives are sent overseas to scout for faculty.

According to Vineet Nayar, founder of Sampark Foundation and former CEO at HCL Technologies, inadequate research opportunities are keeping many competent people away from joining IITs as faculty members. “Unfortunately as a nation we have lost our charm for teaching as a profession Research is great but only in patches at the IITs in India. Corporate interest and funding both are low in research. Demand for these researchers in the corporate world is low and thus for a high potential faculty, it is unattractive to work in such an environment,“ Nayar said.

For newer IITs, attrition is a major problem. Until recently, faculty members were leaving every two to three months at IIT-Guwahati, said Pina keswar Mahanta, head of mechanical engineering. Most of the leading IITs are busy working around making the compensation packages more attractive. In the form of chair professorship or research grants, IITs are trying their best to lure teaching talent with better packages. For instance, starting this year, IIT-Madras is initiating 'Institute Chair Professorship' wherein the chosen faculty will get additional compensation Rs. 25,000 per month apart from space and funding for research.

Using donations largely from the alumni community, IIT-Kanpur also offers a top-up salary of Rs. 25,000 or even more to monthly compensation. Sensing that research is a big draw for competent faculty , IIT-Madras is adding two research centres every year. "We have initiated a ramp-up research centre which would help us to attract and retain faculty," said R David Koilpillai, Dean (Planning).

Subramanian Ramadorai, Chairman of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and National Skill Development Agency as well as former Vice Chairman at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), said: "The current faculty at the IITs is world-class but surely they face a severe shortage. They (IITs) have to be bold enough to address this challenge by sprucing up research activities."

IIT-Kanpur has total faculty of 407 for 6,477 students, a ratio of 1:16. It is aiming to reach 450 faculty members next year, but that will still fall short of the ideal ratio of 1:10. At IIT-Kharagpur, the existing faculty strength is a little over 625, while the sanctioned strength is 1,060.

"Retaining good faculty is proving a bigger hurdle than hiring faculty as we are facing a huge problem due to lack of space (office, laboratory, hostel, etc.) and infrastructure," IIT-Kanpur Director Indranil Manna said. Last year, IIT-Bombay conducted two cycles of interviews for faculty. “We will continue to do so,“ said director Devang Khakhar.

Source: The Economic Times, June 12, 2015

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