Insights into Editorial: Competing for the best
India is a rapidly changing country in which inclusive, high-quality education is of utmost importance for its future prosperity.
The country is currently in a youth bulge phase. It has the largest youth population in the world—a veritable army of 600 million young people under the age of 25.
Fully 28 percent of the population is less than 14 years of age, and with more than 30 babies being born every minute, population growth rates are expected to remain at around 1 percent for years.
India is expected to overtake China as the largest country on earth by 2022 and grow to about 1.5 billion people by 2030 (up from 1.34 billion in 2017).
This demographic change could be a powerful engine of economic growth and development: If India manages to modernize and expand its education system, raise educational attainment levels, and provide skills to its youth, it could gain a significant competitive advantage over swiftly aging countries like China.
India’s Higher Education Status:
India’s higher education system, does not have the capacity to achieve enrolment ratios anywhere close to those of other middle-income economies.
The country’s tertiary gross enrolment rate is growing fast, but remains more than 20 percentage points below that of China or Brazil, despite the creation of large numbers of higher education institutions (HEIs) in recent years.
Educational attainment in present-day India is also not directly correlated to employment prospects—a fact that raises doubts about the quality and relevance of Indian education.
Such bottlenecks have caused a large-scale outflow of labour migrants and international students from India.
The number of Indian students enrolled in degree programs abroad has grown almost fivefold since 1998, while hundreds of thousands of labour migrants leave the country each year.
Many of these migrants are low-skilled workers, but there is also a pronounced brain drain of skilled professionals of 950,000 Indian scientists and engineers lived in the U.S. alone in 2013 (a steep increase of 85 percent since 2003).
Indian Talent Pool of IIT’s:
The Indian Institutes of Technology are synonymous with excellence and the national academic frontier.
But, the IITs’ ability to live up to these expectations in terms of research output and the quality of education is contingent on its faculty. However, of late, the shortage of faculty members in the IITs has been under the spotlight.
It was reported recently that there are just 40 foreign teachers at all of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) that is just 1% of the total faculty of 5,400 — despite the government’s goal to attract 20% international faculty at higher education institutions such as the IITs.
Scales of salary:
Indian academic salaries are not globally competitive, even taking into account variations in living costs.
In the U.S., senior academics at research universities typically earn around Rs.8,970,000 and up annually, and those at top universities can earn Rs.13,800,000 or more.
The average salary for a full-time academic is Rs.5,037,000, with those in high demand fields in the sciences, business and others earning significantly more.
China, which is also actively luring top international faculty to its research universities, is offering salaries of Rs.6,900,000 or more along with additional research funding.
International faculty cannot be offered long-term appointments in Indian public institutions. A five-year contract is all that is available. Thus, there is little job security.
Strategies adopted by Private Universities:
On the other hand, a few ‘elite’ private universities such as O.P. Jindal, Azim Premji, Ashoka, Shiv Nadar, Ahmedabad, Krea, and the management institute Indian School of Business have adopted different strategies.
For instance, ranging from attracting foreign nationals, to Indians who studied at prestigious foreign universities to their institutions by offering higher salaries and other benefits than are available to local hires.
The faculty diversity of O.P. Jindal Global University, for example, stands out among these with 71 full-time foreign faculty from 32 countries.
The key motivation for hiring foreign faculty at all these institutions is to improve international competitiveness and secure positions in global rankings, which in turn would also attract more motivated students.
These new private institutions with, by Indian standards, considerable resources have proved that it is possible to attract foreign faculty, at least those with an Indian ethnic background.
Recent Government Initiatives:
To counter this “brain drain” and to quickly improve top Indian institutions, the government introduced flagship programmes such as the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN), Visiting Advanced Joint Research Faculty Scheme (VAJRA), and Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC).
It is virtually impossible for India to attract large numbers of international professors of high standing and ability without dramatic changes in many aspects of the existing governance structure in higher education. Dramatically enhanced funding would also be required.
The best Indian universities would require a kind of “cultural revolution” to join the ranks of global world-class universities and to be able to lure top faculty.
The structural and practical realities of Indian universities make them generally unattractive to academic talent from abroad.
The challenges faced by public institutions, even those of as high quality as the IITs and the best universities, seem so great that it cannot be dealt with successfully, at least in the context of the current Indian higher education environment and bureaucratic and legal framework.
There need to be an immediate move to attract more candidates, such as the faculty recruitment drive in the US, and monetary incentives like the Young Faculty Incentive Fellowship Scheme.
However, hiring is not the only bottleneck involved, parallel development in infrastructure is necessary to accommodate the research needs of incoming faculty.