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India gives teachers a big raise

Good news for the country's "dysfunctional" education system? Think again.

Academics say it will be a challenge to staff these new institutions given the current level of faculty shortages in existing institutions. “The house of higher education is not in good shape, at the moment,” a recent report by the University Grants Commission, the country’s university regulator, says.

The Commission is putting it mildly. The faculty shortage has increased professors' teaching loads, making it difficult for them to keep up with their research. A decline in research has, in turn, made academic careers, even at the top universities, increasingly unappealing. As a result, many universities are settling for poorly trained professors. A recent government report found that 57 percent of teachers in India's colleges lack either an M.Phil., the bridge degree in India to a doctorate, or a Ph.D.

Despite the recent economic downturn and the faculty hike, private sector salaries are still higher than professors' salaries and research opportunities at multinational corporations that have set up research labs here are luring away more and more of the country’s top graduates. Even today, a top professor at the premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) cannot earn more than a maximum salary — not including perks – of $15,000 a year, while an engineering graduate can make at least twice as much as that in just a few years of joining a company in the private sector. Apart from the salary hike, the only moves the government has made so far to ease the shortage has been to raise the retirement age for faculty members and allow some of the elite institutes to recruit foreign professors. But given that many Indians interested in academic careers tend to leave the country for better-paying jobs, it is unclear that this latter plan will be much help.

The University Grants Commission, India's higher-education regulator, has recently proposed increasing fellowship grants for doctoral students to deal with the faculty shortage. The IITs have allowed professors to keep a slightly higher percentage of the fees they charge as corporate consultants. In addition, various corporations and alumni have stepped in to create special chairs at the IITs to foster research and make academia a more exciting option for its graduates.

But the IITs are unusual in this regard: Federal and state universities face cuts in their grants if they raise funds on their own. “If I raise money from industry and alumni, say, 100,000 rupees," said Deepak Pental, vice chancellor of the University of Delhi, the government "will cut some amount from my university's grant-in-aid." This issue, he said, points back to the larger bureaucratic problems holding back India's universities: "We are not so destitute of money. A lot of times it is our own inertia."