Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A bad idea

Infosys co-founder Narayan Murthy floated an idea recently, copied basically from China and Turkey, that India should spend $25 bn over the next five years to pay for PhD scholars to be trained abroad, and force them to return and build a research environment here. This idea is not new, but it is certainly bad, and not merely because it costs a lot. The fact is, if it were good, it would be worth spending money on. But it's not, and it will not meet its stated goals.

India has a huge diaspora in the West, who are largely engineers and doctors. A large number of those, hundreds if not thousands, have a PhD or are going to get one very soon. Funding and faculty positions in the West are difficult to get - certainly much, much harder than in India. Why don't they just come back to India, where funding so much easier to get, and where faculty jobs are aplenty, especially for those with foreign degrees? It's because these two benefits are not really there - jobs depends on caste and connections, and funding depends on working through a quagmire of bureaucracy within the university itself (and much more if you deal with the government, although that can actually be a much better experience).

It's not simply about bureaucracy though - the general Indian 'crab' mindset also ticks a lot of young people off. Institutions are so hierarchical that senior faculty can make life impossible for the younger ones who are ambitious and don't want to suck up to them, and there is virtually no form of redress. This is not a question of government interference - the Central government, at least, takes a hands-off approach to its universities in any case - but of individual autonomy, a concept which seems to be alien to Indian policy altogether. In this situation, why would our people come back, particularly when the more 'liberal' West is ready to welcome them with open arms?

Fortunately, diagnosing the problem is half the war won. Some institutions such as IISc and IITM have even found solutions to these. The need is to scale these to the entire country, an exercise that will require a small group of good administrators, political will, and some money (certainly much less than $25 b). It is doable, and must be done. Simply throwing money at the problem and hoping that the West will reform our system won't do - the returns will, in any case, be peanuts compared to the investment. We must strengthen ourselves to be strong, not stand on the shoulders of others.  

No comments: