Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) faculty across the country went on hunger strike on Thursday demanding higher pay and better work conditions. However, the Government reacted saying that if the IITs claim to be global quality institutions then they should up with a grand vision to produce Nobel laureates and prove they really are centres of excellence.
CNN-IBN's Face The Nation debated: IIT professors on strike: Should they get globally competitive salaries?
On the panel of experts to try and answer the question were former member of the Knowledge Commission, Dr PM Bhargave; Professor IIT Delhi, M Balakrishnan; former director of IIT Chennai, Professor P V Indiresan and IIT alumnus and best-selling author, Chetan Bhagat.
At the beginning of the debate, 96 per cent agreed that IIT professors should get globally competitive salaries, while 4 per cent disagreed.
Govt to IIT: Prove Your Mettle
Bhagat commented on the Government's stand that IITs should produce some Nobel laureates to prove their excellence. He wanted to know whether a low salary was a way to punish the professors.
"A professor doesn't work alone. There is too much interference. The Government wants to set the salaries and wants to give the IITs mandates. This is not way to run globally competitive institutions," he said.
He also strongly advocated that the Education Minister seriously needed to do something for people who train future CEOs of the country. "All they are asking for is a salary in accordance with UGC norms," he said.
Human Resource Development Minister, Kapil Sibal, had retorted on Thursday: Why should IIT professors not be taken on contract? He had also said he was not in favour of abolishing the 40 per cent cap from one grade of professor to another senior grade of professor.
Taking Sibal's stand into consideration, Balakrishnan said he wanted to clarify a few things.
"IIT has had lecturers on contract for the last two decades, since it was introduced by the First Pay Commission. The lecturers-on-contract concept had been a complete failure. We are not saying that there cannot be people on contract, but please, pay them on the terms on which they were hired," he said.
Bhargave disagreed with Balakishnan saying if the IIT professors were receiving salaries, which were equivalent to the salaries of the teaching staff of other premiere education institutions of India, then they have no case.
"There is no case in asking for more than others who are comparable in qualifications and capabilities in contribution to the country," he said.
IIT Not MIT
Bhargave put forth a point that IIT professors could not compare themselves with the United States' Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as, India was still a developing economy. "India isn't the US and 77 per cent of India's population still lives on Rs 20 per day," he said.
He also said that the research record shows that MIT has produced several Nobel laureates in comparison with IIT.
Balakrishnan retorted by saying the IIT professors were not asking for American pay scales. He clarified that the agitation was not about the salaries but about the autonomy.
"At no point did the Government put a cap on the number of people we can recruit at different levels. This is the first time the Government is directing terms to us," he said.
Bhagat agreed with Balakrishnan saying IIT professors weren't asking to be paid as much as the MIT teaching staff. "All the IIT professors are saying is that they can't hire a PhD for Rs 30,000 a month. This is a market reality," he said.
IIT to Govt: Stop Interfering
The contention is that unless the Government invests more in the IITs, it can't expect the same level of excellence, which international institutions produce.
Bhargave said he did not think IITs are different from other premier education institutes of India where the professors can get jobs which pay 10 times more than what they get at present, but they don't as they are committed to their country.
"What makes me sad is that despite the kind of profession in which the professors of IITs and IIMs are engaged, they are only bothered about the money aspect," he said.
Indiresan joined the debate at this point saying the issue wasn't money but autonomy.
"The Government directed the IITs on student's admissions but didn't provide the necessary facilities. The Government says you admit this many students, but don't provide teachers or facilities," he said.
Bhargave completely agreed saying if the Government wanted more students to be admitted to the IITs, it should provide the necessary facilities as well. "I'm all in favour to giving the IITs the best possible facilities and environment to work in," he said.
Balakrishnan added, "The Government's policies for the IITs in the last three-four years have restricted the IITs from being globally competitive."
Indiresan agreed saying, "One reason why IITs haven't produced Nobel laureates is that the institutions don't have adequate facilities. Another reason is we have a very low number of students who want to pursue a PhD as they feel there is no future in it."
Bhagat also said that motivation was not the reason why Nobel laureates hadn't been produced. "Path-breaking research which Nobel laureates do require a lot of financial support and the kind of research which needs to be done to produce a Nobel laureate is not available in IIT," he said.
Balakrishnan interrupted here saying it was not the pay but the flexible structure, which the IITs have enjoyed for four decades. "Till now there has been no cap on any level, everybody moves up on their own merit and performance. Young talent will not be able to rise due to the 40 per cent cap. That is really going to hamper growth."
"There are things which are fundamentally wrong with the Indian education system and IITs and IIMs are part of that flawed system," Bhargave said.
Indiresan concluded the debate by saying, "I think an IAS officer can really not determine how many professors IITs and IIMs should have and what their pay scale should be,"
Final SMS/Web poll: IIT professors on strike: should IIT professors get globally competitive salaries?
Yes: 75 per cent
No: 25 per cent