Rewarding Research At Universities CEO Ajit Balakrishnan, in this edit page article in the Business Standard, talks about his interest in a certain paper by a Professor at IIT Bombay, and his attempts to commercialize it.

Now, the interesting part is, though Professor Soumen Chakravarty gladly agreed to share his research, and be a consultant to Rediff, getting IITB to partner with Rediff almost seemed impossible. The problem, according to Ajit, was ?solved? when two of Prof Soumen’s students joined Rediff upon graduation. “… seems to be the way R&D is done today”, he concludes, seemingly happy with the arrangement.

This arrangement is fine from the point of view of Ajit, but what about the Professor, who has hardly been compensated for his research which has been commercialized? What incentive does he have to continue to churn out good and relevant research? Apart from recognition by the industry, and a mention in the papers, what more does he get compared to the professor down the corridor who has been vegetating ever since he was made a permanent faculty?

Pay scales at even our top universities are abysmal (they are linked to UGC scales) and the opportunity cost of being an academic is high, so it is almost essential for the professor to supplement his income through consultancy. Getting consultancy projects should not be a problem for a good professor. However, if the article is believed, the paperwork seems to be a big deal. To quote the article

Getting to engage IIT Bombay in a commercial relationship was to be a near-impossible task. The process for such an engagement is unchartered territory for Indian academic institutions.

Given this kind of a research atmosphere in our universities, where rewarding good work seems extremely tough, what incentive do bright young PhDs have in order to join one of the top universities in India? And if this were to be the case with the IITs, imagine how things could be at other universities!

Several surveys have pointed out the shortcoming of Indian universities when it comes to research. And it is clear that better faculty would definitely help. However, in order to attract them, it is imperative for us to provide them attractive compensation in whatever way possible, both monetarily and otherwise. And the least that could be done in this direction would be to ease restrictions regarding collaboration with the industry.

Cross posted at the Indian Economy Blog. As usual, normal reply to comments will happen here. The same cannot be guaranteed at the IEB.

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