Indian Computer Science (CS) & Information Technology (IT) Academic Reform Activism Consolidated Blog Document

CS & IT Academia: Profs. May Not Like Idea of Software Contribution Record

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CS & IT Academia: Profs. May Not Like Idea of Software Contribution Record

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This post captures a slightly edited email exchange with a friend on the "CS & IT Academia: Inform Students About Software Contribution Record of Faculty" post.

Friend wrote: Its a clever idea and tries to work around the problem but it seems like a somewhat superficial solution to a deeply ingrained problem.

Eklavya Sai responded: I entirely agree that it is not a proper/complete solution to a deeply ingrained problem.

Friend wrote: I don't think profs will go with the suggestion since they think programming expertise isn't important in the first place and therefore don't want to be judged by this irrelevant (to them) criterion.

Eklavya Sai responded: Vital point. I read somewhere, in a recent newspaper issue I think, about HRD Minister Shri Kapil Sibal talking about independence of academia from government (interference) during some IIMs related discussions.

So profs will reject it as it does not suit them. Some may realize the importance of programming/software development but will not say so in public when such a measure is suggested.

But I am given to understand that students & parents at counseling (engg. college admission) time do question college/university representatives about the placement record. If placement record is poor then they tend to shy away from that college/university. So college/university managements give value to placement and as they pay the salaries of the academics, the academics have no choice but to listen to them.

If AICTE/UGC feel that this "software contribution record" is worth trying out and agree (perhaps under people pressure), then profs. may have no choice but to go with it.
Friend wrote: Students and parents have no idea what makes an engineer or a prof a good one any more than they know what makes a painter good.

Eklavya Sai responded: I am given to understand that many students & parents do put a lot of questions at counseling time. I think the high college education costs makes it somewhat like an investment and so I think they do try, with their limited knowledge, to assess where best to invest their time & money. If "software contribution record" is available then they may use that like they use placement record, as a parameter to decide their choice.

Friend wrote: Besides ideas that require the network effect to be useful are hard to get off the ground, unlike ideas that are useful to their practitioners even if others don't go with them.

So, sorry, but I'm not bullish on this one.

Eklavya Sai responded: I can understand. To be honest, I know that we are up against a solid wall.

Friend wrote: We can still give it a shot, though.

Eklavya Sai responded: That's exactly what I feel. I mean, it is like negotiating a tough deal. If MHRD and NASSCOM agree that something needs to be done, then AICTE/UGC admin. profs. may have to accept something. This may be the easiest thing to push through. 

Even if it does get pushed through, whether it will really be adopted in the proper spirit ... and so succeed is another thing altogether. For that we have to experiment and wait & see.

I guess all we can do is raise the problem, suggest some easily implementable solutions and use 'amicable & peaceful' means to make them (MHRD/AICTE/UGC) at least acknowledge these issues & suggested solutions. After that it is completely out of our hands.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Prof. Stroustrup: Software development is a potentially noble profession like medicine or classical engg. disciplines but long way to go

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Given below is the link of a very interesting interview of one of the living legends of the software development field, Prof. Bjarne Stroustrup, creator of C++,, I found this statement of Stroustrup (in the interview) to be quite insightful as well as visionary, "I see software development as a potentially noble profession, like medicine or some of the classical engineering disciplines, but we still have a long way to go to get there."

The article is dated Dec. 2013, ‘We need better balance between theory and practice’, Bjarne Stroustrup, Father of C++.

I think it will be really great if software development practitioners view their profession with the maturity and responsibility that medical practitioners & engineering professionals view their professions. Of course, there are some bad apples among medical practitioners & engg. professionals too, especially in economically developing countries including India, but overall they are a far more accountable & responsible set of people, with that accountability being mandated by law in many cases.

Friday, June 7, 2013

US CS PhD student's Comparative View of US and Indian Academia

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Last updated on June 8th 2013

I had an interesting mail exchange about US and Indian academia with a correspondent who is doing his PhD in Computer Science at a US university and also acts as a TA for programming courses there. I thought readers may be interested in the exchange and so have given an edited version of the exchange below. The PhD student's views are based on his limited exposure and so may be "off target" at times. However, I think it is a fresh view of a relative newcomer to US CS academia and so is a valuable one. People who are in a system for many years tend to get used to the system and accept it without questioning it much.

The correspondent (referred later as Corr) wrote: There is however one thing I would like to mention. You wrote in your email, "Such rewards and punishments will ensure that teachers will develop the right attitude towards their primary duty of teaching else they will be either left behind in their career or even asked to pursue another career option." [Ravi: Note this refers to a previous mail exchange between me and the correspondent on student feedback being used as a measure for teaching quality. Most of that exchange is captured as part of the post, Discussion on Concrete Suggestions for Measuring Teaching Quality ...]

I would like to bring to your notice that here in the US, teaching is not the primary duty for the instructor employed at an University. There are 3 responsibilities for a professor and they have roughly equal weight. 1) Teaching, 2) Research and 3) Service.

Ravi responded: In previous interactions I had with another person who is also doing a PhD in USA, I was informed that in the US, broadly there are higher-ranked research universities and lower-ranked teaching universities. Most or all of the lower-ranked universities want to become higher-ranked research universities.

A related extract & link from a blog post, Affordable Subject-Wise Certification from Govt. Recognized Academia:

US President Obama meets US university presidents to address/discuss their challenges:

The article talks of the problems of rising costs in an age of austerity, more courses & more research students than there is money for and interestingly, Ivy league envy. "Ivy League envy leads to an obsession with research.", it states. This results in professors who are focused on research and don't do their job of teaching students well enough, and even causes teaching dysfunction at lower-level universities!

I think the last problem is the case with lots of Indian universities too.

--- end blog post extract ---

I think what you have written above - roughly equal weight to teaching, research and service - may apply only to US research universities and not to US teaching (intensive) universities.

Corr: Teaching: Undertaking to teach a course at the University. Usually a professor does not teach more than one course a semester and may sometimes teach alternate semesters too.

Ravi: Interesting. I was given the impression it is similar in IITs.

Corr: There are, however, lecturers who teach 2-3 courses a semester, but they do not have the burden of Research or Service.

Ravi: Oh! So then this becomes a teaching track option. I was told by a senior Indian academic that IITs used to give that option to its faculty - teaching track with no research, or research track with low teaching load. And for a teaching track academic even in a research university, teaching will be the primary duty!

Corr: At the graduate level the classes may have 10-70 students and the undergraduate level may have 100-800 students.

Ravi: 800! Mannn! I thought it would go upto maybe 150 or so. Are you sure about 800? Have you seen any such UG class with around 800 students?

Corr: The instructor has a proportional number of TAs to help with grading and course administration.

Ravi: Interesting point - the proportional number of TAs makes sense.

[Later exchange. Corr: Yes, classroom sizes do get that large. I have myself been a TA for a class size of 250. The number 800, I came across from a freshman at UC Berkeley.

Ravi: I see - very interesting info. As I thought more about it, so long as the classroom facilities are good with all students being able to see the presentations part and hear the lecturer clearly, I now feel it may be something that works out decently. For the hands-on lab. part, as you wrote earlier, there would be proportional number of TAs for the large number of students.

If the classroom size is reduced to some fixed lower number, then interested students do not get a chance to learn the course! I had read that in Stanford the majority of the students who take the Introduction to Programming course are non CS majors! I think programming has become an important requirement for a wide spectrum of fields apart from Computer Science/Information Technology. So, I can now imagine 800 students for a programming course in a large US university. Hmm. My imagination did need some stretching to handle that though :).]

Corr: Research: The professor is expected to publish his research work in Conferences and Journals applicable to his/her domain and bring visibility to the University. The adage "Publish or Perish" still holds in many Universities.

Ravi: I was told by a senior US academic that it applies particularly to those on tenure-track. Without a good publication record tenure-ship will not be granted.

Corr: Depending on the nature of the work, some Universities would like their departments to encourage industry initiatives/collaborations and enhance the University visibility through media interaction. In such places the motto changes to, "Demo or Doom".

Ravi: That's a new one for me :). Interesting!

Corr: The most important aspect of research is to write grants where the professors seek funding from a multitude of agencies to support themselves and their students in doing research.

Ravi: Well, that seems to be a slight exaggeration :). Of course, the research grant money is vital but research excellence in terms of research approach, results and publications with visibility/impact would be critical, wouldn't it?

Corr: Service: As an active member in the publishing community, the professor must be available during the year to review publications that have been submitted to conferences and journals in his/her domain.

Ravi: I think the prof. must be choosing a few publications/conferences for this service and turning down others.

Corr: He/she must also be ready to chair a session in a conference, organize a workshop etc. as part of a bigger conference. (All the major conferences are administrated by professors across the world).

Ravi: Once again they must be choosing a few.

Corr: They must also assist students by being in their committees and guide their thesis(Masters/PhD). A gamut of activities are included in service with no remuneration being involved.

Ravi: Well, I think there would be some work load distribution norms with time periods allotted to different types of work. PhD students being guided clearly would be part of their work load as seen by academic administration - that's how it is here. For the others a certain level of activity may be expected and appropriate ("free") time given.

In India, the impression I get is that as one becomes a senior Prof. the teaching load can go down even to zero, and the Prof. then is given enough time to play all these roles, on his/her full Professor salary. So, to me, it is not as if the Professors do the 'Service' activities on weekends and spare time after work. They must be doing the bulk of it within their regular worktime.

Corr: It is therefore unfair to judge a professor only based on his/her teaching and student feedback. [Ravi: Note this refers to previous mail exchange(s) between me and the correspondent on student feedback being used as a measure for teaching quality. Most of that exchange is captured as part of the post, Discussion on Concrete Suggestions for Measuring Teaching Quality ...]

Ravi: I certainly was not suggesting that. I was limiting myself to measuring (judging) teaching quality of the teacher role played by the academic. I went even further by limiting myself only to teaching of lab. courses./practice of software development. Other roles that the academic plays have to be measured/judged differently and I am not touching upon that at all.

Corr: There is also another reason behind this aura of untouchability that professors have. It is my understanding that once a professor is tenured, in most cases, there is nothing the department/University can do to dislodge them (unless in very exceptional cases).

Ravi: I think you are right. I had read up about it some time back and it seems the reason (or one of the main reasons) is to provide the professor the freedom to explore new lines of thought/knowledge against popular opposition.

Corr: Coming to India: Most of this is directly applicable to the big players like IISc and to some extent the IITs in India. But, a majority of the Engineering institutions have professors only doing teaching for most of the year. There is definitely Research to take into account, but the major difference between research in India and the US is this IMHO: students in India are funded by UGC and professors do not have that burden of funding students. (This is a big big bonus for professors).

Ravi: Interesting! I did not realize/know that US does not fund research students via a UGC equivalent setup. In India, I am given to understand that UGC/CSIR pays research fellowship money (for max. 5 years) only for those students who clear the UGC/CSIR JRF NET exam (Junior Research Fellowship, National Entrance Test). I think there must be significant number of research scholars in UGC/AICTE educational institutions who do not clear JRF NET exam. They may have to be supported with some (usually lesser) stipend by the university itself or through some project grant funds.

Corr: Professors still have to write grants to get funding for research (equipment/resources), but that is not a big problem. They would not lose their job if none of their grants got funded.

Ravi: That seems to be correct.

Corr: In fact, I have heard from reliable sources that the UGC funding for research grants in India is never completely used up. (This could be because of lack of worthy proposals or mere bureaucracy - and that is just speculation). This has its pros and cons. As a con, IMHO, this could be one of the reasons for the lackadaisical attitude towards research in India. This is also one of the reasons for the reverse brain drain in the academic community. Its definitely an easy life in India for the professors.

Ravi: I see - reverse brain drain is interesting. But perhaps it has been triggered by US (and world) economic crisis of 2007-08, which, I believe, is still not fully resolved, resulting in major cuts to government funding of US academic stuff (research, teaching ..).

Corr: In the US, the professors fund their PhD students doing research under them. There is a lot of pressure to write grants and get funding.

Ravi: Yes, I had read a rather harrowing article on it, recently. In case you want to have a quick look, here's a blog post which has a Forbes article link about current US researcher issues and my comments on it, Is Academic Research Grant Money Corrupting Academic Teaching Ideals?

Corr: Also, the student teacher ratio is highly unfair to the teachers in India. To my knowledge, there is no concept of TAs in most Universities across India and the professors have to teach more than one course in a semester. It is still a huge burden.

Ravi: I think in India, for lab. courses (in UGC/AICTE institutions) which have large number of students, there must be some support for the main teacher. But I don't know the exact situation.

Corr: Then, there is the service aspect, but most of the major international conferences are headed by US/European/Australian faculty. There is representation from India mainly from the IISc and the IITs. Service is not a major factor for the Indian professor, IMHO.

Ravi: Nowadays there is a lot of pressure to publish for UGC/AICTE academics too. And there are lots of Indian conferences and even journals. So, besides IITs and IISc, there certainly is significant research publication work that UGC/AICTE Indian academics are doing.

Corr: And then there is bureaucracy, and I do not have time for that.

Ravi: :)

Corr: In short, research in India is a completely different animal as compared to research in the US. It would not be fair to draw exacting parallels between the two.

Ravi: I entirely agree. One factor you don't seem to have brought out is the massive endowment that top research universities in USA have. MIT and Harvard have some super-duper endowment - that gives them the financial muscle to recruit top notch academics and have light teaching load for them. In India, I think equivalent financial muscle is available only to few institutions like IITs and IISc.

Dug up some data: According to a USA News report for fiscal 2011 Harvard had an endowment of US $ 32 billion, Yale 19 billion, Princeton 17 billion, Stanford 16 billion and MIT 9 billion. In rupee terms (1 US $ = Rs. 57) Harvard's endowment is Rs. 1,82,472 crores i.e. One Lakh Eighty Two Thousand Four Hundred and Seventy Two Crores! [Calc. (US $) 32,012,729,000 x 57 = (Rs.) 1,824,725,553,000 ]. MIT's endowment is Rs. 55,361 crores [Calc. (US $) 9,712,628,000 x 57 = (Rs.) 553,619,796,000 ].

I tried getting endowment fund figures for IITs in India but it is not easily available. Here is some info.,, which states, "The top 10 US universities in the US have endowments in excess of $ 100 billion. In comparison IIT Bombay’s alumni donations raised Rs 15 crores last year." [Rs. 15 crores = Rs. 150 million which at Rs. 57 for 1 US $ converts to US $ 2.6 million. Calc. 150,000,000 / 57 = 2,631,579 (rounded).] How much the government is contributing to IIT Bombay was not easily available. I wouldn't be surprised if the govt. contribution figure is pretty big by Indian standards - hundreds of crores (rupees) or more.

My view based on information gathered over the past year or two is that, in both the US and India, a research university has to have powerful financial backing. If an educational institution does not have much financial muscle it can survive only as a mainly teaching university/college dependent on tuition fees from students as a major source of income with which to meet its expenses. Some small research (publication) work could be there with financial grant support from appropriate government departments/organizations (in India it would be UGC, DST etc.). [Small free education institutions supported by a small corpus fund are a special case. IMHO, they too can mainly function as a teaching university/college with some small amount of research (publication) work. If they want to be very ambitious on research side and compete with top research universities (IITs/IISc. for Indian context), they first need to ensure huge endowment/corpus funds.]

Corr: But I do admire your efforts in reaching out to the authorities to usher in some drastic changes that would improve teaching in India. I believe it does need a revamp.

Ravi: Thanks for the kind words. I am trying to do my bit with the focus being improving teaching of the practice of software development in UGC/AICTE regulated Indian CS/IT academia. That's an area where I believe I now have enough knowledge to comment rather authoritatively. I steer clear of other areas - even CS/IT theory course teaching or elite IIT teaching.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

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