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

Nature News, April 2011, Articles on PhD System Challenges

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Nature News, April 2011, Articles on PhD System Challenges

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Last updated on May 13th, 2013

Nature seems to have focused on PhD system challenges in April 2011 as it has quite a few articles on this topic in Nature News then.

[Please note that the CC-BY, Creative Commons Attribution license does not apply to this post.]

"Reform the PhD system or close it down" by Mark C. Taylor, Head of department of Religion at Columbia university, writes that the PhD system in USA and many other countries is broken! He writes, "One reason that many doctoral programmes do not adequately serve students is that they are overly specialized, with curricula fragmented and increasingly irrelevant to the world beyond academia." He argues for reform of PhD in "almost every field".

"Education: Rethinking PhDs" by Alison McCook, a freelance writer, gives examples of science PhDs being done differently in terms of skills imparted and type of students admitted. It mentions that US science PhD degrees often need a first-author paper publication and take 7 years or more to complete! In UK it rarely exceeds 4 years and a paper publication is not mandatory in some institutions. It covers some other rethinking options as well like interdisciplinary approaches, providing skills as needed in industry (research) jobs, doing the PhD online or skipping the PhD.

"Fix the PhD" advises caution for unlimited growth of PhDs as it may dilute the quality of PhDs. It mentions that research grants from government agencies drives the research system in universities but not enough thought is given about the job market being able to employ those emerging from the research system of the universities. One suggestion it makes is "to better match educational supply with occupational demand" in science research.

"Education: The PhD factory" gives numbers for the rise in science doctorates, and examines the science doctorates picture in Japan (crisis), China ("Quantity outweighs quality?"), US (oversupply), India ("PhDs wanted") and a few other countries.

"Developing world: Educating India" states that India has experienced "an eight-fold increase in science and engineering enrolment at India's colleges and universities over the past decade, with most of the growth occurring in engineering and technology - fields in which jobs are especially plentiful". Between 2003 and 2009, the number of foreign companies establishing R&D facilities in India went up from 100 to 750! The rapid expansion of the higher education system has resulted in serious challenges about maintaining good quality. The paper also quotes a student (or two) giving details about corruption (money corruption) in his (her) institution - I feel quite ashamed about such matters related to India appearing in Nature. But I guess that's the truth and we Indians have to face up to it. Once we face up to it perhaps we can try to improve matters.

Friday, December 20, 2013

USA: The Student Loan Debt Disaster! Update: Income Based Repayment Plan Seems to be a Superb Solution

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Last significant update on 17th February 2014
Minor title update on 20th June 2014

Update: From : "If a student's loan debt is high but their income is modest, they may qualify for the Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR). Most major types of federal student loans—except for PLUS loans for parents—are eligible for IBR.[25] Income-based plans provide for payment of 15% of disposable income for up to 25 years, then the loan is forgiven."

The videos given below did not talk about Income Based Repayment Plan - maybe that has been introduced later. IBR does seem to provide significant safeguards to the debt crushing somebody's life. So it does not seem so bad now, to me.

Now there seems to be a new law making the burden even lighter (for students borrowing from 2014) - limiting payments to 10% of (disposable) income (so a reduction from 15% to 10%) and debt being forgiven after 20 years (10 years if person is in public service) if they are making the monthly payments properly. Source: I think this makes it even better - so now it seems to be quite OK, unless I am missing something. I mean, even if one does not get a good paying job but gets some job - one pays only 10% of disposable income. That seems really decent.

---- End Update ----

The student loan debt problem is horrendous! Here are two youtube videos having people tell their own story about student loan debt in the USA:

Dr. Noelle, -$213,000 student loan debt,, 13 min. 26 secs, published in May 2013. She is a PhD in Psychology and is now an Assistant Professor, who is saddled with debt and is staring at a very tough life! She is very articulate and tells her story very well.

I Owe CitiBank $105,000,, 10 min. 31 secs, published in Apr. 2011. This is a very sorry tale of an American social work student, who seems to be of Chinese ethnic background, and his US based family.

Today I visited a local bank (in Puttaparthi, India) for some work. As the concerned officer was not at his seat I was looking around at the notices and posters in the branch. There was a big education loan poster and if I recall correctly the maximum amount mentioned was Rs. 30 lakhs! [30 lakhs is 3 million; at the current exchange rate of around Rs. 62 to a US Dollar, Rs. 3 million comes to slightly over 48,000 US $.]  I don't know how much of India is getting into this same problem that is plaguing America. But maybe most university educated people, as of now, get jobs in India and so are able to repay the loan.

I think there must be some strong laws, I repeat strong laws, that ensure that youngsters are made fully aware of the huge dangers of student loans, before they take on a loan. Financial institutions that "sell" loans to students without explaining the dangers involved should be penalized by having the entire loan money written off. You may think I am being a little extreme - but see these videos and see what a horrible situation these chaps have landed into. They would have been far, far better off not having gone to university at all and taken some job after high school! These poor chaps will lead the best part of their lives with debt hanging over their heads - my God! What a pathetic state of affairs!

I thank God that I dropped out of my Physics masters in 1984 in Bombay/Mumbai due to financial problems and looked for a job, instead of (seriously) looking at some financial institution that would loan me money for my Physics Masters (and any further education). Otherwise I would have suffered a similar fate as the poor chaps above, at least for a few years.

1 comment:

Ravi S. Iyer, December 31, 2013 at 11:59 PM

A few quotes from Scholarslip: A documentary about the student debt crisis, 23 min 41 sec, published Dec. 30, 2012:

* Education may have freed my mind but my student loan debt has shackled me for life.

* In 2011, two-thirds of college seniors graduated with student loan debt with an average of almost $27,000 per borrower.

* College graduates are more likely to be employed as waiters and bartenders than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined.

* 75% of Americans say that college in the United States is too expensive to afford.

Online Higher Education; MOOCs

My Viewpoints/Articles

Affordable Subject-Wise Certification from Govt. Recognized Academia, December 2011

Discussion/Informative Posts Involving Others' Articles/Views, Media reports and Some Comments from me
NPTEL - IIT Madras - offers online course and certification in Programming, Data Structures & Algorithms, June 2014

Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T offer Online MS degree in CS under $7000, May 2013

CS & IT: Internet Based Learning, October 2011

Wall Street Journal article on "Higher Education's Online Revolution", July 2012

NYT article on Massively Open Online Courses, July 2012

Prof. Sebastain Thrun's experience of teaching 160,000 students AI for free!, July 2012

A Princeton Sociology Professor's Online Teaching Experience, November 2012

CS & IT Academia: Use Stanford Engineering Everywhere to Teach Programming, October 2011

Online Programming Courses: Use MIT's OCW or IIT's NPTEL or Stanford's SEE, October 2011

The Brains Behind Aakash, the Rs. 3000 (aka $35) Tablet, February 2012

Sunday, December 25, 2011

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