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


Is Academic Research Grant Money Corrupting Academic Teaching Ideals?



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Is Academic Research Grant Money Corrupting Academic Teaching Ideals?


Net url: http://eklavyasai.blogspot.in/2013/04/is-academic-research-grant-money.html



I think that is the case in many parts of Indian academia. However I do not have "hard data", as of now at least, to backup my view. Money or riches in some form has been an extremely powerful and even corrupting force since time immemorial. But money is also needed to run any show. The way money is spread in a system, slowly but surely, in a vast majority of cases, dictates how the people involved in the system and so the system, will behave over time. The parts of the system that are well funded will attract people and grow, and the parts that are starved of funds will repel people and decay. Academic research grant money has become a great magnet in academia while teaching seems to have become a poor cousin with very little or no grant money going to it. Naturally, most academics gravitate towards research grant money and look down upon "mere" teaching as a menial job.

This article on Forbes.com, written by a US medical science academic gives insight into research grant money influence in US medical science academia. It does not mention anything about a possible impact on teaching though, http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2013/01/05/top-10-reasons-being-a-university-professor-is-a-stressful-job/.

Some notes on it:

2nd point of article: It mentions that some research universities assume that research project grants will cover some percentage of faculty salaries.



[Ravi: My God! Faculty salaries being paid, even partially, by research funding seems to be a pretty scary thing to me. Naturally the focus will shift to getting research funding rather than excel in teaching, but then maybe teaching is not a big deal in a research university.]

3rd point of the article: It mentions that research staff, fellows, editorial assistants etc. have to be paid from research grants. Once the grant is gone, all such staff are gone; the expertise is gone.



[Ravi: This is horrifying. It is like running a business. I have experienced the stress of being a top manager in a start-up software company and worry about lack of business impacting ability to pay salaries of staff. But that I thought was part of start-up manager challenges. I did not realize that a tenured Professor could be having similar challenges that a start-up manager has. BTW both the tenured Prof. and the typical start-up manager would be capable fellows who can get another decent job but the staff working for them may find it difficult to get other decent jobs quickly, and that brings enormous emotional stress to the startup-manager (it had really stressed me out and affected my health with some effects being permanent) and, I guess, the tenured Prof.]

4th point of the article: It mentions that administrators garner some decent percentage of research grant money for indirect costs.



[Ravi: Oh Lord! So the administration chaps will use the extra money for their stuff (which may be very much needed for the institution). No wonder, university administrators, even in India, put immense pressure on faculty to do research. It is the money that research projects bring in, not only to a particular Lab. but also to the university administration that matters. Hmm. IMHO, there is a great danger of teaching ideals in universities being pushed somewhere to the corner by the pressure and power of research grant money. I have not heard of Indian government/UGC/AICTE giving teaching grant money - only research grant money. No wonder academics nowadays seem to be bothered mainly about research. I mean, if I were a regular/paid academic in a typical "research-intensive" academic institution that is what I would have to do too - focus on research grant projects and somehow manage the teaching stuff ensuring that there are not too many complaints.]

--end notes on Forbes.com article--

In India, NAAC accreditation, http://www.naac.gov.in/, of universities & colleges has become a big thing, at least in the last decade or so, I think. Perhaps it is the only official way to differentiate between various UGC/AICTE universities in the country. I was surprised when I was informed some months ago by a recently passed out MBA student from a UGC/AICTE univeristy, that its higher NAAC grading resulted in MBA recruits from that university being put in a higher pay bracket by some large company! So the HR guys of companies may be using NAAC ratings to decide fresher pay. I had also recently read a report of a state education minister using NAAC grading to differentiate between good and poor universities/colleges.

From what I understand of NAAC examination visits, the NAAC committee examiners focus on high impact factor journal publications. They are disdainful of conference publications! Of course, they look at various other criteria too. But high-impact factor publications is what really impresses them. I got the impression that they don't really give that much importance to quality of teaching - perhaps the problem there may be lack of availability of a standard, objective & official measure for quality of teaching like an impact factor for a research journal. But does that mean that a higher education official assessment and accreditation council can simply ignore teaching quality?!!! Perhaps Indian academia and NAAC can learn something from corporate training companies in India who focus only on teaching and, at least in the case of some famous software training institutes, have been an astonishing success over decades. They use student/participant feedback as one vital measure of teaching quality as viewed by the customer/student. As far as I know, such student feedback collection in Indian academia is quite rare, as of now.

I think NAAC introduces a fear factor for universities to engage in high-quality research that produces high-impact factor publications. Or else the university will not get a great NAAC rating/grade. So academic administrators desirous of having a good NAAC rating/grade have to push faculty to do high-quality research.

Another aspect of academic research is the "marketing hype" associated with large financial size research grant. Academics talk about the size of the research grant like how in the software consultancy industry, the financial size of an order is talked about. Larger the size, more the prestige and a large research grant is seen as a stamp of quality. I think the view is that bagging a large research grant is a reflection of the capability of the academics involved, as if they were not capable enough they would not have been given a large grant. I had checked with one or more international CS academics a few years ago, and they had concurred that large size of research grant is viewed as a kind of stamp of quality even abroad.

So senior faculty are actively "encouraged" to apply for research project grants. Getting a grant is celebrated like how bagging a project order is celebrated in industry! In very sad and marked contrast, teaching excellence is almost ignored! As teaching excellence does not bring in any large teaching grant money! That, I think, clearly shows the power of money to influence a system.

Okay, so what can be done to give teaching excellence its rightful share in Indian academia? IMHO, there should be substantial teaching grant money and further there should be an appropriate balance between teaching grant money and research grant money, given the type of educational institution involved (teaching-intensive or research-intensive). NAAC assessment/rating also should have a similar balance between measures of teaching quality and research quality.



2 comments:

Ravi S. Iyer, April 16, 2013 at 12:43 PM

I can empathize with the anonymous gunning as well as petty vendettas in academia mentioned in point 1 of the Forbes.com article by David Kroll from some personal experiences that I have had on the suffering side of the anonymous gun and vendetta :).

Ravi S. Iyer, April 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM

I thought some readers may want to know that I mailed out the contents of the above blog post to appropriate Indian government ministers, top academic administrators, some NAAC executive committee members etc., on April 12th 2013. I have also included below the preamble I had in the mail.

I write this mail to you esteemed gentlemen out of concern about lack of importance given to teaching quality in UGC/AICTE regulated higher educational institutions in India, which are the vast majority of higher educational institutions in the country. The elitist IITs, IISc etc. are a special group which is very well funded by the Government of India - I am not referring to them at all in this mail. My concern is about the "commoner" higher educational institutions in the country. I must also add that my focus is on teaching quality in higher education which, in my humble opinion, is very different from quality of academic research in general (teaching/pedagogy research and related areas are an exception).

The views expressed in the mail below may be rather unusual. But they are the views that I have formed over a period of nearly a decade of free service of teaching software lab. courses and acting as a technical consultant for project work of M.Tech. (Computer Science) students in a deemed university in India, and also an Internet based study of the higher education world over the past two years or so. I am a software consultant and so an (ex) industry man - not an academic. My views are that of an outsider who has observed the system closely for around a decade. However, I may be wrong. So I welcome rebuttals and criticisms of this mail which may help me to correct my views, if they are wrong.

Some comments below (copy-pasted from a blog post of mine) have an informal language suitable for a blog post. Informal language sometimes helps in broaching sensitive matters without ruffling too many feathers. I request you esteemed gentlemen to please tolerate the informal language, at times.

--- Followed by above blog post contents ---

So far I have not received a substantive response from any of the addressees mentioned above.

Sunday, January 22, 2012




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