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


Nature April 2014 article - Policy: Free Indian science by Dr. Mathai Joseph et al



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Nature April 2014 article - Policy: Free Indian science by Dr. Mathai Joseph et al.


Net url: http://eklavyasai.blogspot.in/2014/04/nature-april-2014-article-policy-free.html



Last updated on April 6th 2014

Dr. Mathai Joseph, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathai_Joseph, "a leading Indian computer scientist", in association with another person, has written an article on the policy problems faced by Indian science and suggestions to improve them, which has appeared in the prestigious journal, Nature. The article can be accessed here: http://www.nature.com/news/policy-free-indian-science-1.14956?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20140403

The Hindu dated April 3rd 2014, also carries an interview of Dr. Joseph on the same matter: http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/what-ails-indian-science/article5863637.ece.

Dr. Joseph invites comments. In a mail exchange I had with him he wrote the following:

Comments and criticism are very welcome, especially if made publicly. Science policy and its implementation are rarely discussed in India and they need to be analysed far more by the public.

--- end Dr. Joseph mail extract ---

So I request interested readers to publicly comment on the matter on either/both nature.com or/and thehindu.com, and pass on the above links to others who you think would be interested, inviting them to comment.

I submitted a comment on the following lines to the Nature article link (the comment does not appear as of now and I don't recall the exact words I used - I have modified an earlier comment I made a couple of days back which did appear on the article web page but on editing that comment it disappeared):

Dr. Joseph mentions that scientific achievement in India is not rewarded adequately, instead other factors like longevity of service decides rewards. Government control and bureaucracy are named as the main factors holding back Indian science. He has given four specific suggestions for improving Indian science.

As a non scientist (I am software technologist) I am not in a position to know how accurate this analysis is. But, as an Indian citizen, I am concerned about these charges of mismanagement of Indian scientific endeavour which is mainly funded, I believe, by taxpayer money. The accountability has to be laid at the door of the ministers and bureaucrats responsible for disbursement of public funds to Indian science. They MUST respond to this article giving their side of the story and invite top science administrators they entrusted with science management responsibility to write their side of the story. Accountability in terms of suitable performance for quantum of taxpayer money disbursed is perhaps a good first step in trying to fix Indian science.

I would like to add that having been a part of the Indian IT success story (I started and spent a good part of my IT career from the mid-80s to the turn of millennium in SEEPZ, Bombay, an export promotion zone and the crucible of the Indian IT exports success story), I can say that a crucial factor for its success was the free-market economic principles that software export companies had to follow for growth and even survival. If a company did not suitably reward talent then the talent would simply move on to another company which was willing to pay better. Hanging on to and protecting non-performers would pull down a company in comparison to more effective competitors, and threaten the very existence of such companies with many non-performers. Star performers rising fast and making significantly more money had to be accepted by peers and even sluggish seniors, no matter how envious they got. While these words sound somewhat harsh I guess they were, and most probably continue to be, the reality of the tough economic battlefield of the business/commercial side of international software development.

Perhaps Indian science administrators should study the Indian IT success story companies from the management perspective and explore introducing similar management/administration measures in Indian science.

--- end comment ---

A smaller version of the above comment also appears on The Hindu article (interview) web page.

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A senior person from the Indian Computer Science/Information Technology field commented in response to a mail I sent him on this matter, about all areas of Indian society being compromised by crass selfishness and nepotism, and so Indian science having these problems is not strange.

I have given below an edited version of my response to him:

When I first experienced the petty nature of some Indian academic administrators as an outsider (honorary staff/honorary faculty/visiting faculty for 9 years in a deemed university) as well as the very limited knowledge of software development of some of the senior Computer Science academics, I was shocked (most senior academics had a Mathematics or Electrical Engineering or Electronics PhD and had migrated to the Computer Science field without, it seems to me, having to really learn/do significant/any software development). Later I realized that the problem was a systemic one as all the career advancement possibilities were tied to research output and bagging research grant projects bringing good money to the institution, rather than teaching software development well. That explained to me why the skill level of most Indian CS/IT graduates and post-graduates in the practice of software development was and continues to be very poor. I mean, when the senior academics and academic administrators of the field and many times, the teacher of programming courses himself/herself, does not know software development well, what can we expect students to learn? I repeat that the fault is with the system which does not provide career advancement to the CS/IT academic for proficiency in the practice of software development, and not the academic himself/herself who is trapped by the flawed academic system into not paying much attention to the practice of software development.

Over the past 2 to 3 years as I wrote (blogged mainly) and mailed about my views on improving the practice of software development in Indian Computer Science and Information Technology academia, I also studied some other sectors in India via TV news, print media and Internet news outlets. I think there is a lot of change in many government regulated sectors like police, district administration (collectors, mandal revenue officers etc.), govt. hospitals, public transport etc. in terms of the fear they have of media exposure of their failings and wrong-doings. The top people interact with the media and keep them informed of major events. In case of any serious problem the media grills them and the top people provide responses. So, IMHO, the accountability and transparency in these publicly funded organizations has significantly improved over the past few decades, though, of course, there is still lots of room for improvement.

In stark contrast, Indian higher education sector rarely faces tough questions from the media - it is almost as if the media is scared of criticizing them. Only major scandals like examination paper leaks or misbehaviour of male academics towards their female juniors results in media criticism.

I think we badly need open discussion of British Raj type management of most of Indian academia, which will then enable stakeholders like ministers and officials (bureaucrats) as well as students and parents to put pressure on Indian academia to change. USA higher education seems to be going through a major shake-up and part of that process is open debate about the challenges it faces today (if you have not seen the 2013 Milken Institute panel discussion on future of USA Higher education you may want to see it. The youtube video link is available in this blog post of mine, 2013 Milken Institute Panel Discussion - The Future of Higher Education in America).

I think people like Dr. Mathai Joseph are trying to trigger such debates in India with these articles in top-notch journals of the world. My view is that Dr. Joseph did not criticize the scientific community itself that much as he criticized the government. So it will be wonderful if some senior official like Shri Ashok Thakur, Secretary of Department of Higher Education, MHRD, or perhaps the current minister of state for MHRD, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, respond to such articles defending themselves and putting the onus on the scientist-administrators to make their case. [I forwarded the mail (about this matter) to both Shri Thakur and Dr. Tharoor (both his MHRD mail id and his office mail id). Even if his office staff draw his attention to the mail, perhaps Dr. Tharoor may not want to look at it now as he will be focussed on elections. Dr. Tharoor certainly has the capability to effectively put up MHRD's case and invite scientist/academic-administrators of CSIR, UGC, AICTE, IISc, IITs etc. to respond in public to Dr. Joseph et al.'s article.]

--- end response ---

-------------------------------------------------------------------

I tried adding the following comment on The Hindu article web page mentioned earlier in this post, http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/what-ails-indian-science/article5863637.ece, but was informed that the article is closed for comments and that I could email the editor. So I sent the comment over email to The Hindu today morning (6th April 2014) but a few hours later the comment does NOT appear on the web page. (The two comments of Dr. B.S. Sudhindra referred in my comment were "Posted on: Apr 4, 2014 at 19:27 IST" and  "Posted on: Apr 3, 2014 at 22:49 IST")

---start comment---

I find both of Dr. B.S. Sudhindra's comments to be quite interesting as they are specific suggestions to improve the situation. Some (or all) of the suggestions may have flaws or be impractical. If so, these flaws or impractical aspects should be pointed out by science-administrators by joining in the public debate instead of choosing a take a haughty imperial kind-of stand of simply ignoring such public discussions. I mean, these science-administrators are paid taxpayer funds and oversee disbursement of taxpayer funds, and not their own funds. So, IMHO, they owe it to the hard-working taxpayers of the country to join in this debate and give their side of the story. 

About Dr. Sudhindra's comment about stopping coaching classes, I disagree. I think coaching classes thrive because they provide an effective service to students who pay extra money to them and spend extra time with them (besides their regular classes). If the regular classes did their teaching function well perhaps there would be no market for coaching classes. It is democratically unjust to deny students access to private teaching facilities they want and are willing to pay for. Let us not inhibit free-market economic principles in the field of education as that may worsen the already poor teaching standards in Indian schools and colleges, in general.

--- end comment ---

Saturday, May 10, 2014



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