Wednesday, November 02, 2005

IISc asks for more money

Abinandanan points to an article in The Hindu, Bangalore edition about IISc asking the Central Government for Rs. 700 crores for modernisation.

IISc was given Rs. 100 crores in the last budget to help it upgrade to world class. However, IISc director P.Balaram points out, quite rightly, that
Rs. 100 crores may look like a big sum, but it is not much. Every new laboratory that comes up costs us at least Rs. 40 lakhs. The new institutes that the Ministry of Human Resource Development is building in Kolkata and Pune have a budget of Rs. 500 crores... Let us be clear. IISc. cannot become a Stanford or a Harvard just because it got a Rs. 100-crore grant. That expectation is unrealistic. It can begin modernising its facilities with the grant.
Basically IISc will spend this money to
  • Modernise physics and biology labs
  • Digitise books in IISc library
  • Start earth sciences department
  • Focus on emerging areas of nanotechnology and nanosciences
Balaram doesn't think he may get all the money he asked for. I think however that the Government should look at allocating even more money. If we want world class institutions, we can't hope to achieve that with 100 crores. We need 10,000 crores or more to be spent on basic sciences. We need more institutes set up on the likes of IISc, at least 5 more such across India, similar to IITs and IIMs. I hope the ministers concerned take a look at this seriously.

However there is something else that I saw in Abinandanan's post which is worrying me. Regarding a proposal to start undergraduate program, he quotes a news item on The Hindu, 29th October 2005:
The proposed undergraduate programme is contingent upon acquiring the land as the present campus does not have the infrastructure to meed the demands of an additional undergraduate programme.


However, the idea has evoked a mixed response among the IISc faculty. Several of them feel the establishment of an undergraduate programme will take away from the institute's avowed focus on research. "The workload of teaching undergraduates is far too much. Many of them have to be spoon-fed," says a senior faculty member.


Acknowledging the ambivalent response, the senior faculty member involved with the initiative says that even if an undergraduate programme is established, there would be no need for current faculty members to be concerned because new faculty members will be hired for hte undergraduate programme. "We will probably go on a faculty recruitment drive by which a whole new group will be added."

I am surprised about this. If IISc doesn't show commitment to undergraduate education, how do they expect to create good enough students at the graduate level? Creating a new set of faculty members will not be a solution. I would even go so far as to say that any funding to IISc must be contingent upon them starting the undergraduate school and agree to create a certain number of undergraduates every year.

I have looked at the Madras University syllabus for BSc Physics. A nephew of mine is studing in a local Chennai college. The syllabus is horrible, the teaching is atrocious. Three years of junk. I recommended a few basic physics books to get him inetersted in physics (as opposed to writing and cracking the useless exams). His college library doesn't have Feynman Lectures. They have couple of copies of Asimov's "Understanding Physics", but there is too much demand. You can't have it for more than 15 days. I am sure there are several other recent books (which I have not heard off), but none of that will be there in the local college library.

While it is going to be difficult to improve the standard of undergraduate science education across the country, effort should be made at least in a few locations. IISc cannot shirk its responsibility in this regard.


  1. Hi Badri,

    Am quite skeptical about whether places like IISc would honestly attempt at something like that(the comment on scinece eduation). I had spent about 6years with different IITs and have quite some friends at IISc as well..its a very prevalant attitude amongst the faculty community there to look upon teaching as an unnecessary burden and as if its a intrusion to their single minded focus on resreach(which they put it on high pedestal).

    So i really wonder whether there is any point in expecting them to do it..On the otherside there are quite a few second leevl instituion who is mainly focussed on imparting education(like BITS, REC's) and i hear that those places have a large number of inspiring teachers..which is becoming a rarity in places like IIT's and IIsc these days..and may be thats a place to expect this change

    About ur comment on the state of local colleges and their science education..i was talking to a prof from A.M. Jain colege..he was one of the very motivated teachers..someone who makes it a point to introduce Feynman lectures and Berkeley phsyics course even to us who were doing Phsyics as an ancillary subject..he says the sociological factors are largely to blame for the state it currently is in..he said leave alone good students
    and good materials..its even becoming hard to attract students to classes in undergraduate scinecve programme these days as most dont see any purpose to the education in terms of carrer..while learning some computer skills at some teaching shops like NIIT can fetch you a lucrative job offers even with a class 12 education..what purpose does a BSC education serve kind of reasoning(not that i approve of it..but there is a sociological contxt is what i want to state here)..

    Best regards,

  2. Hi Magesh,

    1. Re: your point on IISc (and IIT) faculty not interested in teaching undergrads... if this is true, then this is sad. I am not so sure about IITs as they have been taking in undergrads all along. In fact, the IITs started as undergrad schools and only later started adding the post-grad program and PhDs. Though today the undergrads will only be about 33-40% of the total strength.

    2. If the established institutions do not want to create undergrads, the govt. should seriously look at identifying institutions which can be fast tracked to good teaching schools with excellent facilities. One can't become a grad and do well in research (which I hope the Ivory Tower wallahs in IISc will understand one day) without first going through the under grad education with solid foundation.

    3. A science education (and worse, math!) is not the priority for most students today, it is true. They go for some sort of engineering degree in third rate self-financing colleges, and hope to get some IT job. The rest look at BBA, BCA (all, shocking curricula) and then again hope to land up an IT job. But a solid science/math undergradute education is essential for the country. It will be upto the school teachers to get students interested in science education.

    It is a huge challenge. I don't have ready answers for this now though.

  3. I don’t think we can blame students for not showing interest in science. They go to some third rate engineering college only with a hope of getting placement in IT companies. ( and how many of them actually get IT job is another question. ). In India and in the present education system, the university degree is directly related to the compensation the degree holder expects after completion of the course.

    A 3yr UG + 2yr PG + 2yr Phd guy will certainly earn less than 3Yr UG + 4yrs exp in BPO or FMCG selling business

    As long as this equation remains, I don’t see any reason for any one to take up science as his career option.

    Reg the syllabi of BA/B.Sc : About 9 years before, there was a demand among the students of university of madras for revising their MCA syllabus. Reason? their study material , which they believed was designed during Charles Babbage era, was not relevant then and they made it happen. We shouldn’t forget that, this happened at a time when 'the-sacred-syllabus-revision' is done by a high level committee, after rounds and rounds of discussion, which doesn’t have an iota of knowledge on current trends. Now how many science/arts/humanities UG students complain that their course is not worth pursuing? None, b’coz, university degree is only an entry ticket to get a job or to take up a PG course in computer application or a management degree.

    Making science an interesting subject is different issue and the onus is not on the student community

  4. Hi Badri,

    Thats true IITs are having a functional undergraduate programme. What i mentioned was just the prevalent attitude. Ofcourse, i have personally myself benefited from some of the ebst teachers in IIT. So its definitely not a generalisation.

    Your point that such a thing has to start at the school level is definietly a very valid point. But unfortunately that is confronted with more problems. I jsu once tried to trackback some of the best middle aged school teachers i have had. I found out most are not in the Job anymore. Most of them are now employed with some of those NRI schols in the middle east offering coaching classes to let the kids from there join engineering/medicine schools in India.

    Best regards,

  5. Hi Badri,
    Was surfing around when I came across this article. I agree with Magesh, that IISc profs do consider teaching a big burden and unless its a research oriented course (research masters' course) they are not very interested. I am one of his friends who had spent 4 yrs at IISc, and before that 3 yrs in BSc at Vivekananda college. I had some very good teachers during my BSc days who were so good in their fundamentals that I haven't seen such good Profs with such an interest in imparting education especially dealing with fundamentals in IISc or abroad (I am in Twente univ and previously was in Erasmus univ). So, I think it is quite an unfair statement that all education at the BSc level is bad. I guess it depends on the particular university.