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Don’t blunt our cutting edge

For the sake of our IITs, protesters and the government should work things out.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2009 22:54 IST

Human Resource Development (HRD) ministers may come and go, but the issue of autonomy to institutes of excellences like our Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Management (IIMs) refuses to go away. So it is no surprise that the current incumbent, Kapil Sibal, finds himself up against the staff of the IITs on issues as varied as staff selection procedures to salaries to, of course, autonomy. The HRD ministry wants a cap of 40 per cent on the number of professors who make it to senior grade with its attendant perks and privileges. It also insists that a first class in the preceding degree is a requirement for appointment to assistant, associate and full-fledged professorship. Instead of the present Rs 15,000 per month that goes under the head of scholastic allowance, Mr Sibal wants to introduce a performance-linked incentive scheme.

Where the ministry is perhaps going into micro-management drive is in trying to restrict staff attending international and domestic conferences. The IITs that have threatened to go on a day’s strike to protest what they see as encroachment on their autonomy don’t seem to have reckoned with the determination of the minister to not allow himself to be pushed around. Mr Sibal does have a point when he says that since the government pays salaries, it has a right in these times of cutbacks to refuse to hike pay scales at the moment. His contention that the IIT faculties get paid more than recommended by the Pay Commission is also valid. Many top IIT professors have said that their main concern is governmental interference, and not so much the money. Both the minister and the IITs claim they are acting in the interests of excellence. If so, they should sit down and work things out without the IITs resorting to strikes more suited to those with far more pressing grievances.

The minister, however, should revisit their demands at a later date. Increasing perks and privileges in institutions of excellence is one way to stop the brain drain. It will also attract collaborations with prestigious foreign institutions. If the minister and the IITs play their cards right, we could have a win-win situation on our hands.