IRCC Notes

The IIT system has traditionally been known for the quality of undergraduate education it imparts. However, over the last decade the IITs have been increasing their research focus and making the transition to becoming quality research institutions. A key element in enhancing research is strengthening the Ph.D programmes and enhancing the quality and quantity of Ph.D output. At most universities around the world it is the work done by the Ph.D students under the guidance of faculty that result in publications, patents, awards. The hallmark of a vibrant research environment is its research scholars (Ph.D and post-doctoral students).

         How does India compare in terms of science and engineering doctorates? It is estimated that India produces about 4500 science doctorates and about 400 engineering doctorates annually. In comparison, the US produced about 7000 engineering doctorates and 20,000 science doctorates in 2003, China produces about 8000 engineering and science doctorates. It is interesting to note that during the period 1985-2000, of the US science and engineering doctorates 13,274 were from India almost 1000 per year of which Engineering and Computer Science accounted for about 7300 or 480 per year).

          Most countries have understood that in order to maintain leadership in R & D today they need to increase science & engineering doctoral outputs. In the US 60% of the science and engineering doctorates are graduates from other countries. Germany, UK, Japan and Korea are also trying to attract international students for doctoral studies.

          In 1995 Japan launched the 'plan for 10,000 - man support for Post-doctorates' that attempts to provide about 10,000 post-docopportunities in Japanese research institutions and universities. Over the last few years IIT Bombay has been visited by several delegations from some of the top universities of the world, who are keen on forging linkages with the Institute. One of the prime purposes of such collaborations is to attract some of our brightest talents for their doctoral programmes.

          Why are science and engineering doctorates important for India? If India is to be a leader in science and technology, it is essential to have independent thinkers and innovators. Ph.D provides rigorous training on a focused problem where the candidate has to come up with an original contribution. In India we produce about 360,000 engineering graduates in about 2000 engineering colleges and universities every year. There is an acute shortage of quality faculty in these colleges. At IIT Bombay we have taken conscious efforts to enhance our post-graduate output. At present 60% of our output is post-graduates; this is a significant increase over the 1990 numbers when we had less than 50 % post-graduates. In this year's convocation (August, 2005) we expect to award about 110 Doctoral degrees (40 Science, 60 Engineering, 12 Humanities and Management). Our present faculty strength is about 420. Hence the annual Ph.D/faculty ratio is about 0.25. This ratio is probably among the highest for any Indian engineering institution. A targetfor a good research institution should be above 0.5 Ph.D students graduating per faculty per year (University of Illinois-Urbanna Champaign ~0.4, MIT~0.8, Stanford and Berkeley~0.8-1.0). At present in many of the engineering departments we are not able to fill up the funded Ph.D seats due to a paucity of quality applicants.

          What can we do to enhance our Ph.D output? The first motivating factor is to increase salaries that doctorates command. A survey of starting salaries of graduating students in 2004 at the College of Engineering in the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign(USA) revealed that the average monthly salaries for B S graduates was $4146, $5208 for MS graduates and $6245 for PhD graduates(50% above the B S starting salary). At IIT Bombay, of the 128 companies that participated in campus placements, only 10 were interested in recruiting PhDs and finally none of them recruited any PhD student. The starting salaries in most academic and research openings in India are just about equal to the salaries of the graduating B.Tech students (Rs 300,000 per year).

          A recent initiative by the CII - Western region and IIT Bombay industry - education committee is building a mechanism to provide suitable jobs for IIT Bombay PhDs in industry. Industry sponsorship of fellowships for Ph.D students can also help attract better students. We have now provided our Ph.D students the funding to attend international conferences and also encourage them to incubate companies through our newly established Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE). A recently launched collaboration with NUS Singapore has started a joint IITB - NUS PhD programme on advanced materials. We need to team up with the industry and government to attract our bright youngsters to pursue PhDs in science and engineering.

Rangan Banerjee, Associate Dean R&D