How Industry Can Help in Improving IT Education in India

India is on the move. While a lot of different sectors have started growing at good pace, it is IT sector which has really been the driver of growth for last decade or more, and has the potential to lead India for another couple of decades at the very least. There is one small hitch though. We don't have enough trained manpower.

Now, in a country of more than one billion people, saying that we can't grow fast enough because we do not have enough people is difficult to believe, but it is true. While the higher education sector (only the formal sector giving degrees such as BTech, BE, MCA, MSc, etc., and not the training industry like NIIT) produces almost 3 lakhs graduates every year, only 1 lakh out of them is really employable by IT industry. Even with this 1 lakh, the industry has to spend on additional training. And beyond this 1 lakh, industry does hire because it has no option, but the training costs are huge. As a result of this huge mismatch between demand and supply of good quality engineers, the salary costs are going through the roof, and the country's advantage of lower cost is steadily eroding. (We can still continue to grow based on our quality, but if we also had a cost advantage, the growth would continue to be spectacular, as it had been in the past.)

Why is the quality of our graduates so poor. For producing good-quality graduates, you need three ingredients - good faculty, good students, and good infrastructure. A lot of colleges do provide a decent infrastructure for IT education (you really need very little compared to other engineering streams). Students produced by school system could be better, but they are certainly not very poor quality. So, the real reason for poor quality of graduates is lack of good quality faculty in most IT/CS departments across the country.

Why don't we have enough good quality faculty in IT/CS departments in our engineering colleges. Well, one can argue that we aren't producing enough PhDs, or even MTechs, and hence the pool is small. And most colleges end up hiring BTechs, or MCAs. Graduates of one batch may teach the next batches till they find a suitable job. But is it really a problem of insufficient research students. If yes, then I will ask the question, why are there not enough research students. But I will cut all that out, and come to the basic point.

We pay peanuts to faculty. If we give peanuts, we will only get monkeys.

Just compare the salary levels of industry and academia. Even in IITs, the best instutions in the country, the salary of a faculty member is some times lower than the salary that industry offers to its graduates. It can be very demoralizing, and many people tend to leave the faculty jobs for greener pastures. In any case, to begin with, only a few people who really value the academic freedom, or have a keen interest in teaching and research, join the faculty.

So, in my opinion, the biggest bottleneck to the growth of quality education in IT/CSE areas is the compensation package of faculty members. Now, government will not do much in this regards. A government, surviving on the crutches provided by communists, cannot even think of providing differential (market-linked) compensation package in education sector, and increasing salaries of all faculty members in all colleges in all disciplines is just too expensive, and that, of course, will have an effect of others asking for more wages also.

Even in private colleges, the wages are effectively controlled by the government indirectly. Though theoretically, government only determines the lower ceiling on salary, but by tightly controlling the number of seats, and the tution that the college can charge from each student, government has ensured that private sector is unable to pay lucrative salaries to faculty.

It is interesting to note that there is perhaps a need for about 25,000 IT/CSE faculty members in about 2000 engineering colleges in the country. The number of PhDs in these colleges is not even five percent of it. In any sector of economy, with 95 percent shortage, there will be massive crisis. The salaries will be going through the roof. We will be talking about hiring people from abroad. But because of the tight control that the government has on the education sector, nothing of sorts is happening.

In such a scenario, what can industry do to help improve the quality of education. Of course, industry can do all the soft things - application software companies can give software at very low cost, hardware companies can give some more discounts on hardware, other companies can organize training sessions for teachers, provide course material, etc. And all of that undoubtedly helps.

But what is really needed at this time is to find ways to improve the compensation packages of faculty members in these areas, and since government isn't going to do it in the government colleges, and won't deregulate education sector to let market forces play a role in salary, the industry has to think about solving this problem to some extent, and I give below some ideas on what industry can do.

So the basic idea is that industry should plough back some of its profits back into colleges in ways that increase the compensation packages of the faculty there. The obvious question that a company is going to ask is which colleges does one support. Obviously a company cannot support all 2000 colleges. A support for college should be in proportion to the benefit that they get from that college. And this can be worked out in a variety of ways:

In summary, there is a dire need for improving the quality and quantity of faculty members in various IT/CSE departments across the country, so that the industry can continue to get good-quality graduates for its massive expansion. The biggest bottleneck in hiring ruch a faculty is the poor compensation package compared to industry salaries. Government salaries are fixed, and cannot be changed easily. Private colleges are regulated and are allowed to charge only a small tution, and their business model, therefore, does not allow higher salaries. Industry can provide financial support to IT/CSE departments to add on some money to what a faculty member is anyway getting. This support can be in terms of paying for each student hired, or matching grant for donations by their employees, or setting up chairs in specific departments, or setting up awards.

Assuming that the software industry in 2006-07 will be earning at least 20 billion USD, if the companies start spending 0.1 percent of this amount (which comes to 20 million USD or about R. 90 crores) to support higher salaries for faculty (Rs. 2 lakhs extra for 4500 faculty members), the quality and quantity of graduates can go up substantially, and that will allow the companies to grow even further.

You can send me email at: sanghi[AT]