Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bonus for IIT faculty

IIT and IIM faculty have been asking for more...... well, not quite like poor Oliver. IIT faculty have planned a hunger strike for September 24. Indian Express reports that IIT directors are seeking to head off the crisis by offering a performance-linked bonus:

Directors of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are fine-tuning a Performance Related Incentive Scheme (PRIS) which they are expected to place on the table later this week to defuse the stand-off with protesting faculty across all seven IITs.

Under this, an incentive equivalent to “two to four months of salary” could be offered annually to faculty depending on their performance which will be quantified on key indicators.

This is a terrible idea. There is a sufficiently large literature on incentives that casts doubt on the efficacy of these even in a corporate context. In academics, such schemes can play havoc with the very culture of academia.

Leave aside the measurement aspect. You produce high quality work in academics because you are driven by intellectual curiosity- not because you hope to get two months' bonus. Pecuniary rewards can come in other, more satisfying ways- sponsored reserach, consultancy, high value awards for outstanding work, royalty on books, patents, etc.

How many great academic institutions in the world have performance-linked bonuses? Top academic institutions have variable increments that are linked to performance. Your base salary itself can move up sharply based on work done- and that translates into extra pay over the rest of your career. There is nothing like extra pay for a given year- which is what bonuses are about.

The Sixth Pay Commission had suggested the cautious introduction of performance-linked incentives in government. The suggestion has not taken off because of the difficulty in implemting such schemes in government. Why should government make an exception in the case of government-run academic institutions?

I am surprised that IIT directors should have thought up such a scheme.


K.R.Srivarahan said...

Dear Professor,

It is true that IIT/IIM faculty deserve much higher salaries than what HRD Ministry thinks. But having said that, is not an annual incentive like bonus a functional way of motivating consistent performance? In other words, why should stray performance be rewarded life-long? It is a fact of life that there are many persons who turn in very good performance but only in fits and starts. Will it not be a mockery if they get rewarded year after year through higher salaries?

The second issue one might raise is the right to strike. It is accepted that teachers are also human and they do not deserve contemptuous treatment from HRD Ministry. The dilemma here is that if teachers exercise their lawful right to go on hunger strike, will they not fall in popular esteem?


MohitSS said...

Dear Sir,

I totally agree with your point-of-view. I don't think there can be a universal metric to judge a faculty's performance. What would it be? Number of research papers, or the quality of research, or the stature of journals in which research is published? In fact, I dare say, such a 'performance-related' incentive-scheme might even give rise to corruption, in a race to get more papers published. And what about the faculty who are doing an excellent job in teaching undergraduate students? How should their performance be measured? IITs, in my view, are currently caught in a conflict over what is their primary task. Is it to produce quality engineers, or focus on higher research? This confusion is causing systemic inadequacies. I think we need to attract talent to faculty by putting them at par with DRDO/ISRO scientists, and let them decide, as learned individuals, the balance between their teaching and research activities.

Mohit Shankar Srivastava

Krishnan said...

It is impossible to measure "performance" really. So rewarding some faculty and not others will cause problems on campus. On some campuses, administrators simply count the number of papers without asking what impact such papers may have had or simply count the funding brought in or number of students graduated and so on - they do this because there is no other way.

We can come close to a definition of performance if we can agree to some method to calculate what I would term as the "Intellectual Capital Index" for each professor/each department, different colleges. A large fraction of that index has to be "scholarship" - defined in some way that can transcend discipline boundaries, yet measure "scholarship". While agreeing to what should be in this "ICI" may not be easy, it will force everyone to examine what they do and why what they do is valuable in some way - education, research, impact locally or nationally or internationally.

I can say with some conviction that those in positions to decide are often clueless as to what scholarship is and have no idea why what some people do are valuable. Let the debate continue.