Fund plan to draw pioneers

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI
  • Published 2.02.10
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New Delhi, Feb. 1: Former National Knowledge Commission (NKC) chief Sam Pitroda has proposed a $500-million dedicated fund to attract select global academic and research pioneers to India as part of the education reforms.

Pitroda has written to the Prime Minister’s Office proposing a Global Professors’ Fund to lure some of the world’s best brains to teach and pursue research in India, The Telegraph has learnt. But sources close to Pitroda, now an adviser to the Prime Minister on infrastructure and innovations, said it was a “little early” to discuss the proposal in detail and that the government was still working out the specifics.

The proposal, if accepted, will be the first time that India will dedicate a part of its national budget specifically to attract handpicked foreign faculty and researchers. It is likely that the select few will be winners of Nobels, Fields Medals, or other teachers and researchers globally renowned for path-breaking work in their subjects. The professors will lecture students at India’s best institutions and collaborate with researchers here to generate intellectual property, according to the proposal.

The sum of $500 million Pitroda has proposed amounts to around Rs 2,300 crore at current dollar-to-rupee conversion rates. The amount is greater than the Rs 2,005-crore budget for the 15 Indian Institutes of Technology in 2009-10. Of this, Rs 1,605 crore was for the seven old IITs, including Rs 685 crore for the expansion needed to accommodate extra students because of OBC reservations. Around Rs 400 crore was allocated for the eight new IITs.

At present, while individual institutions are free to attract faculty and researchers from abroad, the government directly does not have a fund for the purpose and does not actively approach specific faculty members either. Current laws also allow foreign faculty to only teach on contract basis, essentially as visiting faculty for a term or two.

The human resource development ministry, as a part of a “brain gain” policy, is seeking amendments to the laws. The policy is a key component of wide-ranging higher education reforms the UPA government has proposed in its second term. Many of the reforms, such as creating a single, overarching higher education regulator and expanding higher education by encouraging private and public-private investments, are outcomes of the NKC’s recommendations during the UPA’s first term.

But Pitroda’s proposal for a professors’ fund effectively argues that mere structural changes — such as amending laws or policies — may be inadequate in luring some of the world’s best faculty and researchers.

Sources in the HRD ministry confirmed having received Pitroda’s proposal from the PMO and indicated that they would reply. But it is unlikely that the ministry will readily accept the proposal. Such a massive, dedicated fund to attract foreign teachers is likely to upset many in the teaching community at home. A shortage of funds is generally cited by the government as its argument to limit salary hikes of teachers even at premier institutions like the IITs, IIMs and central universities.