Indian academia salaries- Too low or too high?

There are numerous problems in India’s education sector. On supply side we have – poor infrastructure (schools, colleges etc) and poor quality and quantity of teachers. This results in problems in output and what we see is fewer number of high quality students which media and industry experts dub as talent crunch.

Talent crunch phenomenon is debatable as on one side Indian corporates feel quality of students is bad ( My view on Indian corporates is here). On other side India has become a hub for so many foreign knowledge outsourcing units and their chiefs keep praising India for its talent etc.

In this post, I wanted to focus on the salaries issues of academia in India. The oft cited reason for not taking up academics or for having poor quality of academia is poor salaries. I  came across this article (Hat tip PSD Blog) which compares the salary levels in different countries. Some facts:

Canada has the highest salary levels:

The CIHE study found that overall average monthly salaries ranged from $1,182 in China to $6,038 in Canada. These findings produced an international average of $4,856 per month, with Canadian academics earning on average 5.1 times more on a monthly basis than their Chinese counterparts.

Saudi Arabia and South Africa are trying to improve salary levels:

Saudi Arabia, ranked no. 61 on the HDI, consistently outpaced average salary levels in Australia (no. 3), the United Kingdom (no. 16), Japan (no. 8), Germany (no. 22), and France (no. 10). South Africa also bucked this trend to some degree. With an HDI ranking of 121, South Africa registered a higher entry-level salary average than Malaysia (no. 63), Colombia (no. 75), and China (no. 81).

Looking for growth in salaries? Head for South Africa

……in absolute terms, South African academics can expect to grow their salaries more robustly over the course of their careers than those in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, or France.

How about comparing faculty salaries to population:

India, for example, average faculty salaries are a whopping 8.7 times greater than that country’s average World Bank GDP monthly per capita estimate. On average, South African and Colombian academics make salaries 5.8 and 5.4 times greater, respectively, than their countries’ GDP per capita figures. In contrast, more developed countries—like the United States, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand—present faculty incomes that are only 1.4 to 2.2 times above their country’s GDP per capita—per month figures.

The figures in India caught my eye. You occassionally get to hear salaries are poor in India. True, they are lesser than the world but the faculties here get much higher salaries than the normal population, which isn’t the case in the other countries. So, other countries have more equality and India has more inequality as far as salaries are concerned. Hence, it is barely a myth that salaries are too low in India.

The CIHE study indicates that faculty in at least some less-developed countries are not poorly compensated in comparison with their own national GDP per capita-income estimates. However, a global market for talent means that more competitive salary packages may be necessary to compete with overseas employment offers. If not, brain drain will continue to beleaguer many already struggling poorer nations.

Frankly, I have never understood this low salary complaint in India. The main lesson in microeconomics is you have to analyse wages/salaries with work/leisure.

Salaries are an outcome and one also has to compare the work done. For instance, if you are comparing amidst academia you have to evaluate research, teaching hours spent etc as well. Likewise, when comparing with other sectors, you need to see how much time spent at work, targets etc.

My hypothesis is if we compare salaries including the work, Indian academia is perhaps being paid too much. For instance, just look at the research done by academia in India. Even in the elite colleges, we hardly have any research to take note of. The college rankings hardly include things like faculty research making everything pretty lopsided.

Another aspect of academia which can’t be measured is respect given by students. This is perhaps the best and most cherished incentive fro being into academics. If a teacher is good, the respect runs across generations of students and this acts as a big honor. One always remembers the great teachers and discusses the same with friends, alumni etc. Infact, people send their kids to a certain school/college just to be taught by the same teacher.

Unfortunately, in all this hype about salaries this respect is loosing out rapidly. The teachers are not interested in teaching and are just busy in making money. I am not saying money is not important, it is. If money was so interesting, one should have joined the corporate world. If you are into academics, your objective and priority should be different. You can’t mix academia with corporate world.


12 Responses to “Indian academia salaries- Too low or too high?”

  1. college rankings Says:

    […] Indian academia salaries- Too low or too high?The college rankings hardly include things like faculty research making everything pretty lopsided. Another aspect of academia which can’t be measured is respect given by students. This is perhaps the best and most cherished incentive … […]

  2. seema Says:

    yes, the reasearch senario in Indian Universities and colleges may not be great, but do you realise how difficult it is to send projects to any funding agency in India as they need to be processed through various sub-departments where officer-in-charge or head has a big inflated ego that needs to be satisfied? Once a person has somehow managed to cross these hurdles, the funding agency may take as much as two years to sanction the project if there are no red tapes to be opened and egos to be satisfied in the funding agency. By this time, research proposal loses its importance and the investigator all the interest. If the project is sanctioned, the same road blocks (and not just speed breakers) need to be crossed so that one can advertice for posts of research fellows, hold interview, issue them appointment letters, get their salaries released (every month a struggle). Seek permission from one office or the other for trivial issues that succeed in delaying research for e.g. whether one can use the fund alloted for travel to conduct field survey or visit institutes or attend conferences. The principal investigator is held responsible for everything but has to depend on permission for everything on others. PI does not know where to turn for help when he/she does not get permissions for using funds. Now why does the parent institute want PI to seek permission for using funds for which a grant and sanction has already been released by the funding agency? So now PI is involved in unknotting or cutting red tapes instead of conducting research. The research fellows one employs may not be serious about work. May leak lab information to others, and relatives of the scholar are constantly after PI’s neck if PI dares to question any wrongdoings. The administration does not take sympathetic view of the situation and the PI is forced to keep nincompoops in the project. So now the PI is not only handling the routine jobs but is also handling administrative problems as well has to do the research work himself/herself as well as send progress (or rather no progress) report to the funding agency. This is the tip of the iceberg of the the problems facing any research scientist who is specially working in a University and who does not have any strings to pull and is not corrupt enough to grease palms to ensure smooth running of research. How do you thing wil a spent enegry be able to pull a good quality research?

  3. Amol Agrawal Says:

    Yeah I agree to these problems. However, it still does not justify the poor quality of research in economics in India. Infact most elite education institutes in India have their own working paper series. The quality in these is nothing to comment on. They are plush with funds but there is hardly any useful research. Surfing the websites, one hardly gets to see any conferences, workshops etc. Even if you find some, you hardly get to read the papers presented as there are missing links.

    Now a days, one can just add his thoughts in form pf papers on their personal website and need not send the papers to any journal etc. Professors can also maintain blogs which are being used by most professors in the west. The Blogs help them communicate not just to their students but anybody. How many professors do that in India?

    I hardly get to read any paper being referred from any India professor in any paper. Even papers pertaining to Indian economy/financial markets hardly mention any work from India professor. Surely, this need to be explained.

  4. Economics PhDs In India becoming a scarce commodity « Mostly Economics Says:

    […] I have raised numerous concerns over declining research standards in India ( See  Indian academia salaries- Too low or too high?, A request to India’s Ivy Leagues- show us some research, Deciphering the B-school ranking […]

  5. GK Says:

    ” am not saying money is not important, it is. If money was so interesting, one should have joined the corporate world ”

    uh uh

    Everyone should be able to money in the profession of their choice, law, medicine, the arts, business, or education. The salaries should be market driven.

  6. AB Says:

    Dear Amol,
    Clearly you are not capable of keeping an argument straight:

    In the beginning you seemed worried about the quality of research in Indian elite insitutions

    And towards the end, you pointed out that “respect is eroding” because college professors are not interested in teaching… only money.

    Exactly, what part are you worried about; teaching or research. The two are usually at cross purposes. If you have been to an elite college yourself, you would have known how good the level of instruction is.

    It is not about becoming rich. The point is that professors at elite institutions should be capable of leading a decent middle class life.

    And exactly why should one have to join the corporate world in order to “make money”. Why should corporate jobs be the only way one can earn a decent wage? What is wrong with a profession such as teaching/research that requires high levels of academic ability almost by definition.

    • Amol Agrawal Says:

      Hi Ab,
      I am worried about both the points- teaching quality and lack of quality research in India. The point is mainly being made from the subject of Economics and not other subjects (though am told the same is the case in other streams as well).

      The main idea behind the post is that most often I have come across Professors/Teachers complaining about pay scales/lack of incentives etc. As a result, there is not much incentive to either teach or research. However, the report which I point shows pay scales are not as bad as they are made out to be.

      You have got me completely wrong in thinking that I am asking academia to join the corporate world. Instead all I am saying is academia offers different kind of challeges and is a very rewarding career. However, just to think of it in terms of making money is not the right way.

      And as far as elite colleges in India are concerned, I have made my point clear. It is not at all about the quality of instruction but just about placements/pre placement offers. There is just no quality research. You hardly come across any paper from these places being referred in any other paper and even on Indian economy/financial markets. teh sad part is that these institutions also brand themselves in this way. It is seldom about the quality of instruction/research etc. Their intereaction with the media is mainly to do with the palcement season.

  7. CM Says:

    Hi was an interesting read. However, I beg to differ. You say and I quote,

    “Salaries are an outcome and one also has to compare the work done. For instance, if you are comparing amidst academia you have to evaluate research, teaching hours spent etc as well. Likewise, when comparing with other sectors, you need to see how much time spent at work, targets etc.”

    I totally agree with your comparison giving equal weights to teaching hours and corporate work hours meeting targets and so on. But how do you evaluate a research paper in the currency of corporate work hours?

    If you have written a paper (especially in Economic theory) while residing in India, you would know the drill. First, you need to find a question, then let the question possess you like a demon until you make the breakthrough, then write up a lucid introduction, and then send it to journal. Of course, Economics has the dubious distinction of having the highest ‘first response time’ across streams. Then after couple of rejections you get a revision and then you get published. All in all, at least one year of your life (if you are not wildly brilliant) goes by to publish in a top 30 journal. AND GUESS WHAT, RIGHT AT THE START YOU DO NOT KNOW IF YOU ARE GOING TO GET PUBLISHED.

    Where then is you personal life? Does you regular corporate life give you this torturous ‘joy’ride? Do you sit on seat wondering whether you will ever be able to ‘COMPLETE’ the project, let alone doing that within a deadline. Does the thought of failure haunt you all around? In any case, how many times do you conceive your projects? How many times do you actually fail at a project?

    Please realize you earn what you earn, not because you create knowledge…because you undertake the clerical responsibilities at a cheaper rate (especially, analytics industry).

    People do not do research in India because it is mighty difficult to do. Especially, when you have the easy option of becoming a glorified clerk and attaining the pleasures of modern life that you cannot afford doing the harder thing called ‘RESEARCH’. Should I not feel the need for good life, simply because I volunteered to know the unknown?

    A society creates knowledge only if it values knowledge creation more than knowledge servicing.

  8. vikas mittal Says:

    i have more than 2 year exp. in a bank as a assistant manager, i have done b.a., and post graduate in economics with distance mode, i want apply for igidr for phd programme . am i eligible for that, plz reply

  9. Biplab Sarkar Says:

    Is it correct to compare the per capita GDP of a nation to teachers? In a nation where the literate ratio is so less, the per capita will be always low. One should compare the per capita of those section of the population who are some what at per with the teachers as far as education is concerned. Compare the per capita of the teachers with their peers in the corporate world. This will be more appropriate and will highlight why teachers are not motivated. One should compare apples with apples.

  10. abhijit khopkar Says:

    By this logic techies in US should queue outside Indian embassy to get a work permit.

  11. Ramesh Tandon Says:

    Such surprisingly bad analysis. Here are two brief pointers to see why

    1. One can’t compare to the average salary in a country where most of the population has low or nil productivity. Of course multiplicative factor gaps would be high if your population doesn’t work or does less productive work!

    2. When deciding salaries, you have to compare to your competition, not to the average salary of the country or the planet or the province or the district (just to drive home the point about how irrelevant the country is in your averaging argument) are competing against high end technical jobs and compared to those, Indian academics, those in good places, are getting paid 5-6 times lower. So there.

    3. Finally – it’s a vicious circle. If your offer sucks, your applicants will too – sucky applicants do sucky research. SO you see, of course at the current hiring levels, you will have despicable status of research in Indian academia.

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