EDU: Have you ever thought of coming back to India for good and teaching here?
Dr Prashant: I thought about it very seriously in 2006. ISB had even made an offer. I asked IIM Ahmedabad not to make any offer, as the remuneration they were offering was patheticit was like they were asking me to work almost for free. In case of ISB, it expects senior faculty to participate in institution building as it is a growing business school. I could not devote that kind of time at that juncture and therefore could not take it up.
EDU: What do academics, desirous of returning, look for?
Dr Prashant: We academics value two thingsfreedom and flexibility to do our work and the second is remuneration, which is not as important as the first, but important enough. Remuneration in the education sector in India has not kept pace with the private sector. If private sector salaries have grown by 300 per cent in the last few years, then academic salaries should go up by at least 100 to 200 per cent. That has not happened. Not only is the remuneration poor, but even institutes like IIM-A do not come close in terms of freedom and flexibility. Typical faculty in a business school in the US has to teach 80-100 hours in a year. I finish my teaching in 14-16 days and rest of the year I have all the freedom to do what I want. Most business schools in India do not offer an environment for research. When faculty members are not paid enough, they usually end up doing a lot of other activities to earn extra money. This leaves them little time to do research. Also, there are too many pressures on facultys timeteaching, consulting and service activities like sitting on various committees. In the US, faculty is not expected to do all that.
EDU: What else would it take for top-notch professors like you to return and teach?
Dr Prashant: Right kind of peer group working on similar areas and availability of research assistants are also important considerations. We are used to working in the academic research model, writing on narrow areas in research magazines. Sometimes it takes three-five years for a paper to be accepted. To become better at it, you have to be a part of the global ecosystem. B-schools in India do not have these networking opportunities to the same degree.
EDU: What stops good Indian professors abroad from coming back?
Dr Prashant: Indian students are very bright and it is fun to teach them. But the system is rigidly bureaucratic and decisions dont get made easily, which is a major deterrent. Too many permissions are required to get anything done. For instance, to start a new course, it has to go through three different committees. And those taking the decisions quite often know little of your field. It is a painful process Also, there is no research environment in Indian HEIs. There is also a lot of government interference in institutes like the IIMs. Because of the Right to Information Act, many professors I know are scared of taking any decision, as they are busy covering their backs. What is your advice to Indian HEIs hoping to bring back Indian professors from abroad? Indian HEIs pay too much attention to dissemination of knowledge, but do not have the same support and culture for creation of knowledge. It is important to focus on knowledge creation through right environment and support for research. Which means processes should be less rigid and cumbersome.It is also critical to pay teachers more to make India attractive.