Tuesday, September 08, 2009

How important money is to decide which profession to join?

Last few years Indian higher education and research sector is loudly asking for more salary and other financial benefits. Majority of them argue that higher salary will attract better talents, help improving the rapidly falling quality of Indian higher education and research.

I have a serious problem with the idea that increase in salary and other monetary benefits will increase quality while it definitely attract many un-worthy candidates into that area. If survival and progress of a person in a specific area is not dependent on actual productivity and accountability, then any increase in monetary benefit will do more harm than good.

Currently higher education and research in India is nothing but a tool to address huge unemployment problem without any accountability towards the nation or the subject.

If you do not love a subject but join it simply because of money, then there is a very high chance that you are just mediocre. Your main strategy to survive will be to belong to like minded mediocre people and form a group. Then wipe out any potential trouble maker- in form of genuine talented colleague or a student/junior who reminds you of your mediocrity. The only motivation for such people, in any profession, is money. It’s not very surprising that the main topic of discussion in majority of Indian universities and institutes is salary hike, pay commission, increase in TA-DA, HRA and so on. Very rarely we can hear any scientific discussion. This is not limited to science/research but almost any field of life there. We generally forget that India has substantially increased its higher education and research budget, both in terms of total money and percentage of GDP, since independence. Many new universities and institutes are coming up on a regular basis. Yet published reports show that we going downhill, so far quality is concerned.

Let's check one specific example of highly hyped IT sector in India. Despite of being one of the most prosperous industries, innovation-invention is almost zero. Not a single core software (operating system, JAVA, C++, Oracle etc) is developed by these rich Indian IT companies, using Indian IT professionals. We are happy to apply existing technology to solve customer specific problems and to do routine, maintenance jobs. Why so? Now analyze who is joining IT and why? Any Tom-Dick-Harry can become an “IT professional” who have passed bachelors degree with some math (not always necessary). Few months training will be sufficient to give him/her the job of an “IT professional” that will pay more than a teacher in a collage. On top of that, possibility of lucrative foreign tour/postings (again, mainly for money) provokes many to join IT. In this overwhelmingly majority of mediocrity, original talents in IT are lost. Many great talents in other fields are also lost in this IT-mania. This is one of the reasons why we will never have our own Bill Gates in IT or Obama in Indian politics in near future.

Thankfully, there is no software or fixed rule to generate talents and promote out-of-box thinking. You need to provide suitable environment to groom talented people. Money is needed but if money becomes the sole parameter to decide which profession to join, then all the professions and overall quality of life in that society gets affected. The same is true for almost any profession in India, starting from IAS-IPS (civil servants), to IIT, to IT, to biotech. No amount of screening, no amount of stringency during entrance exams can prevent that. We all know how rigorous UPSC selection process is, yet Indian bureaucracy is the worst in Asia (1). our IT is capable to do routine maintenance jobs, our biotech research is good for imitating western research and technology and/or BPO jobs. Many of these professions are well paid; many of these industries have good financial muscle but still lack originality, still lack efficiency and severely lack accountability towards the profession and towards the society.

I think that there should be legally binding cap (for salaries and executive benefits) for all the top executives of big industries (say, with more than 1 billion USD turn over). I am sure that it will not cause any serious attrition of talents. Talented people will continue to enjoy their professions as before. But such cap will help distributing the money to novel R&D projects, to other junior staff to make their lives little better (to reduce job loss and salary erosion, mainly during recession time like this). Focus on short term gain and over crowding of mediocre people (who joined the job only for money in many financial institutions and banks) are some of the important reasons for our current problem in global economy.

Lately I came across this excellent presentation. It may help you understanding why higher remuneration improves performance only for mechanical or routine jobs while reduce performance when, even, rudimentary cognitive skill is needed. It suggest, "just offer a minimum but enough salary and then take money out of the equation to improve both motivation and performance".

Real talents, the dedicated ones, join a profession they love. Money is important but must not be the main parameter, mainly in creative professions like research. Creative ego, professional success and institutional power (fame) are the most important driving forces for talented people. If someone joins a profession for money and the only day s/he looks forward to go to the office is the salary day then s/he should understand that there is a severe problem.

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