Sunday, September 14, 2014


Nalanda University is off to a modest start this year, admitting the first batch of 16 students in its School of Historical Studies and School of Ecology and Environment Studies.

Mint marks this occasion with a photo essay by Shamik Bag on this unique university project (e.g., its funding is through the Ministry of External Affairs).

Academic Stardom through Falsified Resume

Someone is a academic star?

He is from India? Check.

He used fake credentials? Check.

His victims include several American Universities? Check.

Him? No, but there are many parallels.

Nona Willis Aornowitz and Tony Dokoupil of NBC News have a totally gripping story: Ivory Tower Phony? Sex, Lies and Fraud Alleged in West Virginia.

seemed like the Doogie Howser of India, able to crack the country’s best medical school, and work there as a 21-year-old doctor. Anoop Shankar later claimed to add a Ph.D. in epidemiology and treat patients even as he researched population-wide diseases. He won a “genius” visa to America, shared millions in grants, and boasted of membership in the prestigious Royal College of Physicians.

In 2012 West Virginia University hand-picked this international star to help heal one of the country’s sickest states. At just 37, Shankar was nominated to the first endowed position in a new School of Public Health, backed by a million dollars in public funds.

But there was a problem: Shankar isn’t a Ph.D. He didn’t graduate from the Harvard of India. He didn’t write dozens of the scholarly publications on his resume ...

Thursday, September 11, 2014


  1. Amy J. Binder (sociologist at UC-San Diego) in Washington Monthly: Why Are Harvard Grads Still Flocking to Wall Street?. "Students from elite colleges march off to jobs at the big banks and consulting firms less by choice than because of a rigged recruiting game that the schools themselves have helped to create."

  2. Claire Cain Miller at The Upshot: The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus. "A Child Helps Your Career, if You’re a Man".

  3. Michael Shermer in SciAm: How the Survivor Bias Distorts Reality.

  4. Richard Harris in NPR: When Scientists Give Up.

    Ian Glomski thought he was going to make a difference in the fight to protect people from deadly anthrax germs. He had done everything right — attended one top university, landed an assistant professorship at another.

    But Glomski ran head-on into an unpleasant reality: These days, the scramble for money to conduct research has become stultifying.

    So, he's giving up on science. And he's not alone.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Links: The Women-in-Science Edition

  1. Patricia Fara in Nature (and non-paywalled!): Women in Science: A Temporary Liberation. "The First World War ushered women into laboratories and factories. In Britain, it may have won them the vote, argues Patricia Fara, but not the battle for equality."

  2. Zuleyka Zevallos, Buddhini Samarasinghe and Rajini Rao in's SoapboxScience blog: Nature vs Nurture: Girls and STEM. In a section devoted to institutional interventions, they say:

    Active intervention at the institutional level also leads to positive change. Already, some colleges are reporting huge improvements: at Carnegie Mellon University, 40% of undergraduate incoming class in computer science are women, a welcome contrast to the dismal 18% of graduates in the U.S., and at Harvey Mudd College, more than half of the freshman engineering class this year were women. Their strategies ranged from featuring women on their brochures and as tour guides, to training teachers and hosting camps for high school students.

  3. Mark Guzdial in Computing Education Blog: The most gender-balanced computing program in the USA: Computational Media at Georgia Tech. Making sense of two trends in one institution: growth of women's share from 25% to 45% in ten years (while that in the CS program grew from 9% to 19%), accompanied by a shrinking enrollment in the CM program.

  4. Ruthe Farmer in Shriver Report: 10 Reasons Why America Needs 10,000 More Girls in Computer Science.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


This is at # 96 in the list of UGC approved degrees in the Gazette notification of July 5, 2014.

That's all.

UGC's War on FYUP - VII: Some Observations

  1. The very first thing to note is the shameful silence of the science academies which championed the cause of a four year bachelors program in the sciences; their position paper was a precursor to the IISc's FYUP (and also Bangalore University where it has been in suspension since 2013) which started in August 2011, the same year IIT-K converted its five-year Integrated MSc program into a 4-year BS program.

    The Academies didn't defend, even partially, the FYUP at Delhi University. I can understand, sort of, their silence because DU's FYUP was not just for the sciences, but for all areas of study including commerce and the "arts subjects". But I just cannot understand their quiet aloofness after UGC came after IISc and now, the IITs.

  2. The statements of support from Prof. C.N.R. Rao and Dr. Anil Kakodkar have been timely. But their framing leaves much to be desired: "why are you doing this," they seem to say to UGC, "to our premier institutions?" It's as if it's okay for the UGC to do this to other institutions. As influential leaders, they could have stood solidly behind all our institutions of higher ed, and demanded autonomy for all of them.

  3. It has become fashionable among the influencers to support the creation of new types of institutions such as IIESTs and IISERs as well as starting new IITs, NITs and IIMs. An assumption which drives this trend is that our universities are so badly doomed that reforming "the system" is not even worth the effort.

    But, this mindset ignores the fact that an overwhelming majority (more than 95%, going by a recent talk by President Pranab Mukherjee) of our students study in our universities and their affiliated colleges. It is important for our scientific elite to support them in their struggle against irrational regulations.

  4. One of the strongest critiques of Indian higher ed policies of the 1950s was that the then government chose national labs (basically, the CSIR labs) over universities for science funding. This choice had the effect of pretty much decimating university research, and helped make many of them just examination-conducting bodies.

    Our current enthusiasm for creating IIXs can only have a similar debilitating effect on our universities, and may end up solidifying a two-tier system in which some get elite and expensive education while a vast majority go to increasingly impoverished universities.

    We should be aiming for a system where our good universities have the same exalted status as the IITs, and others know what they need to do to achieve that status. It is in our own long-term interest that our policies keep us moving toward this goal.

    I'm afraid our policies are dragging us in the opposite direction.

UGC's War on FYUP - VI: Newpspaers Ask UGC To Back Off

Several newspaper editorials have come down hard on UGC, and asked it to back off from its highhanded actions against FYUP at many institutions, including the IITs and IISc.

The Economic Times:

There is every reason for these institutions to experiment with varied programmes. The UGC and the government must encourage, rather than thwart, innovation in pedagogy. Centres of excellence such as the IITs and the IISc and small, private universities are ideal for carrying out such experiments. If found successful, these can then be deployed in larger universities across the country.

The Indian Express:

... [T]he UGC [has been accused of] regulatory overreach. Actually, this is more than linear overreach. It is a category mistake, a blunder that logicians abhor. ... The Kakodkar Committee, set up in 2010, had recommended that centres of excellence be liberated from the educational bureaucracy. The board of governors of each IIT should have complete control over the teaching process, ranging from course design to expenditure management, human resource development and rules governing staff and payroll.

UGC's War on FYUP - V: How the Others Reacted

Symbiosis University in Pune is one of the institutions to receive the love letter from UGC, and it hated it so much that it took UGC to court:

Symbiosis International University, a non-profit private institution in Pune near Mumbai, took the matter to the Mumbai high court on 20 August, for a stay on a July UGC directive received by Symbiosis on 9 August to discontinue its four-year liberal arts programme.

The court ruled that the UGC “never communicated and-or even asked any explanation and-or even issued a show-cause notice before taking such a drastic action”, court documents said.

The same report contains some information about how some other recipients of UGC's missive have responded. Here's how Ashoka University reacted:

But pre-empting UGC intervention, the university has re-jigged the course to a three-year degree with an optional fourth year project or research paper.

And this is the response of the O.P. Jindal Global University:

Although it was also contacted by the UGC, another non-profit, OP Jindal Global University, said it did not offer four-year programmes, only an optional study abroad year where students can go to the United States.

UGC's War on FYUP - IV: A Great Tactical Move by the IITS

Ask the UGC to send its diktat to the IIT Council, which is chaired by the HRD Minister, and has as its members some of the most respected and admired people -- IIT Directors as well as Chairpersons of their Boards.

Meanwhile, stating that the President of India, who is also the Visitor of IITs, “will have to take a call” on the issue, the directors of some institutes have said that until now, there has been “no requirement of clearance from the UGC on any matter concerning the IITs”.

Reacting to the UGC’s clarification, IIT Kanpur director Prof Indranil Manna told The Indian Express, “We are empowered to run our courses through our senate and our statutes. This is clearly stated in the IIT Act. If there is to be a change in this, the IIT council will have to take it up… In my opinion, UGC guidelines only apply to institutes under the commission and the IITs are clearly outside their ambit.”

* * *

Update: The Economic Times reports that the UGC Chairperson is also a member of the IIT Council, and the HRD Ministry has endorsed this move.

UGC's War on FYUP - III: What if UGC's Real Problem is with the HRD MInistry?

Here's an interesting speculation based on what some UGC insiders have said: UGC's problem is not with IISc/IITs/Universities, but with the HRD Ministry!

Even as UGC chairperson Ved Prakash did not respond to email questionnaire or text messages, sources said the Commission's missive to institutions is part of its growing battle with the HRD ministry. UGC, a source said, was not comfortable with the idea of scrapping Delhi University's Four-Year Undergraduate Programme but had to acquiesce as the government had made up its mind.

"The commission and chairperson had to literally go against their own words about FYUP. Before the new government decided to scrap FYUP, UGC had endorsed the new programme. While UGC is within its right to send communication to educational institutions, it has been done now to drag in the HRD ministry. The ploy seems to have worked as the Commission has gone silent and the ministry is left defending the communication," a UGC source said.

UGC's War on FYUP - II: Response from the Guwahati University

To be filed under "I learn something new everyday": Guwahati University appears to be the first one to have started a four-year UG program -- way back in 2009, two full years before the FYUPs at IISc and IIT-K. Unfortunately, GU has also been bullied into scrapping its FYUP:

The university's Institute of Science and Technology (GUIST), which conducts the course, will not enroll a fresh batch of students this year, considering the University Grants Commission (UGC)'s opposition to four-year undergraduate programme ( FYUP).

"The UGC has asked several leading institutions of the country to do away with their four-year undergraduate courses. GU does not want to violate UGC's diktats. So, its academic council has recently asked GUIST to discontinue the four-year BS programme," said a senior GU official.

UGC's War on FYUP - I: A Fighting Response from the IITs

I have no new insights into UGC's actions (which include writing to the IITs and asking them to get their degrees aligned with the UGC notification), other than what is reported in the newspapers, and what others have said. As for the latter, Dheeraj Sanghi's musings are about the best; start with his posts: UGC decides maximum standards, and MHRD agrees with UGC.

The IITs claim that since they were created through an act of Parliament, they are outside the purview of UGC; this view has been contested by the UGC which says that while the IITs have all the autonomy in how they structure their courses, they simply do not have the right to call their degrees whatever they want.

Reacting to the controversy, UGC chairman Professor Ved Prakash said there is "no question of any encroachment".

"Every university is also a statutory body, but there is a procedure to be followed… no other body except the UGC can specify degrees. We are a conduit between the government and the institution, and no one can award a degree that is not approved," he said. [Source: India Today]

If UGC has its way, the 4-year BS degree, which was introduced by IIT-Kanpur in 2011 (the same year IISc started its own BS program) would be in trouble, since the abbreviation "BS", as a degree, does not appear in the Gazette notification of July 5, 2014. [The funny part, of course, is that this list has "only" 129 degrees!].

It now appears that the IITs are itching for a public fight which the UGC is very likely to lose. This realization is probably behind the HRD Ministry's suggestion that the IITs and UGC sit together across a table, and work things out; UGC's utterances have also mellowed lately.

Given the high-handed way the UGC has conducted itself in the last several months (starting with the gutting of the FYUP at the Delhi University), it is understandable that people root for the IITs in their fight.

[Disclosure: There is a personal interest for me: if the IITs win, we at IISc will also be able to restore the name "BS" to our own 4-year degree program].

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some Bad Habits are Learned at School

A letter from S. Ramasesha in Current Science:

... While wilful plagiarism should be punished exemplarily, it may also, in some cases, be due to a lack of understanding on the part of the offender as to what constitutes plagiarism. In the Indian context, often the young researchers, mainly students, commit plagiarism ‘unknowingly’ because it is not clear to them as to what constitutes plagiarism and what does not. This is especially true for students in India, since in their formative years in school, often teachers give full credit only for answers which are reproduced verbatim from their textbooks or class notes. Students who write answers in their own words are often penalized. [...]

And also, this article by Tim Birkhead and Bob Montgomerie in Times Higher Education:

Further discussion with our own undergraduate research students uncovered what they considered to be the main cause of such misconduct: the way science is taught at school. The obsession with box-ticking is a major culprit, where assessment rewards only the right answer rather than the process of research and the integrity of reporting. Students told us of teachers who encouraged them to make up results (the right ones, of course) when a particular experiment had not “worked”. The problem is obvious: teachers have not been given sufficient time by governments and curriculum developers to properly teach the scientific process and to do experiments carefully. If an experiment or demonstration fails, pupils need to understand why. It is ludicrous that pupils should ever be encouraged to fake results when their experiments do not turn out as expected, or be punished with lower marks when they do not get the “right” answer. We expect that for some ambitious young scientists, the mis-training they received at school sets the agenda for the rest of their career.

Einstein's Grade Card

We saw Ramanujan's grade card last week. It's Einstein's turn this week.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Links ...

  1. Infosys Science Foundation donates Rs. 20 crores to IISc for chaired professorships in mathematics and physics.

  2. The Lower Ambitions of Higher Education. Dwight Garner reviews William Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep.

    William Deresiewicz, of course, is the author of The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, an article that went viral almost immediately after it went online in 2008. It now seems to have been expanded into a book.

  3. Plagiarism Allegation on Textbook's Definition of Plagiarism. The title says it all.

    [This reminds me of plagiarism in an book on ... intellectual property!]

  4. Graeme Wood in The Atlantic: The Future of College?

  5. It's official: paying reviewers does get results! Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez and László Sándor describe the lessons from their experiment with referees at an economics journal.