Saturday, March 11, 2017

Money Matters

These days everyone groaned about the rising living costs while earnings are at best remain stagnant. I used to not worry much about money matters, but now they definitely worry me and my family. Some weeks back, a professional blurted a comment in the social media saying he is perfectly fine with all the rising costs and still lived a comfortable life (putting down those who are affected by rising living costs). I find this comment so insensitive and distasteful. I certainly wouldn't want him to be the leader of any community or the boss of anybody since his concern is seemingly only his life. Another comment was to say things are still good since today we have all the cheap airfares which are unheard of in the previous years. There is some logical fallacy here; for instance, how often in day-to-day living do we want to fly. It seems that the comments were made to simply put one's political master in a better position. I do not know personally these two individuals but I do wish they refrain from making these statements which are really twisted in nature and do not help to uplift problems. Irrespective of political masters, one should now be concerned with turning the economic situation around and make our country progress and better to live in.

In many business pursuit today, one can see many different approaches to maximise profit. Some of these are well and fine but others are bordering on deceit (if not already). Here, is where one has to be extremely cautious whether as a consumer (have been swindled many times) or as a business person. My own religious faith, Islam, does not find trading (or doing business) itself as unlawful but in fact communally obligatory (fardhu kifayah). Thus there is no denial of commercial ideas as long as they are put in their proper place.

Today, we find our universities being pressured to generate their own income, conduct industrial connections and venture into commercial activities. True enough, none of this is new or unique to our local universities; universities abroad have embarked on this. While the idea on its own is nothing wrong just like trade is permissible, personally, I feel one ought to be extra careful on how we tread on this path. In particular, we would not like to adopt the almost-deceitful culture that seems prevalent in some businesses today. We should in fact implement the same rigour of academic honesty in our commercial ventures just like we do for research. We would also not like to see the traditional roles of the university in education and research be displaced (or indeed not absent in drafting the income-generating activities, so that the traditional roles remained higher priorities). Another cautionary note is the communal obligatory aspect of these activities. It is quite easy to homogeneously share the income-generating responsibility among all the staff of the university (without role differentiation) but this is bound to be unnatural. Not all are equipped to do so and the matter would be then unjust. I guess many in the university's upper management know this problem and it is not an easy problem to address, and quite safely said that we are still learning about the matter.

At the institute level, we are now asked to come up with a business plan and this is certainly new to us. In doing so, we should take into account the strength of the institute for which one is the number of postgraduate students that are enrolled at the institute. This should be factored in into the business plan as it is part of the university's income though not directly to the institute. By making the institute be attractive for research, with all our international connections, is indeed one 'business' strategy subservient to the primary research role of the institute. Another are our short-term courses and workshops (which are part of the traditional role of the institute) that leads to a better research environment. The income here could be simply from registration fees of participants but it should include even event sponsorship. Now besides research grants paying for the fees, we have not quite explored conducting events that are demand-driven by organizations or business entities. For conferences, this should be kept at an optimal number and ones that really matter to the institute and the research community. There seems to be a proliferation of conferences these days, which tend to be driven by the need of meeting KPIs (or doing businesses) rather than ones which are meaningful to the community. The suggestion of doing about ten conferences (by the institute!) to me seems ridiculous. Another possibility is contract or commercialised research, This is more difficult as it involves trust between the institute and the industries or business entities outside. This we ought to build gradually - often no shortcuts. In my imagined scenarios which involved my own research interest of complex networks is the route of data analytics, which is in demand nowadays. There should be a special task team for this type of research and perhaps its management can be placed under an enlarged version of our services laboratory. The research laboratories will continue to do research unfettered by these income-generating aims but not necessarily excluded.  One last matter, is a personal opinion which I have expressed many times, is to open up the institute to more interdisciplinary areas that involves engineering and computer science as they are closer to the relevant industries. Again special task team should be formed for such research interplaying mathematics with engineering or computer science. By doing so, we will probably make the institute closer to the industry-related research. Of course, these are among the many possibilities that one could explore, which we will have to work out collectively.

Certainly in the years to come, there will be challenging times for us in the institute.

No comments: