Mon, 25 Oct 2021

The missing element

Posted on Monday, September 1, 2008

Can an institute of higher learning be truly superior without the solid and crucial foundation supplied by well-qualified and knowledgeable teachers? Surbhi Bhatia explains how even as India is poised to become a knowledge economy, most of the country’s institutes of higher education, continue to face an acute faculty crunch

A student graduates from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) with a salary higher than the institute’s director. And while the same graduate can look forward to lucrative annual promotions and increments, his/ her former teacher has to settle for an annual raise of Rs 450. This is just one example that demonstrates that although the teaching profession at the higher education level has advanced, demanding more and better academic qualifications and skills from a teacher, it remains stagnant in terms of salaries and promotions that it offers educators and academicians.  
Today, Indian institutes of higher education are plagued with several faculty-related issues. While on the one hand, the number of people willing to join the teaching profession is scant due to greener pastures elsewhere, the few that dare to pursue their passion for teaching are often forced to leave after experiencing uncompetitive pay packages and a lack of opportunities to grow.
Faculty crunch

Add to this the new quota implementation, and you get a fair view of the present day higher education faculty crunch. “The 27 per cent reservation will adversely affect the demand-supply ratio of Indian higher education. Inadequate infrastructure and shortage of quality faculty will follow,” declares Hema Raghavan, the former dean of students’ welfare at Delhi University (DU), and former principal of Gargi College. 
Even prestigious institutes of learning, like the IITs and IIMs, with their elaborate funding and infrastructure, struggle to find good faculty. What, then, can be said about the lesser known institutes? Moreover, if the current faculty crunch is so dire, what happens when the government’s plans of setting up eight new IITs, seven IIMs and 30 central universities are put in motion?
Number game

“According to the University Grant Commission’s (UGC) 2007 report, the total number of teachers is 4.88 lakh. More than 80 per cent of them are at the college level and only about 16 per cent at the university department level. Approximately, 25 per cent of the positions available are lying vacant,” informs Neeru Snehi, Assistant Professor, Department of Higher and Professional Education, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA). 
However, Dayanand Dongaonker, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities, believes that the numbers are far from accurate. “It is because there is no proper mechanism to evaluate the number of faculty available in colleges that these numbers can’t represent the actual scenario. Not having accurate figures is another major problem,” avers Dongaonker.
Quality matters

At the central university level, this problem has more to do with quality than quantity. Ashok Vohra, Head, Department of Philosophy, Delhi University (DU), clarifies, “I would call it a ‘crunch’ if there was a shortage of people available to join the profession, but that is not the case at the central university level. The real problem lies in the fact that there is no quality faculty available to do research work.” 
Most teachers and professors blame ‘irrational’ government policies for preventing good faculty from joining central universities. And another cause for concern is UGC’s policy of promoting faculty members (a person is automatically promoted from the post of lecturer to senior lecturer to reader and to professor after completing a fixed number of years). “In such a scenario, people lose the zeal to do research work, which is one of the main responsibilities of a teacher at the higher education level. There is nothing differentiating those who got promoted by merit from those who got promoted by default. This ultimately affects the quality of research being done by the university,” opines Vohra.
And the pay packages don’t help either. Snehi elaborates, “A lecturer earns approximately Rs 8000 to Rs 10,000, a senior lecturer makes Rs 10,000, a reader can make Rs 12,000, and a professor, the profession’s top rung, gets no more than Rs 15,000.” Why then, would a ‘good’ student with better, more lucrative prospects elsewhere, be attracted to teaching as a profession? “Most would logically opt for management education rather than pursue a PhD. Even those who pursue a PhD wouldn’t want to join the teaching profession,” asserts Raghavan.
Technical trouble

The report by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), P Rama Rao Committee on Faculty Development states, “The AICTE has justly recognised that the gravest problem bedevilling our country’s system of technical education is the woeful shortage of competent teaching staff. Currently based on the established AICTE norms of student-teacher ratio of 1:15, and the cadre ratio of 1:2:6 for professors, readers and lecturers respectively, the shortage of teaching staff is over 40,000 and the shortage in the different cadres is professors – 4531, readers – 9063 and lecturers – 27,187. The shortage of PhDs exceeds 30,000, while the master’s shortfall is over 24,000.” 
The committee also outlined the ‘alarming failure rate’ in a large number of technical institutes as further proof of the shortage of faculty and the inadequacy of existing faculty. For example, in about 150 of the 229 engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, the failure rate was nearly 65 per cent.   
“The problem of faculty crunch is not new. Even when the existing IITs were set up, there was insufficient faculty available. So, the professor of one discipline had to teach in another discipline,” reveals Sanjay Dhande, Director, IIT-Kanpur. Gautam Barua, Director, IIT-Guwahati, elucidates, “The real problem lies in attracting quality people as faculty. At the higher education level, the faculty’s job is not limited to teaching; he/ she has to be involved in research work that demands a high level of dedication.”
New talent

The salary for teachers, even at the IITs and IIMs, is not enough to attract good students. “And for institutions like ours, which do not get funding like the IITs, it is even tougher,” explains S N Upadhyay, Director, Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, which is slated to become an IIT in the coming years.
He adds, “At present, we have at least 100 posts lying vacant. If the government wants good people to join, the faculty needs to be given much better residential facilities and other infrastructure.” The same holds true for management education as well. “There are not many people who want to pursue research in the management area. Besides, private institutes make far better offers,” claims a faculty-member at an IIM. “With the government planning to set up additional IIMs, the faculty crunch is going to increase. The hiring spree would probably compromise on quality,” said Ashoke Dutta, Director, IIM-Shillong, who was also part of the P Rama Rao Committee.
Way forward

Although, institutes of higher learning refuse to compromise on quality, most good students aren’t interested in joining the profession. What are the solutions to this dilemma? The most important, perhaps, is to promote research work. “It is important to make PhDs more lucrative by increasing grants and offering international exposure. DU has already started a scheme for scholars that will give them the opportunity to go abroad,” says Deepak Pental, Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University.  
“Adequate funding, freedom for the professors to work, the creation of a mechanism to attract quality students and judicious expansion of higher education are all important,” affirms Dongaonker. And when it comes to technical education, the P Rama Rao Committee has suggested several solutions. “The AICTE has been taking several initiatives under the Faculty Development Bureau to address the shortage of qualified faculty and other related matters regarding faculty development in technical institutes. In fact, Rs 950 crore has already been approved in principle by the executive committee of AICTE towards these recommendations,” offers Swadesh K Gupta, Advisor and Head, Research and Institutional Development, AICTE.  
And lastly and more importantly, with the sixth pay commission, revisions in the profession’s pay packages may also be at hand.  


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