Life isn’t rosy for college, varsity teachers in India
There are few higher education institutions of repute in the country, and even these have backlogs of unfilled vacancies, with guest lecturers and ad hoc teachers often running the system in less than comfortable conditions.
The celebrations of Teachers’ Day – coinciding with the birth anniversary of India’s second President Dr S Radhakrishnan – obfuscate a stark reality of the country: the crisis of the higher education system.
To begin with, the last few decades have seen the decline of a number of universities, leaving students with few choices. Think of the stretch between Delhi and Kolkata, for instance. Decades back, this stretch had an array of good universities, be it Delhi University, JNU (since 1969), Aligarh Muslim University, Allahabad University, Banaras Hindu University, Patna University, Calcutta University and Jadavpur University.
Cut to the present: Delhi University, JNU (now witness to an upheaval every week or month) and Jadavpur University are the only ones that are still very vibrant institutions. At the undergraduate level, Delhi University caters to students across India, in the absence of good institutions cutting across disciplines. This entails additional expense on the part of families who have to send their son or daughter far from home. And it also results in admission in the university becoming difficult. The new Central Universities set up in the last decade or so have largely failed to become institutions of repute.
The causes of the decline of many top institutions over the last few decades range from political interference, casteism, violence, nepotism leading to sub-standard appointments, irregular classes, etc.
This apart, there is very little in the present education system to attract the best talent to academics. A very small minority of well-connected, bright, young minds are retained in teaching and research. Most whose families cannot withstand years of struggle to get a stable academic job go into other professions. Some such professions are more lucrative and ensure early success.
Yet, government policies over the years have been equally responsible for pushing out talent. If salaries have improved in the last two decades, precious little has been done to fill up vacancies.
Delhi University, for example, has been running largely on ad hoc and guest teachers. The number of unfilled vacancies here is as high as 4000. A recent circular even said that till vacancies are filled, guest teachers should be appointed, which was interpreted as an attempt to do away with the ad hoc system too.
A guest teacher gets paid per lecture, and the money is credited to her bank account with a time lag. The payment is Rs. 1500 per lecture. And many of the guest lecturers hold MPhil and even PhD degrees from prestigious universities like JNU and Delhi University.
Even ad hoc lecturers – while they get paid about Rs. 80,000 a month – do not get benefits like maternity leave, etc.
The high pendency of regular teaching posts over the years does show that education is not high on the priority of policy makers. The UGC has been writing letters to universities to fill up their teaching posts, but little is done in terms of following up on these.
Some central universities have, however, advertised posts in recent months.
This apart, the lives of college teachers have other professional woes too. There are many who have not been promoted to associate professor – or even senior scale as assistant professors – despite well over a decade of teaching. Promotions in Delhi University Colleges have been withheld for years. This does entail a financial loss to teachers, as they are unable to advance to a higher scale despite years of service. Thus, academics, the driver of teaching and cutting-edge research, does not remain lucrative as a profession.
Many academics have shifted to private universities in recent years for better packages.
However, even mobility from one college or university to another comes at a risk. Unlike corporate jobs – where organisations hire on the basis of one’s resume and the organisation one leaves gets to know only when the employee resigns – academic jobs in the public sector almost always ask for a no-objection certificate from the present employer. In other words, a good performer is wary of applying for new jobs, as she does not want to irk her present head of department. While many in the academia say that this is to ensure that seniority is counted, the same can be sought after one’s selection rather than while applying.
Amid the hype surrounding teachers’ day, there are many problems that highly qualified college and university teachers face in India. And how quickly we solve these problems will show how much we as a society value teachers.