A strange phenomenon seems to be on the hi taking over the higher education sector of India – lack of qualified teachers – Yes, you read it right! On the one hand, a developing country like ours is still struggling with the problem of youth not interested in pursuing higher education. And on the other, we are challenged with dipping numbers of ‘hireable’ academics. To encompass more and more students into higher education, central universities have been set up in states like Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, Odisha, Bihar, etc. in the last decade. These universities are now functioning without almost half the faculty strength required. If reports are to be believed, new universities currently have a jaw-dropping 48% vacancy while the older ones have nearly 33% vacancy. Let us delve deeper into the matter.

First of all, one thing is to be kept in mind – the lack is not in the number of teachers. It is precisely in the number of experienced, professional teachers who have been employed by the institution on a permanent basis. More precisely, as per published data, only 31.1% of teachers in the higher education sector of India are experienced professors & the rest are only employed on a contractual or temporary basis. It needs mention here that these ad-hoc or contractual professionals are often poorly paid.

One may ask why the scenario is thus! MHRD’s All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) concludes that the dip in the percentage of senior professors is mainly because they are retiring every year & there are not enough worthy replacements. With only 12, 84, 755 experienced professionals in the entire higher education sector in the country, it seems institutions are being compelled to employ temporary staff.

The problem is much more deep-seated than it may seem. As per experts, the issue of faculty shortage has existed from the 1980s – with political-economical reasons to blame! The problem worsened chronologically.

In premiere colleges too the reality is not different! India Today on 1 April 2018 reported that as on March 2018, 23 IITs – the top engineering colleges in the country – suffer from a faculty shortage of 34%. A significant reason behind this, as per educationist & expert, AS Seetharamu, is the fact that ‘more & more IIT graduates, almost 50% to be precise, are going abroad to seek jobs or other ways of employment. The remaining are getting employed in top companies in India.’ This problem exists because previously about 15% of these graduates would join back IITs as faculty. Whatever be the reason, the issue needs to be addressed, as degenerating education in top institutes like IITs will levy a huge pressure on the backbone of Indian higher education. HRD Minister, Prakash Javadekar said that he would be taking the assistance of Home & External Ministry, and would try to smoothen the VISA process for foreign faculty members for the IITs. If this plan works, it will not only solve the problem of IIT’s faculty shortage but also boost union schemes like Visiting Advanced Joint Research & Global Initiative of Academic Networks.

An increase in the number of institutes, human resource migrating outside the country, youngsters unwilling to take up teaching – there are many reasons behind this shortage. Let us find out what these reasons may be.

Firstly, with bureaucracy, politics & corruption getting into higher education, fewer youngsters want to take up teaching as a profession. This, coupled with the disordered state of most institutions render the academic profession unattractive.

Even after recommendations made by the Sixth Pay Commission, lack of funds poses a considerable threat to the future of public owned universities & colleges. Reportedly even after experienced teaching staff retires, the new teaching staff is not hired. Teaching staff already employed are often not paid on time or are underpaid.

Faculty shortage is not plaguing state-run institutions alone. Private colleges & universities are not exceptions. These institutions are seen to create a deliberate lack of faculty due to profit motives. They are often unwilling to hire the necessary number of teachers. Ad-hoc faculty help in cost-cutting & the colleges often quote the lack of qualified professionals as the reason behind the problem.

Sometimes an individual resume has been dropped by a public or private college; the person has turned out to be “overqualified” for the position.

Promotions are a rare reality in the level of associate professor. Universities often quote lack of qualification & experience as the reason behind the slow pace of promotions. But veterans like R Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Higher Education Department, MHRD, is of the opinion that the real reason is administrative bottlenecks.

It should be mentioned here that with each passing day, both private & public institutions are raising the eligibility criterion for promotions or hiring associate professors. For example, recently PhD. was made mandatory for promotions in colleges. Such frequently changing eligibility criterions are also a huge deterrent for willing candidates.

With power being shifted from the hands of the University Grants Commission to the state governments, many disparities are being spotted by individuals who have been in the profession for long. Many point out that in the past teaching staff was hired at regular intervals. Today this does not happen.

Legal obstacles too are scaring away many. For example, the recent tussle between Allahabad High Court & UGC regarding a circular denoting institute-wise reservation to satiate faculty vacancies has stalled the hiring plans of many institutions.

Many eligible candidates also deny job offers with even top colleges like IIT Bhillai or IIT Dharwad due to the latter’s remote location. Remoteness renders the other spouse or family members of the candidate jobless. Moreover, finding good schools for the children of the candidate also become a challenge in such places.

Whatever may be the reasons, the scenario is becoming threatening to the higher education sector of the country, primarily because by 2020 the country’s campuses are likely going to have an unexpected number of newly-enrolled students. Guest faculty won’t be able to solve the problem. There needs to be a well-thought-out, structured solution to the problem.

First of all, to restore the youngsters’ belief in the academic profession, the latter needs to gain back its long-lost dignity. The perks of a teaching career need to be highlighted, advertised & promoted. It should be advocated through distinguished as well as well known faces. Sonam Wangchuk is one such example. The fact that a teaching job is filled with fun and dignified at the same time should be stressed upon. Moreover, to attract candidates, the government should plan benefits related to teaching professions in state-owned colleges & universities.

Private colleges should also increase salaries of the teaching staff. Eligibility criteria may also be relaxed for the time being to attract candidates. Retirement age in some universities is quite less. This extended will give the institution a little more time to look for suitable replacements.

The government needs to pitch in & introduce innovative ways to meet up the shortage. Filling up vacancy with foreign workforce is an example. This will also help in bridging the vast gap between Indian & global standards of education. Such an initiative will not only render the higher education sector of India more globalized but also increase the country’s visibility in the world scenario.

Recent trends also show that Indian origin citizens living outside the country or NRIs are showing a willingness to come back to India if given suitable career opportunities. The government needs to examine this opportunity very seriously. If utilized in the right way, this plan can go a long way in not only solving the faculty shortage in India but also opening up new avenues for the higher education sector.

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