Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Faculty Shortage in Indian Universities

This is a letter that I'm emailing to members of the task force setup by MHRD to look into shortage of faculty in our universities. I'm also linking this blog post in the email letter. Hence please read and post comments.

Dear Professors,

I came to know from newspaper that the Ministry of HRD has set up a task force to look into shortage of faculty in our universities. I also learn that the task force will design a performance appraisal system for the faculty in such institutions. In this regard I would like to express some comments.

About me :

After completion of my B.Tech in Electronics and Communication from College of Engineering Trivandrum and M.E. in Signal Processing from IISc Bangalore, I have worked in the industry (Private owned) for about a year, then as a lecturer in Government Engineering College Bartonhill, Trivandrum (Kerala State Government Institution) for around 2 years, and then as a lecturer in NIT Calicut (Autonomous Institution under Central Government) for another 2 years. I had resigned from NIT Calicut last July and am currently pursuing my PhD in CSA department, IISc.

The comments that are expressed in this letter are judgments made from my experiences (good and bad) in the above places.

I. On attracting and retaining good people in academia :

Four things that (I believe) will attract and retain good people to academia are
  1. Entry level qualification requirement,
  2. Sufficient monetary compensation and career advancement prospects,
  3. Meaningful work culture and
  4. Prospect for academic growth.
1. Entry level qualification requirement :

Most of the universities, even those with significant undergraduate teaching load, are restricting permanent tenure only to candidates already with a PhD. This single factor alone will reduce the number of academia aspirants by many orders in magnitude since Indian academia looses most of its young brains to the Industry not after PhD but immediately after their under-graduate or post-graduate degrees. Hence, hiking the entry level qualification to improve the quality of academia is a short sighted strategy. Instead, our academia should catch good people right after their graduation or post-graduation offering them not only a permanent tenure but also a promise for academic growth. I'll elaborate on academic growth part under point 4.

2. Monetary compensation :

I think this point is already well discussed (as evident from media reports) and I personally think that the present pay revision has put the compensation at reasonable levels (especially when comparing with the same for our primary school teachers). I even believe that too much money may attract the wrong people into academia.

Career advancement schemes are reasonable in autonomous institutions with flexible cadre ratio and rotation schemes. But the vacancy based promotion scheme still existing in State Government Institutions have left many people disillusioned and forced some of them to quit.

3. Meaningful Work Culture :

A meaningful work culture plays a very important role in retaining our best recruits. Shortage of faculty and excessive work load have reached a mutually destructing loop in many universities. I understand that a heavy teaching load is inevitable in the higher education sector in a country like India with limited academic resources and a large knowledge seeking population. But, the the excessive administrative jobs (admissions procedures, campus networking, stock verification, tender tabulations etc.) that come on the already stretched teaching staff in such places is unjustifiable and can be corrected. The failure to recruit permanent non-teaching staff and the attitude towards the value of a faculty member to the system are the key factors contributing to the situation.

Most of the service rules for teaching staff are still modeled on the ones originally designed for administrative jobs and hence comes as a misfit in many occasions. There is no reason why a rule like prohibiting public expression of ones views (to the media for example) should exist in a university. After all, education is not about hiding information. A good academic culture demands, among other things, a flexible work pattern, and freedom of public expression.

4. Prospect for academic growth :

Every faculty member should be permitted and encouraged to update his knowledge and skills periodically by going to better centers of learning. The various staff development programmes surely help in this regard. But the most important step in this direction was the FIP/QIP schemes through which a faculty member could avail a deputation to do higher studies in any of the reputed institutions in the country. This scheme is severely being discouraged in many institutions now, NIT Calicut for sure. Instead, these places force the faculty to do their higher studies on a part time basis in their own home institution. This is another short sighted strategy which not only over stretches the faculty, but also forfeits a chance of larger exposure level for the institution. Instead, our universities should encourage their faculty members to do higher studies at the best universities around the world, providing them QIP deputation/Study leave etc.

The third and fourth points are precisely the reasons why I, and also a few other colleagues of mine, had to resign from NIT Calicut.

II. On performance appraisal system for faculty :

Personally, I don't believe we can improve the teaching quality of a faculty by providing external incentives. Teaching is a profession in which the rewards are immediate and visible in the eyes of the students in front of us. Instead, what the system should do is to facilitate good teaching by providing a work culture of freedom and interaction.

III. On promoting good research :

This again is something which is bound to fail if we think short term. We cannot promote good research by forcing the already stretched faculty to publish. In the medium term, we may encourage and facilitate research among existing faculty by providing funding and time. I'm incompetent to comment on what would encourage good research among faculty. But i guess it should be our level of curiosity and peer recognition.

What is more important is that, we should groom our next generation into serious research and this can be done only by good quality teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Hence it is critical to ensure that the pressure on faculty to publish, patent etc, should not be at the cost of sacrificing the quality of teaching.

Conclusion :

If I can take the liberty to suggest a few action items that might help in the cause, then the list will include
  1. Keep the entry level qualification to a minimum and provide timely opportunities and encouragement for higher studies.
  2. Encourage FIP/QIP schemes and also leave/sabbatical for study purposes.
  3. Recruit sufficient non-teaching staff and give more value to the time of a teacher.
  4. Amend the service rules to fit to the needs of an open and non-hierarchical academic culture.
  5. Encourage research among faculty but do not force it so as to make her compromise on the teaching effort.
Dear Sir, I hope at least some of the points mentioned can be considered in your discussions. I'll also publish this letter on my blog so that others can express their comments on it.

15 comments:

Sandeep SS said...

A detailed and apt analysis of the current scenario. I vehemently support your view on grooming young people for taking up serious research. Having completed 6 months at IITB, I look fwd to taking up academic research at some premier research institute in India.

Hope the committee takes serious note of the same, and bring about some change.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

thaseemt said...

Ever since I read one of your blogs,which was the published form of your speech during a farewell ceremony, I wanted to write to you. An apt description of the current situation and apprehensions in the mind of a few who would love to come back and teach in India. I am an alumnus of NIT C and currently doing my Ph D in University of Minnesota. We have excellent system at undergraduate level and education system at the graduate level is found wanting. I hope the task force does something meaningful. Please leave your mail id. Mine is thaseem.t@gmail.com

Rajani said...

Well said!!! But, something is amiss for me and am not able to neatly point to what it is. It may just be that some of your thoughts are (naturally) more relevant for technical courses.

Deepak said...

Ya Rajani, I think my thoughts were heavily influenced by the state of things in technical education.

Jishnu A said...

May be another part to have a strong research in India is the lack of good journal and conference where academicians can interact and publish. What we really need is an Indian version of IEEE strongly funded by GoI (to meet the cost of running it atleast for 5-10 years) but administered by best professors in India/abroad. The articles should be freely download-able and all conferences should be traveling around the country so that it provides a cheaper alternative to IEEE conferences/publications. There should be best paper awards in all the journal/conferences which is awarded once an year by President/PM of India. Also the long term contributors should be awarded some prize equivalent to Nobel/Abel Prize.

K. Murali Krishnan said...

Jishnu, before we talk about research and publications, we need to get teachers who can teach the fundamentals properly. We need to attract young talents to teaching. Deepak's blog is about what needs to be done in our universities to make them "acceptable" choices for a young aspiring academician to look for a faculty position and the present scenario that forces her away.

Rosa said...

Well said. I am a teacher myself. The amount of administrative work that is thrust upon us is HUGE, especially in private colleges. Admissions, Attendance in triplicate, Exam registrations, AICTE accreditation, Finding out who is interested in a college bus and who's paid how much for the uniforms.. God Help!! The teaching part of my work is suffering terribly because 75% of the workday is spent filling up formats in duplicate and triplicate. That in itself is enough to demoralize and un-inspire any young teacher!!

SANDEEP PALAKKAL said...

Good analysis.

Mohammed Shahid said...

Hi Deepak,

As regards PhD being an entry bar: perhaps your prayers are answered (pun intended). Witness the recent nod towards easy appointment to Asst/Assoc-Prof positions. http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article110443.ece

Deepak said...

@Shahid - Sorry for the big delay in accepting your comment. There was lot of comment spamming that I couldn't keep up with.

Hmm. It is a strange world.

sree said...

Any idea what is the faculty shortage in Indian universities including technical ones? Lata

Deepak said...

Sreelata teachere,

The statistics are not consistent across various sources - estimates of shortage varying from 30% to 60%.

The Hindu article linked above puts down the following figures :

Central Universities: 30-40%
IITs: 30%
IIMs: 18%
IISc: 56%
NITs: 1140 vacancies

gokul1988 said...

hello sir

As regarding the recruitment process, i think every institute should be asked to devise a long term plan. The plan should not just be based on current requirements but on factors like future vacancies, possible expansion in departments activities, scope for study leaves etc. Based on this, recruitment may be conducted once in 2-3 years or so. (Indian police service, which faces a severe shortage has devised a plan like that. Its available at mha.nic.in)

The reduction of minimum qualification to B.tech can definitely make the profession much more attractive for fresh graduates, as more and more fresh graduates are opting for govt jobs after the recommendations of the sixth pay commn. Targets can be fixed for these new recruits like pg within 5 years, one publication per year etc (MCI has recently done that for medicos). But there should be sufficient flexibility so that quality work is not affected.

As regards the administrative work, i feel administrative and teaching work should be completely firewall-ed. Concerns of malpractices and corruption are being raised on many front nowadays. Teachers names should never be allowed to get mixed with such accusations as they are supposed to hold a higher moral ground. An independent administrative hierarchy can be created under the registrar or a junior ias officer on deputation.

These measures should not be seen as an end in themselves, but means to converting our institutes into centres of quality research

Coupon Koz said...

Great Post, Before we talk about research and publications, we need to get teachers who can teach the fundamentals properly. We need to attract young talents to teaching.Nice article