University faculty recruitment is in a state of crisis because of political and bureaucratic apathy.

In staff rooms across colleges of the country, this morning, calculators are out, as teachers try to figure out the quantum of salary increase and arrears due.

Last night, the Union Cabinet had approved revised pay scales for university and college teachers based on the 7th Pay commission recommendations. This would result in a pay hike, to be implemented from January 1st, 2018, in the range of Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 50,000 based for 7.58 lakh teachers. Beneficiaries include academic staff of 110 centrally funded universities and other institutions, 329 state universities and tens of thousands of government colleges. In the case of state funded institutions, respective state governments will have to adopt the revised pay scale.

Announcing the cabinet decision, union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar justified the pay hike saying good salary packages are required to attract and retain talent in academics. He is right, but only partially.

Central and state universities, especially those in major urban centres, must pay more if only to compete with private universities which are rapidly coming up across the country and offering competitive salaries. For instance, some elite private universities are offering nearly double the salary paid by central universities. So now Indian academics don’t need to look to the West in search of opportunities.

But even the most attractive salary package offered by public universities loses lustre when confronted by a completely broken teacher recruitment system. This is one of the biggest crises haunting higher education in India. Simply put, university teachers aren’t being recruited regularly and systematically in Indian universities.

As a consequence, academic positions remain unfilled for several years. According to reports, 35% of teaching posts are vacant in IITs. New central universities haven’t filled more than half of their vacancies. Even IIMs have more than a quarter of their academic positions vacant. Delhi University needs to recruit 4000 faculty members.

It gets worse with state universities. In the case of Karnataka, which I have looked at more closely, practically every state university needs to appoint hundreds of teachers. For instance, the prestigious Mysore University, which celebrated its centenary last year, has more than 400 vacant positions and hasn’t made a single new appointment since 2007. No new state university, established in the last decade, has recruited permanent teaching faculty. Since the 1980s, there is a gap of at least a decade between faculty appointments in the universities of Karnataka. In some cases, there hasn’t been any recruitment in twenty years.

Such a tardy recruitment policy will severely impact the academic standing and quality of any university. However, in light of Javadekar’s comments, let us consider this problem from the perspective of a prospective teacher. A newly minted Ph.D. graduate needs to wait for a decade or more to apply for a university teaching position, despite vacancies being open. Even when appointed, most assistant professors are being hired in their mid to late thirties, and therefore, are able to serve for less than three decades.

Needless to say, such a long wait stunts their intellectual growth, and more importantly, adversely impacts their earning capacity. Due to delayed appointments, new appointees not only lose several years of earning, but they begin their career at an older age. A more systematic recruitment system would have ensured them, according to a back-of-the-envelope calculation, at least double of what they would have made during their career. Going by today’s salaries, the loss could be as much as two crores rupees over a lifetime.

If both the institution and the individual teacher are being so badly affected, why is the university faculty recruitment in a state of crisis? Apathy, political and bureaucratic, is the easy answer. Neither the administrators nor the politicians seem to think that good, qualified permanent teachers are a priority.

The reality is a bit more complex. A successful teacher recruitment process has become quite complicated, since the institution will have to follow various norms, especially those pertaining to reservation criteria. Additionally, approvals have to be received from the ministries of higher education, finance and social welfare as well as relevant legislative committees. Only a motivated vice chancellor, adept at file chasing, can overcome some of these limitations before the term ends.

Given this reality of infrequent faculty recruitment, competition has become intense,
thereby creating the space for political interference and monetary corruption. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the bulk of university appointments in recent times have been made with money or political influence.

We may not be able to address all the systemic issues immediately and successfully. However, there is something Javadekar can do: mandate that all universities fill their posts every other year. That one measure may address some of the problems plaguing our public universities and also persuade our best talent to not flee to private universities.

Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi teaches History at the Karnataka State Open University, Mysore.

Also read: Pay hike for teachers is great, but India’s universities need much more

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