New Delhi: Faculty shortage has plagued central universities since the 1980s but the number of vacant positions has been increasing year after year. In a parliamentary reply from July, the Ministry of Education stated that there were a total of 6,549 vacant faculty positions across 45 central universities.
Delhi University topped the list with 900 vacancies with Allahabad University coming in second with 622 vacant positions.
Faculty members from central and state universities have their own theories as to why the shortage persists, including budget constraints, low quality of applicants and remote locations of universities.
As a result of this shortage, more and more professors are complaining of being overburdened, claiming that with understaffed universities, the classroom strength has increased to 100-150 and their working hours have increased to 18 per day.
Temporary and ad-hoc teachers have been running the show at Delhi University for a while. But the October upheaval in the university due to the selection of permanent faculty led to about 70 per cent of them being displaced, they claim.
An ad-hoc faculty member at Delhi University said that despite having taught at the university for seven years now there is no job security. “We can lose our jobs anytime and the stressful atmosphere is not helping our case,” he said.
Union Minister of State for Education Dr Subhas Sarkar, in a reply earlier this year, said that the ninistry of education has requested all the central higher educational institutions to fill up the vacancies in mission mode within a period of one year starting from 5 September 2021. “Since August 2021, 4,807 posts in central universities have been advertised for which the selection processes are on,” he added.
The first deadline has passed but the situation shows no signs of improvement.
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Budget, quality and location
Some professors believe there is a dearth of qualified professors in the country, while others believe that the guest and ad-hoc faculty should be absorbed to eliminate the vacancies.
Rohit Azad, an assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was of the view that the simple way to overcome this problem is to increase the budgetary expenditure on education. “On average a single professor mentors about 22 students in the Masters’ department in JNU. The workload on professors has increased when it comes to tasks like question paper setting, teaching optional papers or setting entrance tests,” he said.
With an increased burden on professors, they will not be able to effectively mentor PhD students leading to fewer potential academicians. Azad also emphasised the need for keeping the public education system affordable, if not, he said that more eligible candidates will shift towards foreign education.
Rajen Harshe, former vice-chancellor of the University of Allahabad, was of the opinion that the faculty vacancies are an outcome of the poor quality of candidates in the country. He believes that selection of a poorly qualified candidate stands to hurt the universities.
“Selection stands to hurt more than rejection. I have been on the board of several selection committees where we have selected nobody. It is important to have professors who are solely focused on academics, they should be chosen on domain expertise and not on other considerations like caste, religion or politics. Universities don’t require political ideologues but scholars and scientists who are dispassionate critics of social and natural realities,” he said.
According to Harshe, political motives and poor training of PhD candidates are two distinct but important factors which make a candidate unfit for a professor’s role. He added that he was against the idea of ‘inbreeding’ or universities hiring their own doctoral students as professors. This, he says, restricts the growth of perspective.
Ali Raza Moosvi, the dean of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Central University of Karnataka, blames the university’s location — Kadaganchi village in Aland taluka of Kalaburagi.
“All 16 central universities created by the 2009 Act of Parliament have been set up in remote rural locations, or what we refer to as the ‘back of beyond’,” said Moosvi, who has worked with three central universities.
He said the low student turnout and “off-grid” geographical setting make it understandable if professors don’t wish to take jobs here. “The location of a university is very important and decides factors like infrastructure, quality of life and the quality of education.”
Infrastructure, he added, “is not just limited to buildings but also to facilities like food, internet, campus life, access to communication and transport”.
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State universities in worse condition
The situation in state universities is not any better. In states like Bihar, students claim that they are unable to get their degrees even after four to five years of study.
Magadh University is a case in point. The university has practically shut down after its vice-chancellor, pro-vice-chancellor, registrar and other top officials were arrested for financial fraud of Rs 30 crore. Students on the roll of the university have been waiting for five years for their bachelor’s degree. What makes it worse is that students did not attend a single teacher-taught class in those five years.
In the south, the University of Madras, one of the oldest universities in the country, has a faculty vacancy of 65 per cent. A senior professor of the institute, wishing to remain anonymous, told ThePrint that the institute is functioning with the help of guest faculty. An assistant professor is required to spend an average of 16 hours teaching, however, with an increased workload the teaching time even doubles some weeks.
“There are several departments which have only one or two permanent faculty members and the rest are guest lecturers. For important department-related activities like curriculum development, admissions procedures and decisions I have to often rope in professors from other departments who do not have the subject specialisations. This shortage not only impacts our work but also affects the student learning outcomes,” he explained.
The working conditions for these guest faculty are also not ideal. They get a pay of about rupees 20,000 per month, an amount subject to delays and cuts owing to holidays. “It is not like there is a dearth of eligible candidates for the permanent position. The guest faculty are PhD holders from notable institutions, it will be of great help to the university if they are employed full-time. It is sad to see doctoral-degree holders get such meagre pay when they share the burden of teaching with the permanent faculty,” he added.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)
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