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With unfilled faculty positions, central universities descend into ad hocism

The elite Delhi University leads the pack with 900 vacancies. It is followed by roster of (dis)honour: JNU, BHU, AMU, and more. No wonder Indian varsities continue to languish in global rankings

July 29, 2022 / 03:01 PM IST
Since August 2021, advertisements have been released for 4,807 posts in central universities. (Representative Image)

Since August 2021, advertisements have been released for 4,807 posts in central universities. (Representative Image)

Purveyors of India’s demographic dividend have long believed that quality university education should be the panacea for most ills plaguing the country’s youth, who are desperately short on skills.

But scratch the surface and warts pop out. Despite all the lip service, higher education, it seems, is no longer top-of- mind for Indian policy planners.

Consider this. Data shared by union education minister Subhas Sarkar in the Lok Sabha recently revealed that 43 central universities in India have as many as 6,549 vacant faculty positions.

Former vice-chancellor of Allahabad University, Professor Rajan Harshe, told Moneycontrol: "What is happening today is extremely painful. I have sat on various selection committees at JNU, at Hyderabad Central University and at Allahabad University, among others. The aim is to hire the best. The big question today is where do you get the best candidates from? Selections can hurt; rejections will not. If people are picked on grounds of ideology or nepotism, education in these elite universities will be damaged beyond the point of no-return."

While this is not a new phenomenon, according to Harshe, the problem has become acute today because the quest to search for the best has ceased. "Some of the people who are being hired, education would be better off without them," he sighs, and believes higher education would improve if there were no government interference. The government does not support with adequate funds either.

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All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) chairperson Anil Sahasrabudhe, concurs. He said: "There is no doubt that we need to fill faculty vacancies in central universities if quality education is to be imparted. Often, appointments have been held up because of long-winded litigations, which are highly avoidable."

Leading the list is India’s elite Delhi University (DU), with a whopping 900 vacancies, the minister said in a written response to a question raised by BJP MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy.

In response to another query, Sarkar told Parliament that DU has 52 teachers serving on an ad-hoc basis, apart from 248 guest teachers, while 1,044 are on contract.

The ministry of education said in a recent statement that "no proposal is under consideration in the University Grants Commission (UGC) to absorb ad-hoc teachers as permanent faculty. However, the Ministry of Education and the UGC have, from time to time, requested central universities to fill vacancies on a regular basis."

DU is followed by a roster of the country’s finest: Allahabad University (622 vacancies); Banaras Hindu University (532); Aligarh Muslim University (498) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (326).

In the National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) report released by the education ministry recently, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) occupied second place in the university category, holding on to its position three years in a row, reflecting its high quality of research and faculty. The NIRF is a methodology adopted by the ministry of education to rank institutions of higher education in India.

The Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru, topped the rankings in the university category this year.

Apart from the names mentioned above, central universities with over 100 vacant teaching positions include Jamia Millia Islamia (223), Central University of Kashmir (116), Central University of Haryana (120), and the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University with 231 unfilled positions.

Since August 2021, advertisements have been released for 4,807 posts in central universities. The selection process for these are still on, Sarkar told the House.

Vijay Singh, a retired associate professor of history at DU, said,  ``This is all part of a plan which began under the Congress dispensation and is being continued by the current government. The idea is to keep everyone hanging, not give permanent jobs so that academics are compelled to toe the establishment’s line.”

With such rampant ad hocism, the quality of education takes a beating. In his estimation, this policy gives university authorities the leverage to move out teachers at will. "The old practice of encouraging debate and enhancing learning, producing good students in the process, takes time. Under this new system, there is little chance of that happening, particularly when those who make these decisions know that their own children are studying in foreign universities, never to return to India," says Singh, a former Cambridge University graduate.

That in turn, has spawned another trend: private institutes like Ashoka University, O P Jindal University and Shiv Nadar University are attracting professors and academics from public universities like DU, JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia (Jamia) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), among others. Much of the guest faculty, for example, has left DU for private universities because permanent positions were not being offered to them. These include not just senior but mid-career professors as well.

An assistant professor at the Shiv Nadar University, who switched from DU in 2021, requesting anonymity, said that “the atmosphere of research is diminishing in DU, and balancing teaching and research is becoming increasingly difficult.” This has other social repercussions – an ad hoc teacher has little to look forward to by way of a married and settled life.

Hiring may not be as simple as it appears on paper. In Delhi University, for instance, out of the 900 vacancies, 138 are reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC), 70 for Scheduled Tribes (ST), and 244 for Other Backward Castes (OBC).

Of 6,549 openings pan-India, 988 are reserved for SC candidates , 576 for ST candidates, and 1,761 for OBC candidates.

Could it be that difficult to fill vacancies in these categories? According to  Sahasrabudhe, there is no reason why all categories cannot be fulfilled. "If adequate care had been taken 20 years ago, vacancies for all categories could have been filled. Now that the government has woken up to this situation, you will see the results," says this professor of mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati.

Harshe, too, believes suitable candidates from all, including backward categories, can be found provided one is willing to put in the work and identify such candidates. "We filled SC vacancies in Allahabad with very good candidates,” he said.

In February 2019, the Supreme Court (SC) dismissed petitions seeking a review of its judgment upholding Allahabad High Court’s (HC) decision that reservation in faculty positions at universities should be calculated department-wise, and not based on the total seats in a university.

The Allahabad HC , in its April  2017 judgment, had ruled that not doing so would result in some departments having all reserved candidates, and some having only unreserved ones, which would be violative of articles 14 (equality before the law) and 16 (equal opportunity) of the Constitution.

Sahasrabuddhe believes that once the litigation is out of the way, appointments to reserved seats would be filled up in due course.

Former DU VC, Professor Deepak Pental, finds it tragic that faculty positions are not filled despite the increase in the number of Ph. D. scholars, many of whom have done their research abroad, and are waiting for opportunities.

"You will see that the global rankings of top Indian universities have not gone up. There is lethargy; many VCs who should be pushing the case for filling in vacancies are below par themselves. Enthusiasm has to come back to the universities, else the frustration of young scholars will continue to mount. It is not hard to guess the future of the education system in India then," he lamented.

At the moment, it seems like a herculean task ahead for the country's higher education system.

LIST OF FACULTY VACANCIES AT CENTRAL UNIVERSITIES:

University                                Vacancies

- Delhi University -                      900

- Allahabad University -              622

- Banaras Hindu University        532

- Aligarh Muslim University        498

- Jawaharlal Nehru University    326

- Jamia Millia Islamia                    223

- Central University of Kashmir   116

- Central University of Haryana   120

- Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University 231
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
first published: Jul 29, 2022 03:01 pm
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