The Unacknowledged Crisis of Indian Higher Education

The Sunday Times with this provocative byline (Indian higher education: 40% of college teachers temporary, quality of learning badly hit) has brought a hidden burning issue to the forefront. But not sufficiently.

It is true there is a caste system in Indian Higher Education, this one brought upon not only by administrators, but also by permanent (tenured) teachers on ad-hoc and contractual teachers. Here is how the system works.

Appointment & Renewal

The ad-hoc teacher is contracted with a fixed time contract, renewable periodically. Selection to all posts (it gets exponentially worse in permanent selection) is heavily biased through petty politics played by departmental heads, principals, observers, college governing body members and even the vice chancellor. To get appointed is one challenge, and to keep getting their contract renewed is another challenge. In fact, for senior teachers (teachers who have been ad-hoc for several years, they still need to go through interviews for selection.

The contract letter is a couple of paragraphs with information on the appointment. The ad-hoc teachers are not provided a rulebook or any intimation of what their rights are in the system, presumably because they don’t have any.

Clearly, a short term renewal based contract can not garner the teacher’s allegiance to the institution or students, does not allow her to make significant contributions to the department or college, places acute financial and emotional pressure and perpetuates a feudal system wherein the ad-hoc has to suck-up to the tenured teachers & administration in order to build some  longer term relationships. Equally scary, on the other side, is when an ad-hoc teacher, who has been consistently renewed over years, suddenly finds herself at the brink of penury, because the system refuses to renew any more contracts.

Operational Issues

The ad-hoc suffers many discriminatory practices at work.

It starts with the time table. The senior and tenured teachers get the first preference in figuring out how they would like their days of the week structured and when they would get a weekly off (that is, those teachers that do come to college or school in the first place). The ad-hocs come in last and have to bear with what is handed out to them. This is not an unimportant affair.

Then it comes to official and unofficial duties. The official duties are laden heavily on ad-hocs and they are expected to do things like data entry, staying in late and on weekends, and running small errands for tenured teachers. The junior ad-hocs are the worst treated, since they are fresh and scared. When it comes to official exam duties, for example, tenured teachers end up getting fewer exam duties than ad-hoc teachers. I wouldn’t be surprised if ad-hoc teachers also double up for taking regular classes that tenured teachers were supposed to take.

There are many “unofficial” duties. These may include personal errands for administrators or senior teachers, sometimes sexual favors (someone told me recently of colleges where it was impossible to get a contractual job without sleeping with an influential teacher) and many other uncalled for activities.

Ad-hocs don’t have the ability to garner government funds for research or for going to conferences. They are not provided any academic up-skilling or any of the UGC courses either. It is almost as if they do not exist for these purposes. I am pretty sure that is what happens at the school level as well.

In fact, Ordinance 19 of the UGC clearly does not regard ad-hoc teachers as teachers of the University

a) Teachers of the University means Professors, Associate Professors, Assistant Professors and such other persons as may be appointed for imparting instruction or conducting research in the University or in any College or Institution maintained by the University and are designated as teachers by the Ordinances.
b) A teacher of the University shall be a whole-time salaried employee of the university and shall devote his / her whole-time to the University and does not include honorary, visiting, part-time and ad-hoc teachers.

This is the caste system personified. Obviously, ad-hoc teachers cannot sit on a panel that is constituted to select tenured teachers. It would be poetic justice if that could have been allowed.

Voices and Rights

Clearly, in a feudal system, the rights of ad-hoc teachers are non-existent. They cannot afford to go against anyone or voice their opinion openly for fear of the greatest reprisal – termination or non-renewal. This, according to the newspaper article, applies to 40% of teachers in higher education or about 400,000 teachers. No ad-hoc teacher is willing to speak out for fear of reprisals, and none of the tenured teachers are willing to speak out for them in any concerted manner. The system is blatantly exploitative. and the worst part is that it is the academic system, where knowledge and wisdom are the cornerstones.

In summary, the crisis of teachers in India is as great as the crisis of teaching or the crisis of competence in Indian higher Education.

It was refreshing to hear the Minister of State for Education Mr. Jitin Prasada yesterday at the Founders Day celebration of a prestigious school. He was candid enough to say that he was not an expert at the domain, but he wanted to ensure that he could take the voices of ordinary people and use it to influence policy and decision making.

Well, Mr. Prasada, here is your chance. Enable 400,000 teachers in India to walk with their head raised high, proud to be part of an education system that is responsive to their needs and motivated to your vision of quality education.

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