Faculty Crisis in Top Tech Institutes

A new professor was recently appointed by our college administration. The professor, who has retired from IIT, has an amazing personality and is very friendly and has already found a place in our hearts. Recently, he raised a question to all of us “How many of you would be willing to come back as a teacher to this place?” Not one hand went up. There was silence in a class. Then in the following conversation we came to know that India’s premier institute is facing an acute shortage of quality faculty. The situation is really grim. A growing crisis in academic recruitment at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) is threatening to disrupt teaching and research, and could put international collaborations in jeopardy. Teaching as a career option is obviously low on the list of the graduates these days. No wonder that even reputed institutions like IITs, are finding it difficult to hire good faculty.

Latest survey says that the nation’s seven IITs need about 900 additional faculty members before the next academic session to counteract the shortfall.

“A report released last year by a parliamentary committee outlined the magnitude of the crisis. At 16 universities under federal control — considered the country’s elite — as many as 1,988 faculty positions lay vacant as of March 2005. The committee said the problem is probably even worse at state universities and that “drastic steps need to be taken so that students are not deprived of proper guidance.”(The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12th October 2007 issue)

A string of measures – including hiring foreigners, raising the retirement age to 70, and incentive packages for new recruits – have been suggested by IIT directors. But doubts remain about whether this will save the crown jewel of India’s education system from losing its shine.

In a scenario where leading tech colleges across the US and UK offer 1:6 faculty student ratio, most IITs just manage to scrape up a 1:12 ratio while struggling to stem attrition and quality faculty. In some of IITs it is hard to maintain a ratio of 1:14. The reasons for the same are not hard to find. With a monthly salary that fetches a professor Rs 18400-22400, an associate professor Rs 15000-20400 and an assistant professor Rs 12000-18000 with a measly Rs 500 increment for professors in alternate years, it is hardly a wonder that these portals of education should want for quality teachers. Teachers salary mainly in the US and EU is atleast 20-25 times more than that of IIT teachers annually. An average IIT graduate gets much better salary in job market than the one fetched by IIT Director. Money is probably the only factor that forces a faculty to look greener pastures abroad. The figures appeared in one of the monthly magazines few months back.

But what is more alarming is this statistic: by 2011—just four years from now—that shortage of teachers will swell to 2, 31,000 in Indian educational system. Almost 90% of this shortage is in areas that have driven India’s recent growth: computer science, information technology and electrical engineering, according to the study, which was written by a committee, chaired by P. Rama Rao, a professor in Hyderabad who has been warning about this impending crisis.

Things will get worse after the implementation of the 27% OBC reservation, as even the youngest Roorkee-based IIT is reeling under a current shortage of 226 faculty positions. IITs are trying innovative ways to attract young and talented NRIs serving in foreign universities to work with them. If this is the scenario in India’s best tech institutes then the condition in others is easy to imagine. A serious introspection and reforms is required else we may slip in world rankings. It is a matter of anguish that teaching, which is one of the most critical professions for the socioeconomic development of a society, has become one of the last career options. Recently, at a known technical institution, several IT and management professionals applied for faculty positions, in search of a less stressful job. If this is an indication of an emerging trend, there is a reason to cheer. It’s imperative that competent minds are drawn to this profession as they have a direct influence on so many youngsters. By hiking University Grants Commission pay scales, the government can take the first step in increasing the respectability of this profession.

Rishabh Srivastava

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fn-goa/236172789/]