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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Teaching by Temps: It is a budget issue too

Every few months, we see media raising the issue of faculty shortages in our universities. Today, one more article in ThePrint has talked about the same, though the focus is on new central universities opened in the last one decade. When you talk to the Vice Chancellors and others responsible for this situation, they will give the usual reasons every time. There are court cases and there is a stay on hiring. They are located in remote areas and there are not good enough applications. Or simply, there is a nationwide shortage of good people willing to come to academia.

Yesterday, ThePrint had another story on how the ad hoc teachers are running the classes.

Is it really the lack of availability of quality faculty members, or unwillingness to come to a remote area, or court cases. I believe they explain only a part of the story. There is another part to it.

What if, by some magic, universities could get quality faculty in large numbers. Will VCs like that. Faculty comes at a huge cost. On an average, just the salary and perks cost Rs. 20 lakh per faculty. If we include cost of institutional support for research, office, lab, library, Internet, PC, that is an additional Rs. 10 lakh per faculty at the very minimum. Where is the money to pay for all this. Most VCs look at faculty primarily as someone who will teach courses, and not as someone who is going to either do research or do institution building. If the faculty member is going to teach 4 courses a year, that means the cost of teaching a course is coming to Rs. 7 lakhs. Even if we consider the faculty member as doing all what s/he is supposed to be doing, and only part of the salary is due to teaching, teaching one course in a semester will mean about 1/7th to 1/8th of the total hours available in the year. Which means that the cost of teaching a course to the university is Rs. 3-4 lakhs. (I am assuming semester system, with a course being 40 lectures and associated labs, assignments, exams.)

When the same university recruits a temporary person for teaching a course, typically there are two models. One model is that you pay on a per lecture hour basis. In this model, the typical payments are Rs. 1000 per lecture hour. Some good universities will pay Rs. 2000 per hour. That means that the total cost of teaching a course is less than Rs. 1 lakh (including some transport support). The second model is that you recruit a full time temporary person for the semester, and ask him/her to teach two courses. Typical remuneration in such cases is about Rs. 2 lakhs for the semester, which is for two courses. So again, the cost of teaching one course is about a lakh of rupees.

Now think of a VC running a university on an extremely tight budget, where s/he has to try saving every rupee, otherwise it will be difficult to pay the electricity bill. Would the recruitment of permanent faculty members be very high on the agenda. I am afraid not.

If they had budget, and they had genuine difficulty in hiring quality faculty members, they would be offering not 1K or 2K per lecture, but 7-8K per lecture. (Just as an example, at LNMIIT, Jaipur, in 2009, where I was the Director, we used to pay up to Rs. 5,000 per lecture hour to our visiting faculty. That was 9 years ago. Inflation has been more than 100% since then.) We were very clear that if in any discipline we do not have a regular faculty member, we will request only the best to be a visiting faculty. No compromise on quality because of lack of faculty.

The problem of faculty shortage will not be solved by increasing the salary of faculty alone. The universities should also have money to pay those salaries.

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