Thousands of professors have taken to the streets, putting aside their ideological differences, to protest against the bizarre service guidelines laid down in the UGC (University Grants Commission) Gazette Notification of 2016, the third amendment in only six years. The main issues concern their workload and promotions. While the workload issue seems to have been resolved in the recent full commission meeting of the UGC, the official notification is still awaited.
Promotions in universities are now made on the basis of a performance-based appraisal system (PBAS) wherein the tasks of professors are broken down into quantifiable indicators and points are assigned for each. There are three broad categories under which one is assessed: One, teaching, learning, and evaluation; two, co-curricular activities; and three, research. While there are some advantages to this system, it has been poorly thought out in that the emphasis is on quantity and not quality.
One also needs to look at the timeline of these amendments. The first set of promotion guidelines was issued by the UGC in 2010 and, defying all logic, was made effective retrospectively from 2008. The professors who became eligible for promotion between 2008-10 and whose interviews were held in time during this period got promoted under the old Merit Promotion Scheme, but those whose interviews got delayed beyond 2010 (and this is quite common in government organisations) will now be required to apply under the new, significantly stricter PBAS. This raises two questions: One, how can candidates who qualify for promotion at the same time be subject to two different sets of rules? Two, how can any reasonable government expect a candidate to change his portfolio based on its whimsical fancies? The latest amendment has only created further uncertainty as it changes the rules of the game yet again.
Clearly, policymakers lack an understanding of the profession. Every aspect of a teacher’s job is not contractible. The care and attention a teacher gives is not quantifiable but matters a great deal in how we nurture young minds. When some aspects of performance are not measurable, the employee is bound to shift his attention away from these tasks to those that can be measured and rewarded. Also, note that earning points greater than the required minimum does not translate into a higher salary!
Our goal is to build strong and internationally competitive institutions of higher education. But we don’t even have the basic infrastructure to support teaching and research. Undergraduate professors sit in a common staff-room and have no designated office space that is available even to a graduate student in the West. Having a teaching or research assistant, which is a given in high ranking universities, is something one can’t even dream about here. Research grants are almost always released years after a project is completed. Can world-class research (or any class of research) be expected in this scenario?
The nature of a job at the undergraduate level, at least in Delhi University, is more teaching driven and very different from that at the postgraduate level. In particular, the emphasis is more on categories like teaching, learning, and evaluation than research. In the US, there is a clear distinction between a teaching position and a research position. In all this, good teaching is being compromised.
Higher education needs clear, original thinking on the part of policymakers and involvement of stakeholders, budgetary issues and GATS considerations notwithstanding. We must strengthen our well-established institutions of higher learning by providing at least a basic research environment. Promotions can be based on both objective and subjective criteria without solely playing “points”. Strong and healthy institutions must be in place to retain our good faculty and encourage new talent into the profession.