India's universities and colleges are working with fewer than half the number lecturers they require, a recent government assessment has found. Around 300,000 more academics are needed.
A task force on faculty shortage set up by the Ministry of Education has estimated the current faculty shortage in the country at 54%.
A further 100,000 teachers will be required each year in colleges in the coming decade if the shortage is not addressed as the country's higher education system expands.
"The task force notes that more than 300,000 is the shortage of faculty in the system at present," the Ministry of Human Resource Development said in a statement last week. But it noted that even establishing a reliable database on the numbers needed was a "major hurdle".
The lecturer-to-student ratio in the country is 1:20.9 against 1:13.5 recommended by the University Grants Commission (1:12 for postgraduate students and 1:15 for undergraduates).
The problem has been highlighted at a time when the government wants to add 25 million students to the current 15 million in higher education as India's economy grows. The aim is to raise India's gross enrollment ratio in the 18 to 25 year age group from the current 12.4% to 30% by 2030.
"Teachers are the bedrock on which the quality of higher education depends. The government has opened new universities and institutions, but infrastructure will not teach the students. We need a focused policy to address the issue of faculty crunch," said PC Jain, Principal of Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) in New Delhi.
The elite Indian institutes of technology (IITs) and national institutes of technology have only around two-thirds of the faculty they require, with central universities facing a 30% shortage, the government said.
Jain said the teaching profession had to be made attractive and dynamic. "I am not talking only about pay scales. Other facilities like laptops, rooms for teachers, grants for research, and innovative training are things that will make a difference."
The task force has proposed measures to fight the lecturer shortage including reducing bureaucratic red tape that accompanies appointments, setting up independent faculty recruitment and development cells in every higher education institution, and recruiting bright postgraduates while they are pursuing their academic career.
The task force also recommended that academics involved in research be given additional financial compensation, along with recognising outstanding faculty and rewarding them.
"Often the induction and promotion of faculty is hindered due to administrative delays. Faculty recruitment can take anywhere from six months to a year. And promotion happens on the basis of number of years served rather than performance," said a senior government official who did not wish to be named.
"If recruitment is done at the level of the institution it will happen much quicker and each institution can best judge the performance of its faculty."
Industry bodies such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry are lobbying for the government to allow faculty to be recruited from industry.
While industry people may not have PhDs, they have experience in areas such as business, engineering and technology, industry groups argue. This would ensure a good mix of academics and practical knowledge for students while addressing the faculty crunch.
Notably, the government recently allowed IITs to hire expatriate Indians to make up lecturer shortages.
"To tide over the faculty shortage, the IITs can appoint non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin to permanent faculty position. However, foreign nationals [can be] appointed on contract basis for a fixed tenure not exceeding five years," the education ministry informed the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of parliament on 3 August.
Painting a grim picture, the task force urged the ministry to immediately order a full assessment of the academic situation in India, without which higher education policy projections for the 12th Plan (2012-17) cannot be met.
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