INDIA: Severe academic shortage hits elite institutes

India's élite institutes of technology, or IITs, and institutes of management, IIMs, which train some of the country's top engineers and managers are battling a severe shortage of academics that threatens the quality of education at the sought-after institutions.

The number of academic vacancies in the seven old IITs has increased from 877 in 2008-09 to 1,065 in 2009-10, Junior Education Minister Daggubati Purandeswari said in a Parliamentary answer last week. The vacancies in the seven institutions in 2007-08 stood at 971.

Many top staff are lured away by better salaries in industry which can amount to three times an academic's salary. Despite the prestige of these institutions within India, they have been unable to attract faculty from abroad because of limited finances.

"Recruitment of faculty is a continuous process and all-out efforts are made by the institutes to fill up vacant posts," Purandeswari said. "Institutions have been employing suitable strategies to attract and retain quality faculty which include attractive pay structure, provisions of good residential accommodation, medical facilities, initial research grants and so on."

The technology institute at Kharagpur has 299 academic vacancies, followed by 222 at IIT Bombay, 194 at IIT Roorkee, 138 at IIT Madras, 78 at IIT Delhi, 69 at IIT Kanpur and 65 at IIT Guwahati, Purandeswari said.

The problem has been compounded with the opening of eight new IITs during 2009 and 2010 to cope with a burgeoning demand for engineers. The new institutions are struggling to fill 280 faculty positions.

Meanwhile, some 95 vacant posts exist at the country's seven institutes of management. Seven new IIMs planned by the Education Ministry will need 392 more academics over the next three years.

According to the IITs, the 15 institutes will need 12,000 academics over the next 10 to 12 years to maintain the current student teacher ratio of 10:1.

In 2010, 450,000 students applied for the 7,000 places at 15 IITs.

The teacher shortage is threatening the quality of the coveted government institutions. But the situation echoes shortages elsewhere in the university system. A sample survey of 47 universities by a government pay review committee in December 2008 showed that 48.6% of teaching posts were vacant. Out of the 16,579 posts, only 8,064 were filled.

The 12 new central universities that became functional this year are also struggling to fill vacancies. The Central University of Orissa, located in Koraput - a tribal-dominated district with minimal facilities - is finding it extremely difficult to attract faculty. The university has four academics for 150 postgraduate students and needs to recruit a further 11.

The National Knowledge Commission, a think-tank on education, said in 2006 that India would need 1,500 additional universities to cater to the aspirations of young Indians. There are 504 universities and higher education institutions at present.

But focusing on expansion without planning for academics or infrastructure has left the newly established higher educational institutions in a lurch.

Education Minister Kapil Sibal plans to raise the gross enrolment ratio in higher education of 18-30 year olds from the existing 12% to an ambitious 30%. To achieve that he has to find the teachers for the university classrooms.

The shortage of faculty in universities is nothing new. This has existed since the 1990s. There is no coherent policy in this matter with central and state governments. It is better to re-employ highly qualified retired faculty in government universities. Raising the retirement age to 65 and for re-employment to 70 has not helped much in the centrally-funded institutions.Thousands of these people are already employed in private deemed universities for very high salaries which they have not seen in their active service with government universities before. Therefore re-employment of retired faculties on liberal service terms based on the individual's merit is the only way to solve this problem.

Professor T.K.Raja,
Department of Biotechnology,
PSG College of Technology,
Coimbatore 641004,

It is true that there is acute shortage of qualified faculty in institutions of higher learning. The shortage of faculty in state and central universities has greatly affected the quality of teaching and research activities. In spite of the revised pay scales, it may become difficult to find qualified people,since the output from the institutions may barely meet the demand.

Professor K.K.Achary,
Mangalore University,
Konaje, Karnataka, India