Good news for permanent academics in public institutions

“We never had it so good!” exclaimed university staff when new pay scales were announced in mid-2008, to be implemented retrospectively dating from January 2006. With salary arrears extending back almost 30 months and a sudden rise in salaries of 40% to 60%, teachers in Indian higher education institutions went laughing all the way to the bank.

The steep hike in the professoriate’s pay was intended to steer potential candidates into academic positions – in view of competing demands for talent in the knowledge economy as a result of globalisation.

The move coincided with efforts to increase the quality of higher education staff, with requirements for both recruitment and career advancement having been redefined in 2009.

But are these measures sufficient to address the crisis confronting higher education in a burgeoning knowledge economy?

Higher education in India is not only vast (the third-largest system in the world), but also varied and complex. There are different types of higher education institutions and differences in what the professoriate gets by way of salary and benefits.

While academics working in federal government-funded institutions have the best pay package and service conditions, those employed in private colleges have the worst; those in state government-funded institutions come somewhere in the middle of these two.

The Indian professoriate is also heterogeneous; there are different types of teaching positions that are dependent on the duration of employment and carry associated benefits. The most coveted is the permanent (tenured) teaching position in a public-funded university or college.

Permanent positions are non-existent in purely private universities and colleges; appointment to teaching positions in these institutions is contractual. Many staff are part-time teachers who are paid on an hourly basis and do not obtain other employment benefits.

Salary and service conditions revised

When revising the salary and service conditions of teachers in higher education, the University Grants Commission standardised the qualifications of various categories of teachers, the procedures for recruiting them, the requirements for and process of their career advancement, and the salaries and non-salary benefits to which they are entitled.

A three-tier academic hierarchy – professor, associate professor and assistant professor – has been instituted in public higher education institutions. To maintain the quality of higher education, qualifications for appointment to various teaching positions have been prescribed.

Those entering the academic profession (assistant professors) must now pass the National Eligibility Test. For appointments to higher academic positions (associate professor and professor), besides a mandatory PhD, candidates must have teaching-research experience and publications to their credit.

Academic performance will now be evaluated through a scoring system (a performance-based appraisal system). The purely private universities and colleges, however, are outside the ambit of the University Grants Commission and have greater flexibility in all matters concerning the hiring and firing of teachers.

Conventionally, the Indian professoriate has been pyramidal in structure, with fewer positions at the top and a broad base. To improve the opportunities of teachers for moving up the career ladder, and as an incentive to greater performance, a six-stage Career Advancement Scheme has been introduced. The scheme is well defined and more rigorous than similar earlier schemes.

The gross monthly salary of a teacher now consists of five components: pay according to the teacher’s pay band, academic grade pay, transport allowance, an allowance to offset inflation and house-rent allowance.

In all public-funded institutions, teachers are entitled to receive an annual increase of 3% in their basic pay (that is, pay in their pay band plus academic grade pay). There is, however, no scope for negotiation in salary matters.

Teachers’ non-salary benefits are all as per government provisions. They include pension and gratuity; a variety of paid leave, including fully paid vacation leave for eight weeks in a year and subsidies for vacation leave; medical leave and medical assistance for teachers and their dependents. Besides, women teachers get fully paid maternity leave (one year) and childcare leave (two years) during their career.

Salaries improve relative to other professions

Over the decades, the gap in salaries between academic and other professions has narrowed considerably. Nevertheless, professionals in the management, information technology and biotechnology sectors, and well established lawyers, doctors and chartered accountants, earn much more than teachers.

However in India, as regards teachers’ salaries, the general comparison is with those of bureaucrats; and the salaries of these two are now more or less comparable. The professoriate sits happily in the middle-class, has greater purchasing power and leads a better lifestyle than ever before.

Merit is emphasised in recruitment to academic positions in public-funded institutions; but nepotism, favouritism and corruption in the selection process are not unknown. Selections are often challenged in courts of law, more so after the enactment of the Right to Information Act.

In conformity with the policy of protective discrimination (a sort of affirmative action), public higher education institutions are required to reserve about 50% of positions for candidates hailing from indigent sections of the population – officially termed ‘Scheduled Castes’, ‘Scheduled Tribes’ and ‘Other Backward Classes’.

In public debates, this is criticised as undermining a meritocratic system, but justified in the name of social justice.

The changes in the procedures for recruiting teachers, their pay scales and service conditions, performance appraisal, career advancement and other factors are bold and forward looking.

But they are not applicable to purely private institutions nor to part-time teachers. Moreover, the growing shortage of faculty, which is estimated at about 54%, is not likely to be solved in the near future.

Only institutions offering the best remuneration and service conditions can expect to maintain the best teaching talent. Thus, the prospects for state universities and grant-in-aid colleges, which constitute the largest segment of the higher education system in India, do not appear to be bright.

* N Jayaram is dean and professor at the Tata Institute of Social Science in Mumbai, India. Email:

* This is an edited version of the chapter “Academic Salaries and Career Advancement: Tuning the professoriate for a knowledge economy in India”, which appears in Paying the Professoriate: A global comparison of compensation and contracts, edited by Philip G Altbach, Liz Reisberg, Maria Yudkevich, Gregory Androushchak and Iván F Pacheco. New York: Routledge 2012. It is republished with permission.