Research-linked appraisal for appointments is scrapped

India’s University Grants Commission (UGC) has done away with a mandatory requirement for universities to select and promote academics based solely on a performance index that includes scores for research publications and attracting research grants. The decision will affect more than a million university and college lecturers.

Many lecturers had protested against directly linking teacher selections and promotions to academic performance – but the move could reduce the research requirement for many faculty.

Started in 2010, the UGC Academic Performance Index (API) aimed to increase the quality and accountability of higher education lecturers and improve standards in India’s universities.

But teachers argued that the strict and inflexible performance requirements held up appointments, adding to widespread teaching vacancies in higher education institutions.

According to a UGC spokesperson, universities will now have more flexibility to devise their own mechanisms to screen faculty performance, thus improving faculty accountability while maintaining the autonomy of institutions.

“Our experience with the API has shown that there is a lot of variation in standards of teaching and infrastructure across Indian universities. We expect teachers to meet certain standards to be eligible for selection or promotion. But largely, the decision to lay down criteria will be decided by the university,” the spokesperson said.

The decision has been welcomed by university teachers but also criticised by several academics.

“The API was flawed and there was room for favouritism. Many of the indicators were subjective and several were unfair,” said Abha Dec Habib, an associate professor at Miranda House in New Delhi.

“The API gave points for publishing papers in peer reviewed journals. But the UGC and the university do not have provision for taking up limited teaching loads so that teachers have time to pursue serious research,” Habib added.

Anil Khairnar, an associate professor at Garware College of Science and Arts in Pune, said the API did not take into consideration the working environment of teachers and the facilities available to them for research.

“Several colleges in the city don’t have adequate space for faculty to sit. Some colleges have limited numbers of computers with no internet facility. In such an atmosphere, doing research becomes difficult.”

However SP Thyagarajan, professor of eminence and dean of research at Sri Ramachandra University Porur in Chennai and a member of the committee that framed the 2010 regulations, said he was unhappy with the UGC decision.

“When we framed the regulations, they were scrutinised and accepted by the Education Ministry. Not just research; the idea was to provide a 360-degree assessment. We also gave enough space for universities to tinker the format within the framework,” said Thyagarajan.

Others felt that the UGC had succumbed to pressure from teacher associations, which had organised massive protests against the implementation of the API.

“By scrapping the performance-based appraisal system, the UGC has pushed universities back to the older setup, where merit was rarely considered for promotions. The system could have been refined to address anomalies instead of scrapping it,” said Professor Diptiranjan Pattanaik of Banaras Hindu University.

Under the API, for instance, 75% weighting is given to “teaching, learning and evaluation” activities, which include lectures, lab work and tutorials taken, teaching duties in excess of UGC norms, use of innovative teaching tools and examination duties.

Teachers get 15% weighting for “co-curricular, extension and professional development related activities”. Further, selection committees have the option of observing candidates in actual classroom situations or through research presentations.

API scores were also proposed for the “research and academic contribution” of a teacher. While research papers published in refereed journals scored teachers 15 points per publication, it was 10 points in case of a non-refereed journal. Similarly, points would be given for books published and research grants won.

Teachers at several universities have argued that confusion over the parameters of the index has placed several appointments in limbo, at a time when India’s central universities face teacher shortages of up to 30% and many state universities have over 50% teacher vacancies.

Under the UGC’s fresh decision, universities will need to rate teachers, but can set the parameters themselves. To encourage transparency, the UGC will insist that teachers are given a point-based score.

The university-developed index will only be used to screen applicants – and not to make final selections, which will be made on the basis of recommendations of an expert panel.