Teacher vacancy crisis demands structural reform

To understand the perpetual and worsening teacher vacancy problem in the Indian education sector, from primary education – where India has the world’s highest enrolment levels – to higher education where it ranks second in the world for enrolment numbers, one needs to do some basic probing.

The often repeated stereotypical explanation for the lack of quality faculty, at least for the best of the higher education institutes – including Indian institutes of technology and Indian institutes of management, where the vacancy level is around 40% – is grossly inadequate to explain the magnitude of the rot.

Structural issues relating to institutional and faculty autonomy and salary issues are also part of the problem.

Justifying the lack of quality applicants for vacancies becomes more difficult when India’s brightest students say that 88% of existing faculty members are inept.

One wonders where the problem really lies. One must acknowledge that good faculty members do not grow on trees. However, since more and more PhDs are coming out of the same institutes that cry about lack of availability of quality faculty, there must be critical analysis linked to the structural reform part of India’s massive expansionist policies, even at the highest PhD level.

The point is that no higher education institute should keep on having an assembly line of increasing production of PhDs when institutes of similar stature are not confident of hiring them as faculty members. Just as charity begins at home, quality control also begins with the same institutes that complain about quality.

Going beyond a superficial understanding of the symptoms of this problem or the myths surrounding it, what becomes necessary is to get to the root cause behind the problem: why is there a perpetual quality deficit on the supply side of the faculty pool and what is driving it?

The superficial explanation for the lack of quality teachers up to secondary level fails basic scrutiny, with hundreds of eligible applicants applying for each teacher vacancy in India.

If the vast majority of the supply side eligible applicants are sub-quality here too the need for structural reform becomes even more important, highlighting that the expansionist policy of enrolment, the numbers game, is failing in its objectives.


To understand the magnitude of the problem, in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state – with a population higher than Brazil – 55% of teaching posts in schools are vacant.

The number of vacancies in the top three Indian states alone is more than half a million. When attempts to recruit to such posts happen, there are regular stories of scams or exploitation where the salary offered is barely one-fourth of the regular position.

One more key issue that drives all of the above is the shortage of funds, be it from the state or federal government – at least up to secondary education – or in the large, organised, quality private sector in higher education.

Most Indian states face a more severe fiscal situation than the central government in New Delhi does and teacher salaries are an additional burden on the state exchequer.

Moreover, current instability in the global economy has placed a huge burden on developing nations. This means Indian policy-makers need to be watchful about their expenditure and the first cuts always come where it hurts the most – in education and healthcare.

The budgetary allocation for higher education has recently been cut by 25%; healthcare faced greater cuts in absolute terms.

It really is surprising that a country like India with its per capita income can move so fast in transferring state responsibility for universal primary and secondary education to the private sector.

Today, 59% of enrolment in higher education is in the private sector, which barely three decades ago was nearly non-existent. In the primary and secondary education sector, the figure is 32%.

This trend, since economic reforms in India started, is not a healthy sign. Most reported faculty vacancies are in state-sponsored schools or institutes, but since data for the private sector are neither available nor accurate, there could be similar huge vacancies in the private sector.


What is clear is that most families, knowing India’s socio-economic standing, send their kids to private schools not due to a plethora of quality choices, but due to a lack of choice.

Given global economic differences, there is still one key area of policy agreement. It centres around the creation of new skills and knowledge for 21st century jobs and quality education being the only means to achieve it.

Other parts of the world have been aggressively working on this, providing universal access to quality primary, secondary and higher education.

India, which needs such jobs the most, more than a million a month over the next three decades, has been pursuing the easy goal of expansionist enrolment by conveniently shifting responsibility to the private sector, without any checks or balances.

Without structural reform, the perpetual problems of unemployable graduates and faculty shortages are something that India will have to live with. This cycle can only be broken by putting more state resources into universal quality secondary education and undertaking structural reform across all sectors.

Critics of this view will argue about the impossibility of states generating the monetary resources necessary. India can ill afford not to have quality universal secondary education (and healthcare), but it can afford to stop the doling out of revenue – amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars each year – to the corporate sector to pursue growth which is increasingly less than inclusive.

A small part of that revenue, if collected, would suffice to fill vacant teaching positions across India’s government-funded institutes, and structural reforms would ensure that the money is spent effectively.

However, those familiar with India know that this simple and effective wish list is unlikely, in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles, to be delivered any time soon.

Professor Ranjit Goswami studied engineering and has an MBA and PhD from the first-generation Indian institutes of technology. He has worked within India’s state and private higher education sector – he is currently with the Institute of Management Technology, Nagpur – and within the corporate world, each for more than a decade.