Top technology institutes recruit global staff jointly

Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) will pool their resources to hire professors from abroad – in a drive to bridge a severe shortage of faculty at the country’s top institutions.

Each of the country’s 23 IITs is an autonomous institution but the IITs have decided to restructure the hunting process and will now make collective efforts with each IIT recruiting faculty for itself as well as on behalf of other IITs, they announced after a meeting in August which set up a working group for joint recruitment of faculty globally.

The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry, which oversees higher education, assigned one or more geographical areas to each institution. The United States, which is the main hunting ground, has been divided into three regions – West Coast, Southern US and East Coast and allocated to the IITs of Bombay, Delhi and Madras respectively. The IITs Ropar, Mandi and Hyderabad will target Canada, Scandinavia and Japan respectively.

Others will be allocated other regions, with IIT Bombay also seeking to recruit in Russia and Australia, IIT Madras tackling France, IIT Bhubaneswar to China, IIT Roorkee to South Korea and IIT Kanpur looking to hire in Israel and the United Kingdom. IIT Kharagpur has been allocated Europe and South Africa.

The allocation of geographic regions is partly based on existing collaborations and exchanges. For example, IIT Mandi already has student exchanges and curriculum sharing with countries in Scandinavia such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

The HRD ministry has kept the track record of the IITs in mind while allocating the different regions, IIT Bombay Director Devang Khakhar said.

“Foreign faculty would bring diversity at IIT campuses and improve their rankings in global league tables. The US is one place which has a large pool of teaching talent,” said Khakhar.

IIT Council meeting

The 20 August meeting of the IIT Council – the apex decision-making body headed by the HRD minister and comprising directors and chairpersons of all IITs – also decided that a pan-IIT faculty pool of teachers from abroad and IIT PhD scholars would be created to teach across all IITs, officials reported earlier this month.

But while the IITs are pooling teaching resources and opening doors for academics from abroad, securing visas for foreign-origin teachers is the biggest hurdle for their recruitment.

HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar said at the IIT Council meeting that he would take up the issue of recruiting permanent faculty members from abroad with the relevant ministries – home affairs and external affairs ministries – to ease visa guidelines that restrict foreigners to work as faculty members on a permanent basis in India.

IIT Bombay’s Khakhar is drawing up a note to present to the ministries on how to facilitate hassle-free recruitment of foreign faculty. A senior faculty member at IIT Madras said visa restrictions are likely to be lifted soon with the HRD ministry’s focus on the issue. But as of now, no timeline for visa changes has been announced.

IITs also plan to hire non-resident Indians – Indian citizens living overseas. Javadekar is also focusing on resolving the issue of hiring faculty members of Indian origin who fall under the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) category. OCIs are foreign citizens of Indian origin and are not entitled to take up government jobs in India. But the ministry has argued that as autonomous institutions, IIT employees are not categorised as government staff and should be able to take up permanent posts as OCIs.

Currently, foreign faculty can only be hired on five-year fixed-term contracts which the IITs feel is not attractive enough for overseas candidates. For example, contractual teachers cannot take on PhD students from the second year of their contract in view of the uncertainty about renewal of their contract.

The overseas recruitment drive has become urgent as the IITs face a common problem of shortage of teachers.

Last year Javadekar noted that 35% of IIT faculty posts were vacant. He said while vacancy status for the older IITs – around a dozen institutions set up before 2014 – is as high as 39%, newer IITs’ vacancy rates are only slightly better at 37%. In IIT Delhi alone about 300, or 40%, of faculty positions are vacant, according to V Ramgopal Rao, director of IIT Delhi.

The poor teacher-student ratio is affecting the expansion as well as global rankings of IITs, according to the IIT Council. IITs are among India’s top ranked institutions but they do not figure in the top 200 in global rankings due to a lesser focus on research, internationalisation as well as the teacher-student ratio.

The selection of IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay as ‘Institutes of Eminence’ allows them to hire foreign faculty up to 30% of the total strength. But other IITs are still restricted.

“In all IITs there are 5,000 faculty positions vacant,” Rao told local media earlier this month. “The reason for our faculty shortage is that our brightest students are not pursuing a career in research.”

Students graduating with IIT bachelor degrees in technology prefer finance jobs and do an MBA, he said. “They are looking at pay packages but not [thinking in] the long term.”