BJP’s gamble on campus
In the midst of the hoopla over BJP’s victory in Assam and the government spokespersons rushing to give credit to Narendra Modi government, the Centre has come up with a policy which is going to leave a large number of teachers in higher education jobless. Needless to say, this policy can harm the BJP electorally in times to come and one would have to ascertain whether it is a risk worth taking.
The recent amendment to the UGC Regulations has stirred a hornet’s nest on the campus with the teachers up in arms. The Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) has already given the call for the boycott of evaluation of the examination papers, which may delay results of the annual examinations.
Despite being a member of the University Grants Commission (UGC), veteran teacher leader Inder Kapahy has said that “the scheme would be unmitigated academic disaster.” Under the amendments, though the media ran to town on students evaluating teachers’ performance, change in the working hours which is causing greater concern as it is going to leave a large number of teachers jobless.
The amendment has increased the direct teaching hours for Assistant Professors professors from 18 to 24 hours per week and for Associate Professors from 16 to 22 hours. For the Sciences, two hours of practical will be equivalent to one hour of lecture. The teachers call this “ridiculous” as the Prime Minister has repeatedly talked about encouraging innovations while promoting schemes like Skill India and Make in India to increase job opportunities.
The new regulations, contrary to the government’s stated stand of increasing employment, could end up reducing the number of teachers drastically, and thousands of ad hoc teachers working for years may be rendered jobless in the forthcoming academic session in July. On an average, in a department of every college, every third teacher would be rendered jobless as under the new arrangement each teacher has now been given an extra workload of ten to fifteen hours.
Delhi University today has the faculty strength of approximately 10,000 teachers, of which over 4000 teachers have been working ad hoc over the years. Lethargy on part of the University administration, city government, and not to forget - the college governing bodies - have left Damocles’ Sword hanging over the future of these teachers (some of them aged around 50 years). Since interviews for permanent posts were not held for a variety of reasons, some ad hoc teachers have been in limbo for over a decade.
The latest move of the government has come as a big embarrassment for those from the teaching community seen to be close to the BJP and affiliated to the right-wing ideology. As Kapahy, a long-term activist from the right-wing National Democratic Teachers Front (NDTF) put it, “Inside and outside of the Commission and MHRD, both formally and informally,I had made my opposition to quantified assessment of merit and eligibility on the indices proposed by the bureaucracy since 2008/10. I have maintained that the scheme is an unmitigated academic disaster which has harmed the academic health of the university systems. It has destroyed teaching and simultaneously encouraged spurious research.”
While there is a general consensus in society over the fact that the major universities in our country have deteriorated over the years, there is a need to examine what has brought higher education under government patronage to a point where a radical overhaul is being called for. There is enough evidence on record that in the colonial period, Indian universities were not just promoted as centres of higher education but also those for research. Post Independence, we have followed a consistent policy to emaciate our universities.
A high point of the pre-Independence era was also the effort of educationists like Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee and Madan Mohan Malviya to make universities a diverse social amalgam. If pragmatism and pluralism were the hallmark of the pre-Independence era, the campuses after 1947 slowly got overtaken by parochial concerns. Even the once prestigious University of Delhi has failed to escape from this scourge.
The other major challenge faced by universities in the post-Independence period is the erosion of their research base with the creation of institutions like Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and similar establishments in the humanities and commerce streams of learning. The creation of parallel centres of higher education like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) withered the universities both in terms of human and financial resources.
The levels of university teaching further came to suffer from what Max Weber had deplored and warned against, with professors trying to inculcate their belief and ideology in their students, and discouraging critical free thinking in their pupils.
The maladies enumerated above have left university campuses across the country weakened. A significant part of the blame can be apportioned to various teachers’ movements which produced, promoted, and protected mediocrity. I know this would invite a fusillade of barbs but the fact remains that today chairs in several staff rooms of the Delhi University colleges are occupied by people who would fail an ordinary test in the very subject they claim to teach.
But to punish this mediocrity, the government cannot reduce jobs on the campus and bring on the roads those who have toiled for ages with generations of students. The teachers on the campus indeed have to use their collective genius to counter what they consider an “oppressive government order” while the UGC and the government believe such measures are necessary to end mediocrity in higher education.
(The author is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal.)