Millennium Post

The dark tunnel of API

College and university teachers across the country are in throes of pain. As if the consequent alienation due to a spate of non-participative – yet sweeping – changes like the introduction of semester system at the undergraduate level followed by the CBCS were not enough, they were struck with the debilitating blows of increased workload and API (Academic Performance Indicators) that threatens to rob a college teacher of the solitary assured promotion that she looked forward to in her thirty- odd years of service. Interestingly, a fourth amendment to the API requirements stands notified in the Gazette in a short span of six years of its agonisingly tumultuous existence.

While semesterisation entailed virtual guillotining of annual syllabi into six-monthly modules with little attention to the desirable pedagogical changes, CBCS (conceived and implemented in less than a year's time!) gave one-size-fit-all syllabi for all subjects across universities in India. The little pretense of autonomy in the narrow corridors of syllabus-making that a university teacher serenaded herself with has been lost for good with the unpacking of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). 

Bruised as the implementation of semester system and CBCS left the hapless teachers, the API, particularly its retrospective application, portends to sap a significant section of the academics, particularly the younger among the lot, of any professional motivation to the serve the system with gusto. 

While the UGC showed alacrity in holding forth the increased teaching hours that it sought to foist through the Third Amendment to "UGC Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges, and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education, 2010" (a document detailing the constantly-in-a-flux set of parameters of promotion for college and university teachers), it seems to be turning a deaf ear to an unprecedentedly emphatic turnout of the teachers against the amendment and the API altogether.

APIs comprise a set of parameters under three distinct heads – teaching, co-curricular, and research and publication – with an arbitrary and unimaginative weightage assigned to each in terms of points that a teacher has to earn on yearly basis, should she apply for promotion, or even for moving up in the Grade Pay ladder. Before we set down to dissect the indices in terms of their inappropriateness, it would not be out of place to briefly look at its ever-changing and halting journey in the short span of five odd years of tumultuous existence.

The UGC came up with this addendum to the vocabulary of academic fraternity in the form of API in 2010. Curiously, it sought its mandate for introduction from a 2008 Regulation that had simultaneously rolled out revised pay scales for the college and university teachers. Autonomous, as the universities – at least, seemingly – are supposed to be, were to adopt these guidelines after ratification by their respective statutory bodies, namely the Academic and Executive councils.

The University of Delhi – the premier Central university of the country with the unique distinction of having over eighty-odd colleges, apart from almost an equal number of postgraduate departments – in its collective wisdom decided to apply the APIs for promotions from 2013. This was in keeping with several other central universities of eminence – but, importantly, not with colleges under them – who had decided their own dates of entry into the new system. This meant that the teachers could seek promotions under the older scheme (namely, Career Advancement Scheme or CAS) till this date. 

Even a UGC's own revisit committee, headed by the then Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia, Prof. Najeeb Jung, had recommended for doing away with the APIs. For inexplicable reasons and defying all expectations of the academia, however, these recommendations were not approved by the UGC. 

Instead, it prevailed upon universities - even as big as the University of Delhi - to embellish the application of APIs for promotions retrospectively from 2008. Piquantly placed and discovering all these reckless U-turns in 2014, thousands of teachers across universities and colleges suddenly realised that they virtually had to go into some kind of a time-machine to gather APIs for years that the APIs had not even been conceived!

For a profession entrusted with the responsibility of sharpening the minds of generations of students in their most consequential years of life, demoralising its young workforce is a sure recipe for disaster. Working out an agreeable and imaginative set of parameters to reward academic output in higher education is one thing, but to impose a monstrous set of unimaginative parameters to deny the young academicians even a solitary assured promotion available to them by forcing its retrospective application is atrocious. With every passing day the number of teachers who otherwise would have been eligible for promotions from Assistant to Associate Professor, or even moving up in the Grade Pay ladder, is increasing. If the data from Delhi University itself is taken as a sample, then the number of promotions under API-PBAS (Performance Based Appraisal System) in its colleges works out to be agonisingly minuscule. The Delhi University Teachers' Association (DUTA) is compiling a data of such eligible, yet, unpromoted number of teachers in the different colleges of the university. 

A rough estimate would show at least thirty to forty teachers per college who are stuck in this logjam created by the retrospective application of API-PBAS. Noticeably, this segment of teachers – mostly appointed after 2004 and hence not covered under the conventional pension scheme – is young and have more than two decades of service left. With their senior counterparts having made the cut rather seamlessly into the Associate level, this set of young teachers is increasingly feeling frustrated. If not attended to, they can soon assume the form of ticking time bombs down the ladder of the teaching workforce which does not bode well the organisational well-being either. This illustrates that there already is an overwhelming empirical data suggesting unsuitability of the API-PBAS with respect to incentivisingly pulling teachers into the orbit of academic output. Empirically invalidated, API-PBAS doesn't seem to pass the scrutiny even in substantive terms of academic desirability.

A mechanical conceptualisation of research and publication output in uninterrupted yearly fashion - almost evoking the imagery of the bland regularity with which an output is carried by a conveyer belt - in the age of information boom is probably not the best way to apprehend what is academically desirable. Ideas, propositions, and hypothetical models take a longer span of time to be mulled over and mature into a publication-worthy stuff. Members manning universities and academia also take tremendous pride in talking about their eureka or inspired moments, of academic excellence. 

Evidently, such moments are experienced more in spurts, than regularity. Subjecting this time-tested and intensely shared culture of working within individualised rhythm of creativity to a compulsive system of mechanical regularity in terms of academic and research output is likely to interfere with and impair the qualitative aspects of such outputs.

Yet another fact-check that should have been done before putting an objectified system of academic assessment in operation is the acknowledgement of the porous state of book and journal publication business in India. Such a state of affairs lures teachers into becoming point-seeking opportunists with faint regard to the quality and relevance of their publications or seminars. A sudden spurt in the number of such shoddy publications and dubious seminars ever since the introduction of API-PBAS amply demonstrates the point. Moreover, objectifying an essentially qualitative output like a book or journal, and applying the points earned thereof uniformly across the varying levels of academic scrutiny that exist in different parts of the country, has its owns hazards. An apt analogy for this malaise could be a situation where an elegant century in a Test match is made to carry the same value as a dodgy hundred scored in some gully cricket, where even the presence of an umpire is a rarity! Or for that matter, you don't measure the aesthetic appeal of an artistic piece by a Vernier caliper!

Evidently, the API-PBAS is born of compulsions other than academic or accountability. It probably is a financial ploy to withhold promotions, yet exhibiting academic pretense. The drastic outlay squeeze in the current budget for the UGC (after neutralising inflation quotient), and the consequent insistence on its part to retain the much discredited API-PBAS despite the mounting criticism gives further credence to the proposition. 

With a promising change of guard at the ministerial level in the MHRD, the community of young professors awaiting promotions is looking with halted breath toward Prakash Javadekar to steer them out of the frustrating logjam that API-PBAS has come to create over the years of its chequered history. You don't cost-cut the critical human agency that has in them the wherewithal to mold the minds of millions of the next generation.

(Dr. Shankar Kumar is Assistant Professor of History at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Views are strictly personal)
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