Higher education teaching faces a huge shortage of faculty as the UGC regulation making NET qualification mandatory for teaching posts leaves thousands of M.Phil candidates in a quandary.

The recent observation of the Madras and Delhi High Courts on National Eligibility Test (NET) is clear. A pass in NET or State-Level Eligibility Test (SLET), as mandated by the University Grants Commission, is necessary for appointment as assistant professor (lecturer) for teaching in colleges or universities.

To upgrade and standardise teaching in colleges, UGC introduced NET as a basic qualification. The latest development is a cause for motivation for candidates appearing for NET on December 26. Universities and colleges had, so far, exercised the relaxations the UGC provided in recent years in appointing candidates with M. Phil qualifications. They now have to strictly confine their appointments to candidates with a pass in NET or SLET or a Ph.D as per UGC's new norms.

Such a scenario would be a blow to the thousands of M. Phil degree holders in self-financing arts and science colleges. They are in a quandary since there is no way they could hereafter bank on their qualification or service-record to join teaching careers in government colleges and universities. “In fact, M. Phil degree holders after a regulation in 2006 were discouraged from taking NET as they already had the qualifications,” says Prof. C.R. Ravi of A.M. Jain College. Now, the recent HC judgments mandating NET/SLET has shocked thousands of lecturers who plan to move the Supreme Court next week.

The issue now is whether the there would be enough NET and SLET-qualified candidates for the thousands of vacancies that would keep arising, given the ever-increasing numbers of universities and colleges. This calls for efforts on the part of higher educational institutions to facilitate serving teachers to clear NET. However, the reality is that the self-financing colleges where they work in would rather prefer them to remain in a state of perpetual dependence.

Estimates show that there are just 12,500 NET and 15,000 SET certificate holders in the country. In Tamil Nadu alone, an estimated 45,000 candidates with M. Phil qualification are serving as teachers in the several hundreds of self-financing arts and science colleges as also government-aided colleges that offer programmes on a self-financing basis.

Policy contradiction

Prof. Sailapathy says the contradictions in the policies of UGC and the AICTE in making teacher appointments are causing enormous discomfiture to postgraduates in subjects such as mathematics, physics and chemistry. On the one hand, the AICTE permits candidates with B.E. or B. Tech. to handle these subjects, and on the other, the UGC forbids postgraduates in these subjects with additional qualifications of M. Phil from serving in arts and science colleges. A clear directive from the MHRD, he believes, would enable the M. Phil and Ph. D qualified candidates in these subjects to pursue teaching careers in engineering colleges.

According to S. Hariharan, the Director of the UGC-Academic Staff College in Puducherry, NET does not take into account the fact that capacities and awareness levels of those from smaller centres may vary largely due to their educational backgrounds. “This is the reason why so many opt for SLET where testing is different and yet it sets a benchmark for the lecturers,” he says.

Need for training

In order to help such candidates cope up with the standards of the NET, a mechanism should be developed to include training for such examinations from the graduate level. Also, there is lack of awareness about the exam itself among the large sections of the population, he said. “During training, I see students who cannot grasp the very idea of this examination though most of them are bright enough to become good teachers,” he says. He further adds that performance of students from Puducherry at the examination has been below par.

Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the Pondicherry University D. Sambandhan says that in the name of selecting “a creamy, intellectual class among the candidates,” common examinations such as NET deny opportunities to a large number of students to be part of the mainstream.

“There is no guarantee that passing in NET would ensure good teaching quality though people who pass the exam cannot be disregarded. The policy-makers should first put in place a system where candidates are trained for such an entrance examination right from the lower levels of their education to negate disparities in economic and educational backgrounds.”

Prof. Sailapathy advocates a system of equalisation between the ranking for seniority in acquiring higher qualifications and the merit-based on marks given for performance in qualifying examinations like NET and SET for the purpose of appointments in colleges and universities. Weightage for experience should be dropped in view of the hostility that self-financing institutions are prone to exhibit towards the candidates with the requisite seniority in qualification among their faculty, he adds.

According to the National Knowledge Commission, India will need 1,500 universities to attain gross enrolment ratio of at least 15 per cent by 2015.

As of today, there are about 350 universities and only seven per cent of the population in the 18-24 age-group has access to higher education.

There are over 17,500 colleges affiliated to universities and about 200 autonomous colleges.

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