Faculty shortages have existed in India’s higher education sector at least since the 1980s, but seem to have become permanent today. The paucity of a sufficient number of faculty members undermines the growth of the country’s knowledge sector and hinders its aspiration to be recognised as a “vishwa guru”. Colleges and universities need a sufficient number of teachers and researchers to create and disseminate knowledge.
For teaching purposes, online education is useful, but it cannot replace classroom instruction. And for research, there really is no substitute for a larger body of qualified faculty members.
India clearly needs to find viable solutions to address the shortage.
There are two main obstacles to finding viable solutions to faculty shortages. The first is a lack of reliable data on current faculty resources in colleges and universities. The second obstacle is the partial understanding of faculty shortages as merely a quantitative issue.
The first obstacle
In 2009, the (erstwhile) Ministry of Human Resource Development set up a task force to look into the problem. Its 2011 report, entitled ‘Report of the Task Force On Faculty Shortage and Design of Performance Appraisal System, made a damning observation:
The fact that there is a huge shortage of teaching staff or faculty in the higher education system in India is not a surprise. What is, however, surprising is that this perception is not substantiated by factual data. There is no standing mechanism to collect this information regularly.
The report called for a standing mechanism to monitor the size and quality of faculty resources and for data on faculty members to be made available on the website of every academic institution.
More than a decade later, little has changed. Most academic institutions have messy and incomplete websites containing only partial information about their faculty bodies.
The government does collect data on colleges and universities, including the number of faculty members, for the annual All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE), but this is a voluntary process for various institutions. The responsibility for the accuracy of the data rests with the concerned institution, meaning the information provided is not independently verified by any independent agency.
Another problem is that there is widespread use of adjunct faculty members and even ‘ghost’ members by colleges and universities. Adjunct or part-time faculty members are often counted as part of the regular faculty to show off a favourable teacher-student ratio. So it has become impossible to get a reliable estimate of faculty resources.
The second obstacle
The other challenge is that stakeholders often misunderstand a shortage to be a quantitative issue. The nature and scope of the shortage is actually more complex. In fact, it is possible to identify six types of shortages, each with a different (but sometimes also overlapping) set of remedial measures.
The first kind is related to the fact that the number of faculty members varies across disciplines, institutions and locations. There may even be an oversupply in some disciplines or locations and an acute shortage in others. The challenge here is to first achieve some kind of balance between demand and supply in specific disciplines, which could help plug the shortages at different institutions and/or locations.
The second kind of shortage is one that many public institutions face: the inability to hire faculty despite a desperate need for them. The reasons for this are financial and affect nearly all state universities. Most of them, and their constituent colleges, are grossly underfunded. Even despite a large increase in the number of students, state governments have not created or sanctioned new positions. And even when positions exist, they are kept vacant due to a lack of funds.
The third kind of shortages exists due to the unwillingness of institutions to hire faculty members. This is common in the many private colleges and universities whose primary purpose is profit-seeking. The owners and administrators at these institutions prefer to make do with less. They also hire less qualified people in poorly paid part-time positions instead of better qualified, regular faculty members, to keep costs down.
The fourth kind of shortage, common to all public institutions, is due to the reservations for members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe groups and of ‘Other Backward Classes’. Reservations reduce the pool of qualified people, sometimes severely. One result is that faculty positions remain vacant due to the unavailability of qualified applicants. To this extent, this kind of shortage is simultaneously a quantity problem – but in many cases, positions also remain vacant due to caste-based discrimination.
The fifth kind is due to an unwillingness among faculty members to work at select institutions due to their unfavourable location and/or the working and living conditions they present. Many newer universities that are not close to large urban centres face this problem.
Sixth, faculty shortages are also of a qualitative kind when shortages may not exist, say, in terms of the number of applicants with PhDs but due to few candidates being really qualified for the corresponding position. This requires us to improve the quality of PhD programmes at Indian universities.
The six types of faculty shortages identified here are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, they do indicate that a shortage is not about the numbers alone, and that any attempt at addressing it will require a nuanced set of policies.
Pushkar (@PushHigherEd) is director, The International Centre Goa (Dona Paula). The views expressed here are personal.
- India clearly needs to find viable solutions to address the shortage.
- The fact that there is a huge shortage of teaching staff or faculty in the higher education system in India is not a surprise.
- The report called for a standing mechanism to monitor the size and quality of faculty resources and for data on faculty members to be made available on the website of every academic institution.