Spotting good teachers early

TESTING TIMES: Engineering colleges in the country are finding it difficult to get quality teaching staff.

TESTING TIMES: Engineering colleges in the country are finding it difficult to get quality teaching staff.  

RECENTLY THE management of an engineering college in the self-financing sector advertised for 43 posts of faculty in various disciplines. Thirty-two candidates with various qualifications turned up for the interview. Of these only two were finally selected as lecturers.

This problem - an acute shortage of quality teaching staff - is not limited to this engineering college. In fact, many of the 80-plus engineering colleges in Kerala are forced to operate with a staff strength that is much below the numbers deemed desirable by the All India Council for Technical Education.

The secretary of the association of self-financing engineering colleges in Kerala, G.P.C. Nair, points out that in a four-branch engineering college the required staff strength is 80 to 95. "There are many colleges that make do with 45 to 50. There are even colleges that operate with just 35 teachers. The situation is getting worse," he told The Hindu-Educationplus.

The reasons for this shortage are not hard to identify. First, a majority of the top candidates sign up to work in the industry and that too in the software industry. For them, teaching is not even a remote blip in the career radar. Some among the toppers prefer the MBA route - the kind that do not care much for factory floors, field trips or night shifts. The second line, as it were, of engineering graduates are mopped up by the core engineering companies. What the engineering colleges get as teachers these days are the "leftovers," candidates who do not mind a spot of teaching while they wait for a break, a "more rewarding job."

This has led to a situation where, in the engineering colleges, the relatively mediocre are teaching the brilliant. "We have a set a cut-off percentage of 70 in the B.Tech examinations for candidates whom we are willing to consider as faculty in our college," says Ashalatha Thampuran, principal of the Mohandas College of engineering, Anad, near Thiruvananthapuram. This former principal of the College of Engineering Thiruvananthapuram points out that initially the college had decided to peg the cut-off percentage at 75. "We just did not get any candidate who met that requirement. Then we lowered our sights. Even now we are finding it difficult to get good candidates. We, however, decided that we would not lower our sights any further," she says.

Dr. Thampuran says she too is at the receiving end of the `mediocre-teaching-the-brilliant' phenomenon.

Is the problem of staff shortage equally valid for all branches of engineering? No, seems to be the emphatic answer. Teachers in engineering colleges and principals say they experienced the shortage most for such branches as computer science, IT, electronics Engineering, biotechnology and so on. There is not that much of a shortage for the basic engineering branches such as, say, civil or mechanical engineering, they say.

What about the recent age-relaxation allowed by the AICTE - a provision by which colleges are allowed to recruit experienced teachers who are past the age of normal retirement? "The idea behind that move is very good," says Dr. Thampuran, "the problem is again in getting good candidates. Most of those who work in the industry for many years lose touch with the academia. They are tuned to a different work culture. Many, are not in tune with the latest developments in their branch of engineering. Many do not have the aptitude for teaching. I interviewed many people with industry experience recently. I was not even able to find a single candidate who would have become a lecturer or a professor."

What then is the way out for the engineering colleges in the State?

Many heads of engineering colleges and many in the managements of these colleges seem to have pined some amount of hope on the Early Faculty Induction Programme (EFIP) of the AICTE, a venture for identifying and encouraging those who wish to become teachers of engineering, that was re-launched in 2003.

This is a national programme in which all the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science (IIS), Bangalore, and identified "host institutions" (engineering colleges) are participating.

Under this programme any candidate who is studying in the first semester of the postgraduate engineering programme in any of the host institution can apply to become an EFIP candidate. Moreover, anyone with two years of research work at these host institutions too can apply for this programme.

Once a candidate submits the application for this programme, in the format prescribed, the EFIP committee will carry out a scrutiny and arrive at the norms to be followed for short-listing the candidates to be interviewed. Once a candidate is selected into the EFIP he/she will be paid Rs.10,000 a year as a contingency grant for the tenure of the PG programme. This can be utilised by the candidate for buying books or other material required for upgrading his/her skills. Moreover, each EFIP candidate will undergo a minimum of two week of training in teaching pedagogy and in the development of teaching skills.

For his part the candidate will have to give an undertaking to serve as lecturer in an AICTE-approved institution for a minimum period of three years.

The AICTE will also compile the profiles of all EFIP candidates for distribution among engineering colleges that make a request for the same. A candidate in this programme can, according to his/her preference, be selected by any AICTE-approved college anywhere in the country.

This includes all the IITs and the National Institutes of Technology (NITs). Such candidates are, of course, eligible for AICTE-approved scales of pay.

Even after a candidate joins an engineering college as a member of the teaching faculty, the AICTE will pay Rs.5,000 a month for at least three years. This will be in addition to any salary and perks that are given to the candidate by the recruiting college. But then the recruiting college, along with the candidate and the AICTE, will have to sign a tripartite agreement that provides for the continuation of that candidate in a teaching post for at least three years.

The tenure of the EFIP is PG graduation plus six months. If during that six-month period the candidate is not recruited by any engineering college, he/she will receive Rs.10,000 per month from the AICTE, provided the candidates continues in his parent institution helping out with teaching activities. If a candidate does not get employed even after six months after PG graduation he/she is freed from the EFIP agreement and scheme.

Normally the EFIP advertisement calling for applications is given by the AICTE is early September each year.

Though it is true that many teachers of engineering feel that the EFIP could be a very good answer to the teacher shortage, they also feel that the programme is too restrictive in that the number of host institutions is very less. Mr. G.P.C. Nair, for one, says that the programme should be extended to many more quality institutes.

"Even with a published EFIP bio-data list, there can be problems recruiting people. We have with us the names of more than 100 candidates who are in the programme. Recently we tried calling a few of them over. We offered a starting package of Rs.25,000. Those EFIP candidates were not prepared to come. We cannot force a candidate to come as the EFIP agreement itself says that a candidate can get employed in an institution of his/her choice."

In other words if only candidates from elite engineering colleges are in the programme, they would look for equally elite employers and not be willing to work in a second-rung engineering college.

Then there are also those who say that the programme should really begin at the B.Tech level. Their argument being that if a candidate is inclined and trained to be a teacher right from the B.Tech level and supported financially by the AICTE, there would be more good candidates enrolling for the M.Tech., MS and doctoral programmes.

This would also probably mean that there would not be so big a drain of good candidates to the industry so that the engineering colleges no longer get the `leftovers.'

There is also this thinking in the engineering academia that this programme needs time to evolve and stabilise. Many are willing to give the EFIP at least five years more before they pronounce a final verdict on its efficacy.

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