Faculty crunch may impede higher education transformation

Acute shortage of quality faculty is an enormous stumbling block in the transformation of higher education in India, says Nidhi Maheshwari.

A new study conducted by British Council titled, ‘Understanding India: The future of higher education and opportunities for international cooperation, 2014’, presented at the University of London, further strengthens the view that by 2020 India needs 1000 universities and 50000 colleges for educating 500 million people.

Keeping the 1950-51 statistics in mind when there were 27 universities, which included 370 colleges for general education and 208 colleges for professional education, it is not an exaggeration to equate the gravity of this task as the largest transformation in higher education that any country has ever attempted.

Announcement of opening new IITs and IIMs in the current budget is a positive move. At the same time we must acknowledge that education institutions do not become world class just because of huge buildings and lush green gardens. The ‘soft power’ i.e. the intangible ingredients like leadership and good governance, autonomy, vision and planning, well qualified faculty are important for evolving institutions.

To run any educational institute a qualified teacher is a bare minimum necessity. But our universities and institutions have shortage of qualified teachers who are inspiring and conscientious. Outdated and rigid curricula, lack of accountability and irregular teachers’ training have contributed to the shortage of qualified teachers. The last published report of government highlighted the massive expansion in higher education; however, lack of deserving Ph.D. candidates for faculty positions has created a shortage of almost 54 percent in faculty talent pool in higher education. This is a moment of truth for all policymakers, bureaucrats, and university administrators who are involved in higher education transformation that shortage of quality faculty represents an enormous stumbling block in the transformation of higher education in India.

The enrolment of private players in education sectors has helped in improving the number of educational institutes but at the same time the profit intent of these institutions has threatened our social development goal through education. It has also precipitated a fierce war for the existing talent pool of faculty.

To manage this war for talent and improving professional development of teachers we need to prioritise reform in institutional, system and learning and development areas. Return on Investment in these areas should not be estimated only in terms of material profit rather all round development should be included.

At the system level along with new institutions building teaching faculty development mechanisms should be explored. Along with academic staff colleges there is a need to develop a center for teaching and learning at each university, even at the institutional level. In these institutions more emphasis needs to be given on learning outcomes than content teaching. These centers can collaborate with international institutes in order to get the exposure of digital learning technologies. The success of higher education procurement at such a massive level demands involvement of digital learning technologies to meet education demand and for quality enhancement of teaching and learning.

The reform in teacher’s learning and development areas need not be visualised as ‘training’ rather it should be ‘education’, which is reflective and extensive. Further, lecture driven methodology for development is not sufficient; other approaches like mentoring, exposure visits, and involvement in research projects with peers should be involved. Short duration professional training courses may also help to strengthen the teacher’s learning and development areas. In the teacher’s training curriculum along with content and methodology there is a need to integrate development of emotional competencies, life skills and info-savvy skills.

At the institutional level consistent international associations in research and teaching is required to fulfill the educational infrastructural requirements as well as for creating network for the next generation researchers. Students should be encouraged for research careers in order to mitigate the chronic shortage of PhD talent pool. Interdisciplinary research work should be promoted and short duration training programmes with international institute partnership should be encouraged.

In the journey of transformation in higher education and evolving world class institutions, policymakers, academia, institution builders must admire that creation, innovation, and construction always demand patience and perseverance.

The writer is the assistant professor at the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management.