People often fail to realize that teachers in higher education require time and space to contemplate, reflect and think on a number of issues relating to their teaching and research. Generation of ideas, formulation of the hypotheses, methodology, and models are not mechanical processes. They need deep thinking and deep work. In the best universities of the world, teachers are supported a great deal through their teaching and research assistants and also some additional staff to help them prepare proposals for research fundings. Sadly, most universities in the country hardly have such a system. At the best, they have only a common room for all teachers hardly suited to do any serious work.
Teachers in higher education are one of the most maligned communities. Their functions, roles, and responsibilities are seldom appreciated. Instead of being appreciated for their work, they are often the butt of jokes and are mocked for earning full-time salaries for part-time jobs. They are derided for delivering stale content using outdated pedagogy or for simply being absent in mass. They are accused of rarely taking their classes and coming to the campus just once a month and that too to encash their salary. But, the importance of teachers can not be undermined in higher education.
So deep-rooted is the malice against them that when the Fifth Pay Commission asked teachers to choose between General Provident Fund (GPF) with Pension and the Contributory Provident Fund (CPF), the financial consultant advised them to opt for CPF. When asked to explain the reason, he told that the teachers were already enjoying pension while in service and that they needed to taste contributory provident fund post superannuation. It seems the consultant sincerely believed that teachers get their salaries without doing their jobs.
No one can deny that there may be some responsibility shirkers amongst the teaching community but that is more of an exception than the norm. A good majority of teachers are conscientious, committed, dedicated, and hardworking. It may be said with certainty that the proportion of responsibility shirkers in the teaching profession is not at all higher than those in the other profession. Additionally, it is generally agreed that teaching is the least corrupt profession, though no more as neat, clean, and pious as it once used to be. Instances of teachers being made to pay underhand to get the job have reportedly become less rare, particularly if the selection process is more centralized.
Alas! Politicians, bureaucrats, policy planners, regulators of higher education, and people in positions of power, whom the teachers taught for many years, too have little appreciation for the contribution of their teachers, and rather than coming to the defence of their teachers they heartily enjoy the jokes against their own college/university teachers. They rarely stand up to safeguard the interest and reputation of their alma mater.
Teachers too are responsible for such a sordid state of affairs. The author at the behest of the University Grants Commission (UGC) had coordinated the organization of a series of conferences of the vice-chancellors at the zonal and the national level in 2007. Later, from 2014 to 2019, the author in his capacity as the Secretary-General of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) had the privilege of hosting six conferences of the vice-chancellors every year for five years.
One of the recurrent themes of discussion in these conferences has been the deteriorating quality of leadership in universities. Most vice-chancellors stated that the appointment of vice-chancellors has become severely politicized, corrupted, and vitiated. They cited innumerable examples of casteism, favouritism, and bribery playing a dominant role in the decision-making process. Listening to them made the author realize that each vice-chancellor sincerely believed that (s)he was the only one who was appointed properly, while all others used foul means to bag the positions.
Nearly all of them, barring a few who were renowned for their leadership quality and raising the bar of excellence in the universities they headed, never missed the opportunity to lament the lack of quality of their students and the absence of the sense of responsibility in a majority of their teaching faculty. The author found this in total contrast with the views of the vice-chancellors, presidents, vice-presidents, rectors, and other academic leaders of reputed international universities who invariably admired the sense of responsibility, studiousness nature, and overall quality of students and teachers of Indian origin in their campuses and wanted more of them.
In reality and unlike most other professions, teachers are required to undertake multi-fold responsibilities comprising teaching, research, extension, sharing additional responsibilities, and contributing proactively to the corporate life of their colleges and universities. Teachers in higher education are supposed to not only be knowledgeable about their discipline but must also possess and put the knowledge of learning into practice, creating knowledge and epistemology. In fact, that is why they are required to have the highest level of qualification called a Doctor of Philosophy.
They are also expected to communicate and engage with their students as facilitators, guides, and partners in the dissemination of the knowledge known so far and in the process sow the seeds of doubt about everything that is already discovered and known as truth to the world of knowledge and wisdom. These two, in turn, challenge the status quo disrupting the existing beliefs and notions leading to further exploration and thereby ushering in new discoveries and expanding the horizon and opening the new frontiers of knowledge. Further, the higher education community is supposed to connect with the immediate and extended community to learn and document the local arts, customs, knowledge and traditions, and in the process also help the community improve their conditions through the knowledge developed by the university fraternity.
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Additionally, teachers in higher education, have lately been overloaded with a lot of administrative, advisory, clerical, and managerial responsibilities like the administration of hostels; management of discipline and law and order; advisors, OSDs, coordinators of security, horticulture, administration, examination, recruitment; and in-charges of a whole host of other responsibilities that should have ideally been performed by the non-teaching administrative staff who are usually more in number than the faculty members. Interestingly, quite a large proportion of teachers like doing these jobs of their own volition and enjoy them, at times, more than their core responsibilities of teaching, research, community connect, and outreach.
There is hardly any study in the Indian context to identify teacher-like qualities, and abilities to discharge all the expected functions. Most of the time the selection process takes into account the past academic performance and published work to identify the meritorious candidates for the faculty positions. Their promotion is based on their research performance with some weightage for their contribution to corporate life. In the process, measurement of teaching skills, communication abilities and clarity of presentation, and ethical conduct becomes the foremost casualty.
Further, there has been no attempt, in the Indian context, to know as to how taxing and energy-consuming could an hour of lecture be. Common sense suggests that an hour of routine desk work would consume much less energy than desk work which requires focussed concentration and deep analysis. Ubiquitously, an hour of lecture to a large-sized classroom requiring concentrated efforts involving all the senses and faculties, often under inclement climatic conditions, would undoubtedly cause a substantial loss of energy-requiring rest and recovery.
People often fail to realize that teachers in higher education require time and space to contemplate, reflect and think on a number of issues relating to their teaching and research. Generation of ideas, formulation of the hypotheses, methodology, and models are not mechanical processes. They need deep thinking and deep work. Leisure often plays an important role in sparking a new idea and concept for which teachers need time to work upon.
Also Read: Peeping into Miseries of Teachers
A reasonable workload, thus, plays a very critical role in promoting and progressing research by teachers working in collaboration with their colleagues, peers, research scholars, and students. Hence, the teachers need to be freed from the routine drudgery to be able to come up with original contributions. In the best universities of the world, teachers are supported a great deal through their teaching and research assistants and also some additional staff to help them prepare proposals for research fundings. Sadly, most universities in the country hardly have such a system.
Most critically, the higher system in India works on the assumption that a section officer, to discharge his/her responsibilities, needs a separate office and is supported by a battery of clerical and multi-tasking staff. In contrast, it is assumed that a teaching faculty, be it an Assistant, Associate, or Professor needs no office space or support staff. Over three-fourth of higher education is provided by the colleges of higher education in the country and most colleges are unable to provide workspace for their teachers. At the best, they have only a common room for all teachers hardly suited to do any serious work. A good number of universities, too, fail to provide even a distance workspace to their teachers, what to speak of amenities and support system.
These are but a few basics that everyone can understand with a little common sense. But for that to happen we need a little better understanding and appreciation of the role, responsibilities, and functions of teachers in higher education. Sadly, however, the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) hardly has any thoughts to offer on these critical issues, though it recognizes the importance of teachers in higher education.
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About the author
Dr. Furqan Qamar is a former Advisor (Education) in the Planning Commission of India. He has been the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Rajasthan and Central University of Himachal Pradesh. Dr. Qamar is currently the Professor of Management at the Centre for Management Studies (CMS), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi.