Earlier this week, the University Grants Commission (UGC) put out new guidelines for evaluating teachers. For the first time, it has decided that the overriding criteria in determining promotions cannot be seniority alone. Accordingly, it has listed a host of new criteria that take into account their contributions to research journals and in activities to further education goals outside the classroom. In short, the new guidelines have pitched for meritocracy. This is a laudable and brave initiative that this newspaper welcomes.
The changes, which have been notified, and will now be required to be implemented, are potentially a game changer. The most significant change is that teachers now need to have a doctoral degree to be eligible to be a professor; at present, someone who spends over two decades in the job is automatically entitled to this post. By raising the bar for the top job and including quantum of research and other contributions as criteria, the trajectory of a university lecturer’s career has been drastically altered. It is no longer a linear time-dependent one.
While this is indeed an important first step, it overlooks basic ground realities that could mire this initiative. For long, Indian education in general and university education in particular has suffered for several reasons, including neglect by policymakers, even as the rest of the economy has moved on. Efforts in the last two years, such as the changes in norms initiated by UGC, have sought to correct this radically.
Therein lies the problem. For instance, consider the doctoral degree criterion. It does not recognize the fact that there is a serious shortage of professors in the country at the moment—a precise estimate is not available, but India has two instructors for every three it should have. Implementing this norm would mean that a fair number of people would not be eligible to be a professor. The gap between desired number of professors and available candidates would only widen and worsen an already endemic problem in higher education in India. Worse, vested interests would then have a legitimate reason to build a case against these otherwise much-needed reforms. It would have been more prudent instead if the new norms had been staggered. That would have made sure a critical and much-needed reform doesn’t get derailed because of the pace of change.
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