Indian universities may finally start paying well enough to make teaching a substantially more attractive career option. As the University Grants Commission pay review panel recommends, this requires an “unprecedented” hike in faculty salaries, given that the current levels are abysmal. We don’t know the new scales yet, but the description “unprecedented” warrants a strong welcome.
To say it’s high time is not only a cliche but an understatement. The Sixth Pay Commission has long finalized its report and the government agreed promptly to grant the suggested benefits to its mammoth babudom. But educators, who have a — potentially — crucial role in making India’s dreams of becoming a knowledge powerhouse come true, are still waiting for a real incentive to play that role.
The UGC panel had the mandate to suggest ways and means of attracting and retaining talented persons in the teaching profession. To that end, it has rightly asked for strong incentives at the entry level as well as opportunities for career growth — both for Central and the much worse off state university faculties.
All this should, in time, address a primary reason for the lame quality of teaching in Indian universities — poor rewards leading to flight of talent to private institutions, industry or foreign universities. Attractive salaries, though, are not enough to break the crisis of teaching that India’s higher public education sector is trapped in.
In parallel, it is the crisis of governance that also has to be resolved. And that’s a far tougher task at hand. Because it is rooted in rampant politicization, over-regulation and patronage — all of which have worked as strong disincentives for talent to enter and/or stay in the system. This has only meant the perpetuation of mediocrity; indeed, the celebration of it. The products of this system, therefore, have gained neither skills nor much knowledge. Given how well known their “quality” is, their degrees don’t even signal much worth in the job market. Hence, there is the visible preference to seek and pay for these benefits in the limited private market.
There is ample evidence that our higher education system is in urgent need of greater autonomy — public or private. We hope for “unprecedented” solutions there too.
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