Mammoth crisis threatens India’s IITs and IIMs

While the best global brains join the faculty of American universities, the IITs and IIMs struggle to find the right candidates.
While the best global brains join the faculty of American universities, the IITs and IIMs struggle to find the right candidates.


  • India's elite institutions struggle to find qualified teachers amid a glut of PhDs.

The faculty crunch at India’s prestigious IITs and IIMs is a crisis threatening to derail their ambitions of becoming world-class institutions like Harvard and Oxford. While the Ivy League colleges in the US boast the top minds in academia as faculty members, the IITs and IIMs are known more for their exceptional alumni who have achieved global success.

India produces thousands of PhDs, more than it can use, but many of them fail to meet the standards of the country’s top colleges like the IITs and IIMs. As a result, these institutions, along with many central and state universities, are struggling to find enough qualified teachers.

A crisis for the IITs and IIMs

About 4,500 faculty positions are vacant at the IITs and about 500 at the IIMs (total sanctioned posts over 1,500). And over 6,000 vacancies in 45 central universities (total posts of about 19,000).

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It’s fairly well-known now that the IITs and IIMs, and other institutions struggle to find enough qualified candidates for these posts. Clearly, it’s the biggest hurdle IIMs and IITs face as they expand their franchise across the country to skill India’s young and help the country meet its tryst with a demographic dividend.

But here’s another staggering statistic. India produces almost 25,000 PhDs every year – the IITs themselves churn out hundreds of PhDs every year, if not more – along with over a million postgraduates. That’s probably more than what India needs and should be enough to meet the faculty needs of India’s best academic institutions, including the IITs and IIMs. And yet India’s universities and colleges struggle to find the right candidates for faculty positions. It’s the biggest vote of no confidence in India’s higher education system and by the insiders themselves.
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Renowned alumni

The reason IITs and IIMs command respect globally is for their extraordinary alumni, who occupy pivotal positions at some of the world’s top corporations and institutions. Indeed, it shows the extraordinary talent and prowess of Indians, many of them rising from small and obscure towns to make it to the IITs and IIMs after acing hypercompetitive entrance exams.

But while the best global brains join the faculty of American universities, including many Nobel Laureates, the IITs and IIMs struggle to find the right candidates. That is what separates the IIT and the IIMs from the best colleges in the US.

In a way, it’s a sad reflection on the state of India’s higher education institutes. Despite churning out thousands of PhDs annually, Indian colleges can’t find teachers. In fact, on occasions, selection committees at India’s best institutions prefer not to hire than bring on board people who may not demonstrate the academic rigour expected from the faculty.

India must overhaul higher education

So, the answer to India’s crippling shortage of college professors lies within. First, India must raise the quality of its higher education. The top Indian institutions have still not stood out in original research, unlike their alumni who are calling the shots globally. In fact, even the IITs and IIMs are not known for high-quality and original research.

The sheer scale of the problem, with thousands of vacancies at the IIT and IIMs, and other central and state institutions, makes it difficult to make stop-gap arrangements, like bringing in professors from abroad to plug the deficit. India will need home-grown solutions for the teacher shortages at its higher education institutions.

India needs to invest more in research, lifting the academic rigour at India’s universities, and in the process, make higher-education institutions more accountable. Indian PhDs often produce papers of poor quality, lifting and reproducing from international journals. All that must change for India to produce genuine scholars for its centres of higher learning.

Clearly, India needs to overhaul its higher-education setup. The country must promote cutting-edge research and academic work at India’s best institutes in collaboration with global centres of excellence. The new National Education Policy hopes to do just that by promoting a culture that rewards excellence.

And for that, India needs to spend much more on research and development (R&D) than it’s doing right now. Almost half of the global R&D is done in the US (27%) and China (22%). India accounts for just 2% of the global R&D spending.

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