UGC: Learning To U-turn

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Strident protests from the teaching community resulted in the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development directing the UGC to amend a recent and controversial notification on number of working hours for college lecturers. Why did the UGC issue the notification in the first place?
By Meha Mathur


The Union Ministry of Human Resources Development with Smiti Irani at the helm is not known to reverse decisions taken by it under public pressure. In fact, it has a track record of not buckling in the face of agitations — be it JNU, Hyderabad University, FTTI-Pune or Jadhavpur University.

But last week the Ministry of HRD did a surprise U-turn when directed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to undo the latter’s May 10 notification which had increased the direct teaching hours of the teaching faculty by six hours a week across all grades. This was done in the face of vehement protest from teachers associations which received much attention in the media. The MHRD felt it had no option but to ask the UGC to beat a hasty retreat.

The controversial May 10 notification was ostensibly issued to increase productivity of teachers and streamline functioning. The UGC, through the Gazette Notification increased the direct teaching hours of assistant professors from 18 to 24, associate professors from 16 to 22, and professors from 14 to 20, for all universities and colleges. Thus in each category there was an addition of six hours per week.

The notification spelt out the following details:

•18/16/14 hours per week include the lectures/practicals/project supervision.

•Two hours of practicals/project supervision will be treated as equivalent to one hour of lecture.

•Those teachers who supervise the research of five or more PhD students at a time will be allowed a reduction of two hours per week in direct teaching hours.

•Six hours of additional per week include the hours spent on tutorials, remedial classes, seminars, administrative responsibilities, innovation and updating of course contents.

•Hours spent on examination duties such as invigilation, question paper setting, valuation of answer scripts and tabulation of results are over and above the prescribed direct teaching hours and are an integral part of overall teaching work load of 40 hours per week.

•Student feedback will form an important indicator in overall Academic Performance Indicator (API) of lecturers.

The notification stirred a hornet’s nest. The All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisation (AIFUCTO) and Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) immediately rose in protest. At stake, they pointed out, was quality of education. Their argument was that burdened with so many direct teaching hours, lecturers will be deprived of time required to prepare for lecturers and do quality research work.

At the same time, colleges would have to allot additional papers and work to the permanent staff so that the new stipulated minimum working hours are achieved. This would in effect make the ad hoc teaching staff –currently contracted to lessen the workload on regular teachers– redundant and jobless.

On the face of it, cost cutting was the objective behind the UGC notification. Its budget had been reduced drastically by 55 percent in this fiscal. From Rs 9315.45 crore in 2015-16 it had come down to Rs 4286.94 crore in 2016-17. This shortfall meant trimming operational costs and doing away with the ad hoc staff was thought of as the way out.

Teachers’ concerns

This point has been articulated by several members of the teachin staff. Says Abha Dev Habib, Member of Executive Council, DU, who teaches physics at Miranda House: “Ever since the UGC budget was slashed by 55 percent we were apprehending that there will be some repercussions. But it’s unfortunate that without implementing the 7th Pay Commission, new service conditions have been imposed upon us. Direct teaching hours have been increased by 50 percent by the government, because of which 50 percent teachers will lose their jobs.”

Priti Goel, an adhoc lecturer of business studies at Agrasen College, University of Delhi, who has also cleared her NET, said she has been teaching on an ad hoc basis since last 13 years, hoping to get permanent appointment, but following the UGC notification, she too fears she may be rendered jobless. There are several others like her who would have been hit by the notification.

According to the teaching community doing away with ad hoc teachers may look good in the expenditure column of the balance sheet. But it has other repercussions. For example, if ad hoc teachers are done away with, how will M Phil and PhD students, who take their first step in college teaching by joining temporary and ad hoc positions, ever get inducted? As it is, the number of vacancies is very low, and with ad hoc positions gone, there will be no entry point. Points out Habib: “If you complete PhD at the age of 30 or 32 and find that there is no job, the youth will get disenchanted from this field. The number of people pursuing higher education will go down and country’s focus will shift from research.”

Corrective measure

Fortunately, the MHRD reversed the UGC notification. The ministry’s press release put up on the PIB website said: “The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has reviewed the recent amendment to the UGC (Minimum Qualifications for appointment of teachers and other academic staff in universities and colleges and measures for the maintenance of standards in higher education) Regulations, 2010.

“Consequent on the review, the Ministry has issued a direction to the UGC, under Section 20(1) of the UGC Act, 1956, to undertake amendments in the Regulation. After these amendments are carried out, the position regarding workload will be as follows:-

(i) In the UGC (Minimum Qualifications for appointment of teachers and other academic staff in universities and colleges and measures for the maintenance of standards in higher education) Regulations, 2010, the overall workload of Assistant Professors and Associate Professors/Professors in full employment was prescribed to be not less than 40 hours a week for 180 teaching days. This workload remains unchanged, even with the amended Regulation.

(ii) The direct teaching-learning hours to be devoted by Assistant Professors (16 hours) and Associate Professors/Professors (14 hours) too will remain unchanged, as a consequence of the direction from the MHRD and subsequent notification by the UGC.

“In consonance with established academic and teaching traditions, and with a view to reinforcing a student-centric and caring approach, teachers are encouraged to work with students, beyond the structure of classroom teaching. Indicatively, this could entail mentoring, guiding and counselling students. In particular teachers would be the best placed to identify and address the needs of students who may be differently-abled, or require assistance to improve their academic performance, or to overcome a disadvantage. There are no prescribed hours for such efforts, measured either in weeks or months. While they will not be included in the calculation of the API scores, these are nevertheless important and significant activities that could be carried out by teachers.

“Teachers were required to allocate 6 additional hours per week, beyond the direct teaching-learning hours, on research. These hours can now be also utilized for tutorials/remedial classes/seminars/administrative responsibilities/ innovation and updating of course contents.

“There will be no increase in the workload of teachers, after the amendments, in comparison with the workload prescribed earlier.”

Larger context

But it is alleged that there were bigger issues at play vis-a-vis the May 10 notification. Perhaps there was the larger motive of making government funded higher educational institutions less attractive, both in the quality of education imparted and the openings provided for those who opt for teaching as a profession. This would divert the teacher and student traffic to the burgeoning private education sector. Deprived of jobs in government funded universities, research students will seek employment in private universities dotting the country now. It is not a coincidence that around the same time that the notification came the rules for setting up and operating deemed universities were relaxed by the UGC which announced the following:

* It eased the norms for appointment of deemed university chancellors, so that even promoter of the institute can become a chancellor

* A promoter can first get the deemed university status, and then set up the institution in three years (earlier the norm was to set up the institute and only then could he apply for the status)

* The infrastructure requirement has been diluted. Earlier, minimum five acres of land in urban metropolitan, and seven acres in non-metro areas was required; now the only requirement is that 40 percent of the total area must be open space, and 10 square meter per student floor space must be provided.

At the same time, the NDA government, after failed efforts of UPA-II, is also trying hard to get foreign universities a footing on Indian soil. Habib expresses anger that while Indian universities are over-administered and even their autonomy to create a syllabus depending upon the requirements of its target student base has been taken away, the government insists that foreign universities retain their academic and administrative autonomy. “The Niti Aayog says we have to keep foreign universities out of the UGC’s ambit. So if it’s so important for foreign universities to have academic and administrative autonomy, why are you finishing your own universities by taking away that autonomy,” she asks.

Clearly the aim is to drive the student traffic in the direction of private universities. An increasing number of private players now offer not just vocational and professional courses like BBA, law and product design, even liberal arts and pure sciences courses like History Honors and English Honors are on offer. And students who are unable to join the 90 percent club required to gain admission into government-run colleges, perforce join a program at these institutions, taking huge loans.

But why does a family shell out 10 to 12 lakh for a run of the mill honors course? It is tied up to the fact that parents believe that by securing a degree their wards will become employable. So, hard earned money is splurged to get a degree from any institution that offers admission. More pragmatic parents today also place their children in more market-oriented and commercially viable courses. This has led to the decline of research oriented courses in our government run universities.

The big question today before educators is whether the private sector can rescue higher education from the mess it finds itself in India? The jury is still out on that one although many would agree that unregulated teaching shops with profiteering in mind cannot provide holistic education. That is a task that can be fulfilled by better run government institutions–more so in India where the vast majority cannot afford the prohibitive fee structure of private educational enterprises.

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