We often relate the deplorable state of education in universities and colleges with faculty shortage, more so competent faculty. It is estimated that more than 35% faculty positions in our higher education system are lying vacant. Consequently with a 1:23 teacher-student ratio, we are half way to the ratio of 1:12 recommended by the UGC. In terms of student-faculty ratio, it is the IIMs that are doing best with one faculty member for every 6 students. In the case of IITs, it is one to 16 students.
The IITs top the list with 39% vacancies and central universities follow with 38% vacancies. One would assume that since a large number of new institutions were set up in the last few years, their faculty would add to the numbers. But this assumption is wrong. Even in the central universities, it is the old universities that are worst hit. Delhi University has a shortage of more than 50% closely followed by the University of Allahabad.
The situation, though somewhat alarming, is certainly not unmanageable. Regular full-time faculty positions in the US are even worse than ours, if we go by the numbers. Some of US public universities have only one-third regular faculty. Harvard University has less than 54% full time regular faculty on its rolls while in Yale there is less than 49% regular faculty. The question is how do they account for the faculty crunch and where have we failed.
The US higher education system employs about 50% non-regular faculty such as the adjunct professors, part-time professors and visiting professors. The national average of adjunct professors on the rolls of US universities is about 48%. Apart from this, graduate assistants are utilised to help senior faculty in teaching. Why could we not adopt such a system of utilising the services of retired faculty as adjunct professors or that of students pursuing higher studies in our universities? This is a question that vice-chancellors of public universities need to examine.
Private education providers have been under criticism for various reasons. Public universities in the country, however, need to learn from them as regards the judicious utilisation of expertise in education. Private universities are employing, to a considerable extent, faculty retired from the public universities to teach their students whereas public universities themselves have failed to utilise their potential and experience in education. We could opt for uniformity in the retirement age; while it is 65 years in 44 central universities, it is 60 or 62 years in other nearly 700 universities. This is one part of the solution, there are many others which the vice-chancellors and education experts need to discuss within a fixed timeline.
Gursharan Singh is former dean of postgraduate studies, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana
The views expressed are personal