I have been a teacher at a Delhi University (DU) college for the past 15 years. In this period, we have been subjected to an unprecedented number of changes in the course structure, curriculum, and grading mechanisms, and each time teachers have been forced to accept what was presented to them as a fait accompli. One may be surprised to learn that in the last academic session, DU had three different courses during the three-year course for undergraduate students, with three different marking schemes. Such has been the plethora of changes — from semester to FYUP (four-year undergraduate programme) and then to CBCS (choice-based credit system). Meanwhile, government policies over the past few years have meant that ad hoc teachers have not become permanent even after seven to eight years of teaching, and permanent teachers are awaiting promotion due to them since 2009.
In the midst of all this, on May 4 the ministry of human resource development brought out a gazette notification via the University Grants Commission, which is the only grant-giving agency in the country which has been vested with two responsibilities: Providing funds and coordination, determination and maintenance of standards in institutions of higher education, stating that university teachers would now have to take 14, 16, 18 lectures a week, depending on their designation, apart from tutorials and administrative work, which would account for another six hours per week. Why is this significant? First, the UGC notification talks of 600 annual teaching hours, which is impossible even if one teaches all seven days of the week and takes no leave in the year. The guidelines now expect even more work in less time. Second, the notification makes tutorials optional and outside direct teaching hours. Tutorials have always been included in direct contact hours, and now in one stroke the UGC and the ministry have ensured that 5,000 ad hoc teachers would be jobless in DU alone, and in many departments, even permanent faculty would become surplus. Tutorials enable more focused discussion in smaller groups, and are a critical part of our social justice mechanism. Many students from deprived communities who hesitate to speak up in class are much more open in tutorials, which play a major role in their overall performance. With so many young colleagues already bearing the brunt of contractual ad hoc appointment, this notification has taken away their jobs and left them overqualified for many others — all this despite being armed with MA/MSc, MPhil and PhD degrees, with quality publications and even authored books to their credit.
For another 3,000 teachers, the gazette notification is just another step backward in the six-year-old battle for promotion. It is bad enough that university teachers are the only government employees denied a time-bound promotion; worse, the 2010 notification asked teachers to accumulate points retrospectively as part of a newly devised system that sought to quantify teaching, research and administrative activities. The initial notification has been amended twice, and each time things have become worse. The third amendment in the form of the May 4 notification now even seeks to dictate the journals and magazines in which one can get research papers and articles published. In a system where a majority of college teachers are deprived of the chance of supervising PhD students, where access to journals and other research material is limited due to high costs, proper research often remains a pipedream, and quantifying teaching and research is next to impossible.
There is, of course, a larger picture behind all this. There has been a 55% cut in the budgetary allocation for the education sector. The ‘Occupy UGC’ movement over the last one year has been protesting against the reduction in fellowships and student scholarships. Governments are clearly focusing on higher education in the private sector, while reducing the outlay for the public sector. There have been recent reports that foreign universities will now design the syllabi for Indian universities in the attempt to move up the global education ranking. However, the reality is starkly different. Institutions are overcrowded with a 1:20 student-teacher ratio (the gazette notification would bring that to 1:40), while globally the top 100 educational institutions have a maximum teacher-student ratio of 1:9. No educational dream can be realised when teachers take 24 classes a week (including tutorials) against the global norm of 8-10, and crucially it cannot be fulfilled without an infrastructural backup. The infrastructure that was promised to universities and colleges after the OBC expansion has not seen the light of day; meanwhile, classrooms are overcrowded, with more than 100 students in a room equipped to handle 50 becoming the norm rather than the exception. The available space in colleges is being converted into temporary classrooms, and even in DU semester exams are conducted by constructing tents in college grounds. Teachers, expected to churn out research, have no workspaces or laptops and, in fact, have to fight for an inch of space in staffrooms, as they gobble down a cup of tea between consecutive classes. Overall, there is a serious lack of a conducive atmosphere for an effective teaching-learning process.
In the light of these draconian notifications, DU teachers, supported by their colleagues countrywide, have decided to boycott evaluating answer papers of undergraduate exams since May 24. We are aware that the results may get delayed, and this may impact final-year students as they prepare for jobs or further education. Our students are our world, our pride, and they have been subjected to enough mayhem over the past few years. It is time to put our foot down against the anti-student and anti-teacher government policies and stand in solidarity as we fight for our very survival. Enough is enough.
Madhumita Chakraborty is assistant professor of English at Zakir Husain Delhi College (Evening), University of Delhi
The views expressed are personal