The government’s statement in Parliament that more than 50% of teaching positions at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) are lying vacant is, though frustrating, not very surprising. The problem is not just with the IITs but National Institutes of Technology (NIT) too. Time was when getting a teaching job in an IIT was a matter of greater prestige than getting admission in the premier institutes of engineering. The dismal situation now has many reasons. For a long time our IITs and IIMs had been able to resist having reservations in faculty, citing a government order that exempts scientific and technical institutions from following a reservation policy in hiring teachers. The IITs, however, eventually fell in line with the government. This had two consequences. One, competent people who might have come to IITs to teach now prefer to stay away, fearing politicisation and a decline in standards. Second, because of reservations being there, often there is dearth of people who meet the employment criteria and hence the situations in the reserved category lie vacant. And such problems are coming in the way of the government’s efforts at promoting the rankings of the IITs.
When there were five or six IITs in the country, the problem did not reach this acute level. Now with the number of IITs going up to 23, infrastructural problems have also come alongside. Unlike IIT Delhi, many institutes do not have adequate teaching space or advanced laboratories. On top of that many of them cannot offer their teachers quarters to stay. That there would be difficulties in measuring all IITs on the same scale was recognised by experts about 10 years ago at least and hence they resisted giving all of them the ’IIT’ label. But the HRD minister of the day was adamant on this. Much of the problem we see today would not have been there had the whole matter been thoroughly thought through.
The university rankings by Times Higher Education (THE) magazine, on which no Indian institute finds place in the top 200, uses five parameters: Teaching, research, citation, international outlook and industry income. On the last two, there is little chance that our institutes can make much headway in the near future. But as regards the first three, a lot depends on faculty, in whose welfare and appointment the government plays a crucial role. It is commonly known that not many of those who graduated from IITs at UG level teach there. If the government gives the IITs a freer hand in giving its teachers higher salaries and better perks, some of those teaching abroad may return.