Mumbai: India is one of the world’s top five economies and the country with the world’s largest working-age population--around 861 million aged between 15 and 64. These data emphasise why education is critical to India’s future growth.

Yet, a third of teaching posts are vacant in India’s central universities, no Indian university--India has 36.6 million university students--finds a place in the global top 100 and the highest rank achieved this year was 420 by Indian Institute of Science, a five-year low.

Global Rankings Of Indian Universities, 2018-19
World Rank Institution National Rank
420 Indian Institute of Science 1
519 Tata Institute of Fundamental Research 2
615 Indian Institute of Technology Bombay 3
651 Indian Institute of Technology Madras 4
671 Indian Institute of Technology Delhi 5
676 Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur 6
726 University of Delhi 7
732 All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi 8
761 Jadavpur University 9
774 Banaras Hindu University 10

Source: Centre for World University Rankings

The rankings of Indian universities have steadily declined over four years to 2018. In 2014, the highest rank an Indian university reached was 328, in 2015 it was 341, in 2016, it dropped to 354 and in 2017, it was 397.

Highest Rank For An Indian University (World Wide)
Year Institution Rank
2018-19 Indian Institute of Science 420
2017 University of Delhi 397
2016 Indian Institute of Technology Delhi 354
2015 Indian Institute of Technology Delhi 341
2014 Indian Institute of Technology Delhi 328

Source: Centre for World University Rankings

These ranks primarily focus on the quantity and quality of research papers--55% of the weightage--how many appear in top-tier or influential journals and how many are cited by other researchers.

Professors play a leading role in conducting academic research, apart from teaching duties. But India is short of professors, with 5,606 posts vacant in central universities, a shortfall of 33%, Satya Pal Singh, minister of state, ministry of human resources development (HRD) told the Lok Sabha (Parliament’s lower house) on July 23, 2018. At the flagship Indian Institutes of Technology, 2,802 (34%) teaching posts are vacant.

Vacancies affect quality of teaching, research

Vacancies have been affecting the quality of teaching and research, professors told IndiaSpend. “For the last 15-20 years, universities have been neglected,” said K. Laxminarayana, a professor from the University of Hyderabad. “There have been no teacher recruitments. A majority of the posts are vacant. When there are no teachers in the university, the quality of education will be low.”

Permanent teachers have the “time and responsibility” for research since they are not concerned with job security, Laxminarayana said. But “nowadays, the entire system is made up of contract teachers”.

Professors who do not have a permanent job--called “ad hocs”--find themselves on a contract that can range from four months to a year. “Recruitments have not taken place for a number of years now,” a Delhi University professor told IndiaSpend on condition of anonymity. “A lot of teachers have been working as ad hocs. The ministry has not given a nod to the recruitment process. Even if the recruitments don’t take place, the teaching has to go on. So a huge number of ad hoc teachers are hired, who don’t have a sense of belonging to the institution.”

The government said recruitment is controlled by universities, and the ministry and Universities Grants Commission only monitor the process. “Occurring and filling up of vacancies is a continuous process,” India’s HRD minister Prakash Javadekar told the Lok Sabha (Parliament’s lower house) on July 23, 2018. “Universities being autonomous institutions, the onus of filling up of vacant teaching posts lies with them.”

“Universities are empowered to take a decision to engage contract faculty, if the recruitment is delayed due to court cases or such other contingencies,” R. Subrahmanyam, secretary of higher education in the HRD ministry, told IndiaSpend over email.

The question of money

Funding appears to be a key issue in filling vacant teaching posts.

“The government says they don’t have enough money to recruit professors,” said Laxminarayana. “So, instead of hiring one permanent teacher, which costs around Rs 100,000 to Rs 150,000, the universities hire three to four contract teachers.”

Western nations typically spend a greater proportion of their budget on higher education and a higher proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) on education, as the chart below indicates.

India spent 4.13% of its GDP on education in 2014, according to HRD Ministry data. This is lower than the UK, US and South Africa--countries that spent 5.68%, 5.22% and 6.05% respectively, of GDP on education. Fifty one of the top 100 universities in 2018-19 were from the US and eight from the UK.

The Indian government does plan to increase higher-education funding, with an increased focus on research. “Government has embarked on improving the funding for research, among other measures, to make the universities more competitive at (the) global level,” said higher-education secretary Subrahmanyam.

(Shreya Raman is a data analyst with IndiaSpend.)

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