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College teacher shortage alarm rings

New Delhi, Jan. 28: Policymakers in the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, a thinktank of the human resources development ministry, apprehend an acute shortage of competent college and university teachers in India in the near future.

“Over the years, there has been a conscious effort to strip our intellectual assets,” said institute faculty member G.D. Sharma. Over the last 10 years, almost all state governments have frozen recruitment of new teachers or made new appointments on an ad hoc basis. There are at least 50-60 vacancies in every university, says the thinktank.

Higher education witnessed rapid expansion during 1973-80 when fresh recruitment was made for new universities. A subsequent cut in social sector spending by governments, particularly in education and health, put the brakes on fresh appointment of teachers.

India, like most other countries, is facing a retirement bulge that may prove expensive for higher education. Several teachers will be due for retirement in the next couple of years, Sharma said. “It would then be difficult to fill these vacancies with quality people,” he added.

“On the retirement of senior faculty members, there would be a further decline in the intellectual capital in our universities,” says the Society of Education and Economic Development.

Several countries, besides India, face the retirement bulge syndrome and a subsequent shortage of teachers with sufficient teaching experience. “By 2011, Canada will need to hire 20,000 to 45,000 full-time professors, depending on a projected 20 to 30 per cent increase in student enrolment,” says a study on higher education trends by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

“Across the Commonwealth, most universities are in the same boat. They are simply not going to be training new Ph Ds to meet this demand,” said its secretary general at the annual meeting in London. “We are likely to experience asset-stripping on a massive scale and this will leave the global system of higher education weakened, if not fatally undermined.”

The institute feels the shortage of teachers will occur around the time the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff treaty on service sector (including education) comes into effect. Under the agreement, India will have to open up its education sector to allow foreign universities and institutions to establish branches in the country.

“It is possible the system of higher education will evolve new mechanisms to cope with this shortage of teachers,” said Sharma, suggesting a possible change in the structure of appointments and e-universities.

University Grants Commission chairperson Arun Nigavekar has suggested that colleges and universities diversify their curriculum and recruit part-time professionals. “There is no harm in employing professionals. It will bring students closer to reality but that cannot be a substitute for serious academic research,” Sharma said.

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