Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer of 2016: Teachers and Protest at the University of Delhi

Rityusha

 He allowed himself to be swayed by his  conviction that human beings are  not  born once and for all on the day their  mothers give birth to them, but  that life  obliges them over and over again to give  birth to themselves.―  Gabriel García  Márquez, Love in the   Time of Cholera

Thus mused a character made up of crisp white of a paper and fluid black ink and wondered if others of the red blood, flesh and bone category, had missed this profundity. Given a chance to walk down the sweltering dharna streets in Delhi in the summer of 2016, this character would have easily agreed that life is a euphemism for politics, among other things. Politics, it must be stressed, is sum total of what one lives through: the existence and disappearance of rights and freedoms (Azadi or the lack of it: to be or not to be a Marxist, subaltern, feminist, liberal, right wing Zionist, apolitical, asexual, atheist, and so on), opportunities of inclusion or exclusion (in heteronormative or queer groups, religious, ethnic, racial communities) participation in any realm (the World Bank/IMF checklist: governance, decentralization, free market, empowerment, globalization, liberalization) and entitlements (the idea of humans as resource (for?), fighting for less complex resources)[i]


In the midst of this politics thousands of Delhi University teachers have been thronging the protest sites in Delhi to participate in agitations against the University Grant Commission[ii] and Ministry of Human Resource and Development of India, to fight for their rights, freedoms, opportunities and entitlements. Behind this summer’s massive protest by these teachers, one of the triggers is the Gazette Notification of University Grants Commission[iii] dated May 4th 2016 and issued on 10th May 2016, which threatened the livelihood of approximately 5000 teachers in Delhi University alone and more than a hundred thousand and half across the country[iv]. Politics has been life changing for the students and teachers. Yet, changes wrought by this politics and politics itself are shadowed by stellar performances of political leadership of the day (their foreign visits, their perceptions on nationalism, morality, ethics etc). The nation wants to know more about the fancies of few and less about the basic requirements (education/livelihood/working conditions) of many. Poor media remains the quintessential beast of burden occasionally rescued by some stray journalists, print, blogs and free news portals. This is an attempt from such margins.

The University Teacher’s Associations across the country are rising against the anti-education policies of the government. In case of Delhi University, there has been evaluation boycott, protests in front of the UGC beating empty plates (Khali Thali) with spoons, marches with black ribbons tied on heads, breaking barricades and courting arrest, candle light vigils with latest boycott of all administrative work for the new session[v]. In every single instance, the number of protesters has run into thousands, after all, they have been up against the short term contractual tenure, loss of jobs and denial of promotions. The very evident point of contention is around decreased numbers (job cut, workload, point based Academic Performance Indicator). In public domain, the less discussed but more significant is the politics which results in these numbers and consequent downhill changes in the lives of university students (who more and more, if not everybody, should be) and teachers (who very few get to be). The trajectory of the progress/decline of higher education (specifically undergraduate studies) is defined by momentous acts/decisions like these of the government and the people.

In this context, few questions arise: What are the contentious points of this UGC Gazette Notification and why teachers are against it? When did it all start, is this the first step or nth step in a particular series of changes in higher education in India? In whose favor do these changes work?

I shall endeavor to answer these questions in three parts:

Quantification of Education: Knowledge as a Number
The current situation of higher education in India is not the handiwork of a particular government or regime and this Notification is the nth step towards anti-people trend in higher education in India.

The downhill Global ranking of Indian Universities, lamentable employment prospects of individuals who have availed higher education, substantial decline in budgetary allocations in both technical and non-technical streams in public-administered institutions, inclusion of higher education in the WTO-GATS are some of the indicators/ facilitators of long term maladies in the education sector. The State’s proposal of ‘humans as resources’ (teachers in this case) in their quantified glory working more hours/gathering more academic points to contribute to nation building, national power and national interest is misleading. I will focus on two examples: the controversy regarding workload of university teachers and the Academic Performance Indicator.

The Gazette Notification of UGC of 10th May 2016 altered teachers’ workload requirements by redefining “direct teaching hours”[vi]. Earlier, lectures, practical, project supervision and tutorials were treated equally, but tutorials have now been removed, and the definition has been narrowed down to “Lecture/Practical/Project Supervision”. As per this amendment to UGC (Minimum Qualifications for appointment of teachers and other academic staff in universities and colleges and measures for the maintenance of standards in higher education) Regulations, 2010, the number of direct teaching hours has been increased. An Assistant Professor who was earlier required to teach 16 hours (including Lecture/Practical/Project Supervision and Tutorial) weekly will now have to work 18+6hours and Associate Professors and Professors who worked 14 hours - including time spent on tutorials and practical, will now have to work 16+6 hours and 14+6 hours respectively. The notification defines this six hours increase as time spent on tutorials, remedial classes, seminars, administrative responsibilities, innovation and updating of course contents. By underlining this increase of six hours as ‘indirect’ the government has attempted to undermine the importance of Tutorial/Remedial (T/R).  These hours are put within the ambit of ‘administrative work’. This is against the idea of what T/R aim to achieve- a nuanced understanding of the subject through prolonged engagement with the teacher. Clubbing seminars, innovation, updating course content as well as administrative responsibilities (being conveners/members of various committees in the institution) in the same category as T/R is highly detrimental to students’ interest as it derecognizes these intensive, interactive, personalized periods of learning.

The university teachers’ demands cannot be brushed aside by citing longer working hours by professionals in other sectors or even within education sector. If the quantum of work is not commensurate with the wages, the efforts should be to fight for one’s worth. The idea of comparable worth[vii]  (vis-à-vis other professionals within the country and academics in other parts of the world) is worth extrapolating here as it helps in rationalizing the efforts/skills required to produce these hours of direct/indirect teaching. It must be stressed that those who stand on the abyss of unemployment due to callous attitude of the government suffer constant blows to their dignity through internalized mechanisms of humiliation aided by apathetic, anti-worker norms of contractual labor in education sector[viii].

In a Joint Press Conference on 3rd June[ix], the DUTA President Dr. Nandita Narain stressed the point that Global Ranking of the University of Delhi has dropped from 254 in 2007 to 491 in 2015 majorly owing to poor student-teacher ratio (20:1 as compared to the Asian average of 13:1, also much lower than in the developed countries)[x]. This is a reflection of poor infrastructural capacity of the University clearly coinciding with the counterproductive academic restructuring policies of the previous and current dispensations (no commensurate hiring after 54% expansion in student strength following adoption of OBC reservation, mindless imposition of semester system, FYUP, CBCS). According to FEDCUTA (Federation of Central Universities' Teachers’ Associations) Press Release on 2nd June 2016[xi], this notification

“..increases the overall teaching hours by 50% and will lead to a massive reduction in the number of teaching posts to the tune of almost 50%, thus endangering the jobs and livelihood of lakhs of teachers across the country teaching on temporary, ad-hoc, guest and contractual basis, and will strike a blow against the job aspirations of lakhs of post graduates and research scholars. The sharp reduction in the number of teachers will also have severe adverse repercussions on the student- teacher ratio, an important indicator in global ranking. In one blow this will reduce our public-funded universities to academic slums”.
The latest attempt at unilateral increase in workload which would have resulted in corresponding retrenchment of thousands of teachers exposes designs against any university’s efforts to disseminate empowering education. These contractual academic tenures (called ‘ad hoc’ in DU) have been running for tens of years in individual cases. The permanent appointments in most departments have been stalled for years and a majority of seats have been left vacant to be filled by ad hoc faculty. In November 2013, DU had announced 665 vacancies across 50 subjects for Professors, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors[xii]; recruitment is underway through many posts till date. Approximately 5000 ad hoc vacancies have existed since several years. Majority of these posts have not been announced as permanent vacancies. Now, the current policy takes away that hope permanently.


The next contentious issue is Academic Performance Indicator (API) system, which links promotions of faculty members in Indian universities/colleges to a quantifiable assessment and was introduced by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in its 2010 Regulations[xiii]. In the May 4th Notification, the API target for teaching allots a maximum of 60 points per teacher per year, but the points will be determined by dividing the “actual hours spent per academic year divided by 10”[xiv]. That is, any teacher who is interested in 60 points will have to teach 600 hours per year or 300 points per semester. In a semester of 15 weeks, this works out to 20 hours a week. It is a tough target to meet even if no leave is ever taken on account of personal (medical conditions, other emergencies) or professional reasons (Refresher Courses or do Research Projects or any academic enhancement activity like participation in conferences, workshops, symposiums or seminars). The DU teachers have constantly agitated against the 30.06.2010 UGC Notification on API (adopted by DU on 17.08.2013 with an exemption to all those whose promotion was due till that date). After the withdrawal of the infamous Four Years Undergraduate Course, in the Executive Committee Meeting of  DU on 14.08.2014 the then VC of DU withdrew it and rolled it back to 31.12.2008 which is illegal as there was no API in 2008. The API system has equally been critiqued on account of the infrastructural inadequacies of public institutions which are very disabling for the students and teachers (who are required to reach the desired numbers for their promotion). It casts a negative impact on the promotion prospects of thousands of teachers across the country and denotes a counter current to the idea of life, living conditions and upward mobility of workers.

Further, as many critiques have pointed out, a number crunching index to assess teaching is qualitatively degrading as it ignores multiple levels of student-teacher intellectual engagements (for instance an individual’s growth at the level of ideas), and only falsifiable/ verifiable empirical evidences connote growth. To borrow from Foucault, this is a new ‘regime of truths’[xv] in which value of every academic activity inside or outside class has to be digitized in terms of hours spent. Moreover, precise numbers have to be put to publication and administrative roles. Only the list of journals recommended by ‘the ‘competent authority’ are to be used for publication. Another glaring shortcoming of this system is the ‘necessary condition’ for promotion of university teachers being point based assessment of intellectual production that every teacher is supposed to have. Needless to say that the API based publication race (a la western academia’s plight in the context of ‘publish or perish’) contributed to absenteeism in teachers, spurious publications and overall decline in quality of teaching and research.

If a peoples’ regime of truth is to be built, the numbers in the next part are critical.

The Anomaly: Numbers Denied Knowledge
Few empirical observations (over a period of last five years) regarding the state of higher education in India present the contradiction in the above quantified version of knowledge where numbers reign supreme. These are just the tip of proverbial iceberg of inequity, discrimination, apathy, corruption and all sorts of maladies rendering higher education in India hapless:

(1) In the Central Government Budget 2016-17 there is no massive outlay for education, health and social welfare. Indeed there is massive budget cut in expenditure in UGC (to the tune of 55%)[xvi]. This drastic step of the Central Government cannot be explained or wished away by other insubstantial measures/schemes[xvii].

(2) According to the Ministry of Human Resource and Development Report on Higher Education 2014-15, there are 665 Universities, 35829 Colleges and 11443 Stand Alone Institutions that cater to higher education in India[xviii]. There are 73% colleges running in Private sector; aided and unaided taking together, but this percentage caters to only 61% of the total enrolment.

(3) Only 10% among the university-age population in India get access to higher education[xix]. This access to higher education compares with China’s 22% enrolment and the 28% enrolment in the US. According to MHRD All India Survey on Higher Education (2011-12), the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher education in India was 20.4, which is calculated for 1823 years of age group. GER for male population was 21.6 and for females it was 18.9[xx].

(4) According to MHRD Report 2015, out of the total number of students enrolled in higher education, 79.90 % are in the undergraduate courses[xxi]. According to this Report, of the total enrolment, Scheduled Casts students constitute 12.2 %, Scheduled Tribes students: 4.4%, Other Backward Classes: 30.05%, Muslim Minority: 3.9% and other Minority Community constitutes 1.9%.

(5) Of the total number of teachers in institutes of higher education, about 61 % are male teachers and 39 % are female teachers[xxii].The United Nations Human Development Report, 2015 has ranked India on 130th position among 188 nations listed in the UN HD Index. Among BRICS countries, India is left behind by Russia, Brazil, China and South Africa[xxiii].When inequality is factored in, however, India loses over one-fourth of its HDI value, with education registering the highest inequality in outcomes. There are also substantial gender differences in outcomes; to quote the UN HDR if the women of India were their own country, they would rank 151 out of 188 countries in human development, while India’s men would come in at 120. The average adult man in India gets twice as many years of schooling as the average adult woman[xxiv].

Tell Me Your Dreams! And I Shall Project False Consciousness
If the aim is to make higher education accessible and empowering to ever increasing numbers, an upward indicator of progress would be more teachers, more institutions and better and bigger infrastructure. Key words like National Development, National Strength and National Interest always project ideal world and the current government has also captured these populist sentiments with its own rhetoric. To quote the MHRD report 2014-15[xxv]:

“Higher Education is the most powerful tool to build a knowledge-based society for the future. Higher Education provides people with an opportunity to reflect on the critical social, economic, cultural, moral and spiritual issues facing humanity. It contributes to national development through dissemination of specialized knowledge and skills. Being at the apex of the educational pyramid, it plays a key role in producing quality teachers for the country's education.”
However, what one witnesses is retrenchment in contractual (and in all likelihood permanent) jobs, less budgetary allocation, dismal infrastructure, constant restructuring and remodeling (Annual to Semester to FYUP to Choice Based Credit System)  of undergraduate courses without a proper background research involving students and teachers as primary stakeholders; and over all despondency in the very idea of public education. This wishing away of public education by the State, and patronizing private education institutes[xxvi] is evidence enough of an effort to pit induced incompetence of public institutions against pitched dazzle of private institutes. The people who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fee of the private education institutes remain outside the purview of such an elite vision of higher education. One needs to applaud the Government for a steadfast approach: attempts to limit the scholarships in MPhil/PhD[xxvii], the shrunk budget for UGC and curb on dissent in University spaces (the much debated Azadi) have all provided indications of days to come.


The teachers demand roll back of workload norms (on 15th June 2016 there was a Notification by MHRD in PIB of capitulation on workload) and API, implementation of reservation roster and permanent appointments.  Indeed, in this Summer of ’16 the teachers are discovering their many lives through Politics.

En solidarité!



[i] The idea is to introduce intersectionality in various theoretical frameworks of Politics and what of it.
[ii] In 1952, the Union Government decided that all cases pertaining to the allocation of grants-in-aid from public funds to the Central Universities and other Universities and Institutions of higher learning might be referred to the University Grants Commission. Consequently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) was formally inaugurated on 28 December 1953.
[iii] The Gazette of India. 2016. University Grants Commission. 10th May.
[iv] Memorandum by Delhi University Teacher’s Association (DUTA) issued on 5th June 2016.
[v]For Details See: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/du-teachers-to-boycott-
admission-process/article8729973.ece
[vi] The Gazette of India. 2016. UGC; p. 36-38.
[vii] Comparable worth, also called sex equity or pay equity, in economics, is the principle that men and women should be compensated equally for work requiring comparable skills, responsibilities, and effort.
[viii] To read more about the plight, refer to #knowyouradhoc on facebook, twitter.
[ix] Since numbers matter: various teachers/students associations and organizations have come together with DUTA that has been spearheading the agitation against the said Gazette Notification: Jamia Teachers Association (JTA), IGNOU and Ambedkar University (AUDFA), JNU Students Union, Aahwan, AIDSO, AISA, AISF, Bhagat Singh Chhatra Sangathan, CYSS, Disha, DSU, KYS,NEFIS, NSUI, Pachhas, Student Federation of India, SYS. Political leaders from the Left Parties, Indian National Congress, JD (U), RJD, have conveyed their solidarity with the ongoing protest. MPs from various Left parties have written letters to the HRD Minister expressing support for the teachers’ demands.
[x] http://www.duta-du.info/2016/06/duta-press-release-362016.html
[xi] For details, refer to: http://www.duta-du.info/2016/06/fedcuta-press-release-02062016.html
[xii] http://m.indiatodayin/education/story/university-of-delhi-announcws-recruitment/1/321879.ht
[xiii]The text of Gazette Notification may be obtained from:  http://www.ugc.ac.in/oldpdf/regulations/
englishgazette.pdf
[xiv] FEDCUTA Press Release, 2nd June 2016. Read on: http://www.duta-du.info/2016/06/fedcuta-press-release-02062016.html?q=press+release
[xv] Every society has a regime of truth which operates on its general politics of truth. It regulates the types of discourse which are to be accepted; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true (Foucault, M. 1991. Discipline and Punish: the Birth of a Prison. London, Penguin).
[xvi]For details see: http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/delhi/withdraw-notification-on-reducing-budget-for-higher-education-cong/242285.html
[xvii] The Budget 2016-17 announces creation of a Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) with a fund of Rs 1,000 crore mostly used for redressal of the problems of students seeking educational loan.  Read more on http://indianexpress.com/article/education/union-budget-2016-education-sector-analysis/
[xviii] MHRD Report (2014-15) Chapter 5, “Higher Education”; pp. 84, 92; details of this data, including the classification of institutions of higher education may be obtained at: http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/Part1.pdf
[xix] Findings of the report jointly authored by Abdullah Shariff (Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy) and Amit Sharma (National Council of Applied Economic Research). 2013. “Intergenerational and Regional Differentials in Higher Education in India”, Delhi. Select portions of this report appeared on http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Only-10-of-students-have-access-to-higher-education-in-country/articleshow/28420175.cms
[xx] All India Survey on Higher Education, MHRD, GOI (2011-12, Provisional) accessible at:  http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/statistics/AISHE2011-12P_1.pdf
[xxi] MHRD Report (2014-15) Chapter 5, “Higher Education”; pp. 84, 92; details of this data, including the classification of institutions of higher education may be obtained at: http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/Part1.pdf
[xxii] Ibid, pp.107
[xxiii] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/inequality-pulls-back-india-undps-human-development-report/article7988558.ece
[xxiv] Ibid. The full report can be accessed at http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2015_human_development_report.pdf 
[xxv]MHRD Report (2014-15) pp. 84, Read on: http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/Part1.pdf
[xxvi]In his budget speech, the current India finance minister said the government will strive to make 10 private and 10 public institutions become world class. Read more on http://indianexpress.com/article/education/union-budget-2016-education-sector-analysis/
[xxvii] Read more on this at various media portals like: http://www.hindustantimes.com/education/ugc-scholars-faceoff-war-on-for-non-net-fellowships/story-zrIvFKE1Gn3OQHdgBMsz2I.html, http://www.thehindu.com/features/education/college-and-university/decision-on-nonnet-fellowships-will-affect-all-students/article7877285.ece


The Author Teaches Political Science at Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, University of Delhi

2 comments:

  1. A very profound articulation indeed. Rightly captures the nature of the crisis situating it in the overall scheme of things and puts forth a compelling argument.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very Nice Piece. It is to mechanise the human community..

    ReplyDelete

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