Respecting the University Teachers

The academic fraternity is under attack now. Once revered people are looked down today. Who is responsible for the change in status of teachers? Definitely some of the black sheeps in the teaching community are responsible for this bad image about teachers. Due to the high wave consumerism teachers are losing interest in teaching and investing more interest in earning and spending. The world has a responsibility to rescue the teaching community from this mess and give them their original status. Money and other resources should not be a constraint for this. But teachers will respond to the rescue package? Will they do justice to their profession by guiding the students and inspiring them? or will they continue to put their stakes outside their institutions to earn extra pennies to meet their consumer fancies? One needs to wait and watch this serial to unveil although the UGC has proposed fixed time presence for the university teachers.

The Times of India writes (1 October 2009)

If the University Grants Commission (UGC) has its way, then it might become mandatory for university professors and teachers to clock a minimum of
40 hours a week at work. They will have to be physically present for at least five hours a day on campus and earmark six hours a week for research. This move to fix workload for academics in terms of hours spent on site is misplaced. It reflects the bureaucratic mindset of administrators in India. While less bureaucracy is desirable in all spheres of public life, education is one area that desperately needs to be unshackled.

Universities and colleges are no factory floors. The output of teachers cannot be measured merely by the number of hours they are physically present on campus. A lot more goes into the making of an effective educator. A teacher can be present eight hours a day but that does not necessarily make her competent or effective. In assessing the productivity and efficacy of teachers, it’s crucial to factor in their research output and student feedback. Neither of these can be gauged from mere attendance.

Top quality universities and colleges in countries where education is of a much higher quality than in India do not lay down such absurd rules. Teachers and professors are expected to take a certain number of classes a week, be available between two to four hours in office per week to interact with students who need advice, and produce original research in their area of specialisation. Much emphasis is placed on how up-to-date they are with developments in their field of study and the quality of their teaching and research, as assessed by students and peers respectively.

Flexible work hours give teachers the freedom to spend constructive time in libraries, seminars, refresher workshops, etc all of which are vital inputs to their knowledge base. It’s virtually impossible to enforce and monitor the proposal that the UGC has come up with. Instead of trying to fix input, regulators would do better to measure tangible output.
The UGC proposal to mandate professors and all teachers in full employment at universities to work 40 hours a week should be welcomed. Higher
education in India, much like primary and secondary school education, suffers hugely from teacher absenteeism. Requiring professors and teachers to come to class and holding them accountable if they don’t would be a big step forward in providing quality education to Indian youth.

There is a section that believes that requiring a workload of 40 hours a week from teachers is overkill. But 40 hours is really not very much. All the UGC requires is that professors be physically present on campus for five hours everyday. This doesn’t mean that they have to take five hours of classes direct teaching hours are limited to 16 a week for assistant professors and 14 hours for more senior teachers. Professors will be free to spend rest of their time in libraries, conducting research, or meeting with students who wish to discuss problems or ideas with them. With class sizes in India being big, it makes sense to have teachers available for longer periods than is the norm in, say, American or British universities.

It is all very well to suggest that the level of a professor’s commitment to teaching be judged through student evaluations and papers published in reputed journals. But we all know how little credence is given to student feedback, particularly when big name professors prove to be unpopular. Incentivising teachers to publish more is a good idea. But this should not come at the cost of teaching which, after all, is the primary responsibility of those in the education business. Universities in Britain and the US are facing criticism for just this; the emphasis placed on research is so high that teaching, particularly undergraduate teaching, suffers as a result. And in India, where there is no practice of professors hiring teaching assistants to share their workload, encouraging teachers to put publishing papers above classroom hours would be a big mistake. Losing a degree of flexibility in how teachers spend their time is a small price to pay to improve the standards of teaching in our universities. university teachers


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