Indian universities are facing mounting criticism of their response to the country’s deadly coronavirus surge, with concern focusing on the fate of insecurely employed teaching staff.
At the flagship University of Delhi, at least 35 lecturers have died from Covid-19 in the past month, according to the Delhi University Teachers’ Union. Alok Ranjan Pandey, the union’s vice president, says academics employed on an ad hoc basis are most at risk and calls for medical coverage to be extended to them. The union wants a hospital treating Covid patients to be opened on Delhi’s campus, and for the university to provide jobs for family members of the deceased, reports The Print.
Apoorvanand, a Hindi professor at Delhi, wrote in Scroll that “Indian universities are pretending everything is normal, as the world around them is collapsing”. “The university authorities did not think about creating a Covid support centre on campus,” he told Times Higher Education. “It does have health centres, but they haven’t been upgraded to deal with the pandemic.”
Prof. Apoorvanand is one of the faculty members who initiated a petition asking Delhi to set up a special fund for ad hoc staff. “In many ways, our universities have failed their teachers,” he says, adding that non-permanent staff “bear the major teaching load in the colleges, but they have no security and no benefits that come with the job”.
“The situation in the state universities is even more pathetic. Teachers are dying, many of them very young,” he adds. Across India, there have been complaints of staff being dismissed suddenly, not being paid their salaries or being made to work through the summer to make up for lost time.
Managers have come under fire for pressing on with online classes and exams with little flexibility on deadlines, despite a deep digital divide and a health emergency. “Many universities forced their faculty to be on the campus (to conduct) online classes without creating infrastructure for this. This meant travelling long distances in crowded buses or auto rickshaws unprotected,” says Prof. Apoorvanand.
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