-Dipta Joshi (Mumbai)
Dramatic events on the political stage in end-June which culminated in the resignation of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and end of the tripartite Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress party coalition government after 31 months in office, has clouded the future of 2,088 aspirants for the coveted position of assistant professors in private aided degree colleges.
Last September (2021), the MVA government’s technical and higher education minister Uday Samant had promised to fill all vacant assistant professor posts in the state’s 1,171 private aided colleges by July. Now aspirants fear that the abrupt fall of the MVA government will stymie the appointment process that began on June 20.
In India’s complex higher education system, there are three types of undergrad colleges — government, private aided and private unaided (financially independent). Private aided colleges are privately promoted but levy government prescribed tuition fees. In consideration of this, the salaries of their faculty and staff are paid by the Central or state governments.
Currently, an estimated 70,000 well-qualified postgrads and Ph Ds who have cleared the Central national eligibility test (NET) and/or state eligibility test (SET) are employed on clock-hour-basis (CHB) in government and aided colleges. Paid a measly Rs.521 per hour, these aspiring teachers had extracted a promise from Samant that 18,000 vacant assistant professorship posts in Maharashtra’s aided colleges would be filled before the start of the new academic year. Under Seventh Pay Commission scales, an assistant professor is paid between Rs.57,700-182,000 per month.
With students’ fees in aided colleges contributing a mere 5-10 percent of their annual revenue, private aided colleges are heavily dependent on salary grants from cash-strapped state governments. A government resolution of November 12, 2021 allowed only 2,088 assistant professors to be recruited for the academic year 2022-23. However, the snail’s pace at which the appointments are being made — the technical and higher education department is still issuing NOCs (no objection certificates) to allow college managements to advertise assistant professors’ posts — means not even one appointment has been made for the academic year 2022-23, which has commenced this month (July).
But with the state government’s wages and salaries bill for government and private aided colleges already a sizeable Rs.105.9 crore and the overall budget indicating a fiscal deficit of Rs.24,353 crore in 2022-23, faculty recruitments are on the back-burner. The alternative of raising students’ over-subsidised tuition fees which would enable aided colleges to raise faculty pay, is a political hot potato which none of the state’s political parties is willing to touch.
Unsurprisingly, the Aurangabad-based Maharashtra Navpradhyapak Sanghatana (Maharashtra New Professors’ Association), which claims it has 10,000 members, is on the warpath. Since 2017, the association has staged 15 protest rallies including threats of fasts-unto-death. These protests compelled Samant to parley with them last September. At that time, the minister assured the association that all posts would be filled within the next year with a GR issued in November 2021 to appoint 2,088 assistant professors.
But with the MVA government having collapsed, association members fear that these assurances are likely to be ignored by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has formed the new government (in partnership with the breakaway Shiv Sena faction) because it has a bad record of teacher recruitment. When the BJP was in power (2014-19), it approved a mere 1,674 appointments of which only 720 were filled.
“While no government has given teacher appointments the importance it deserves, the BJP has been especially lethargic. It wants to introduce the Gujarat pattern of recruitment under which teachers are hired on ten-month contracts absolving the state of all other financial liabilities. The November ’21 GR had given us some hope of resolution. But given the current political scenario, we will probably have to begin our fight for our rights anew,” says Dr. Sandeep Pathrikar, president, Maharashtra Navpradhyapak Sanghatana.
When elephants fight, the grass under their feet is trampled.