Shivani Chaturvedi (Chennai)
Ranked #427 among global universities by the highly respected London-based higher ed institution ranking agency Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the state-government managed Anna University, Chennai, comprising 13 constituent colleges, three regional campuses with an enrolment of 18,000 students, is struggling with only 556 full-time teachers. On October 3, after hearing a batch of petitions filed by temporary faculty praying for regularisation, a division bench of Madras high court comprising Justices R. Suresh Kumar and K. Kumaresh Babu directed the registrar of Anna University to explain the reasons for the huge number of teachers vacancies and failure to fill them even after the court issued an order three years ago.
The bench took note of a status report submitted by the petitioners stating that the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) mandates a total of 1,745 teaching faculty positions in three categories — assistant professor, associate professor and professor. However, the Anna University management sanctioned only 981 posts against which the working strength is 556.
The petitioners contended that there is a shortage of 1,189 faculty in these three categories. This shortage has persisted despite the engagement of 372 temporary faculty between 2010 and 2015. The court noted and wondered how this highly ranked university had maintained its reputation in these circumstances.
In its rejoinder, the Anna University management attributed the faculty shortage to “continuous litigations” for thwarting its attempts to recruit permanent faculty. However, the nature of the litigations that impeded the process of appointment is not mentioned.
“Way back in 2014, Anna University took the initiative to fill up vacancies. For some or other reason the process wasn’t completed. Then during the Covid pandemic, it was further delayed. We have submitted a draft notification to the court, and will take necessary steps as directed,” says Prof. J. Prakash, registrar of AU.
Although the university’s management seems laid-back on the issue of filling AU’s vacancies, educationists in Chennai warn against complacency and lack of urgency. “A shortage of qualified instructors will compromise education quality. Although AU is surviving with temporary teaching staff, the drawbacks are lack of stability and continuity. Temporary staff don’t have a long-term commitment to the institution, leading to potential disruption in the continuity of courses and academic programs,” warns K. Palanivelu, former director, Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research, Anna University.
According to Rajendra Bhoopathi, professor emeritus and former head of the mechanical engineering department, “the process of recruiting and appointing permanent faculty is complex and long drawn.” “In September this year, 140 assistant professors were recruited and joined in some constituent colleges including Guindy Engineering College. But the recruitment process is not easy. The governor and the state government have to approve nominees. It is a cumbersome exercise.”
However according to knowledgeable educationists in Chennai, the real reason behind the university’s reluctance to fill vacancies is financial viability. As in all higher education institutions, tuition fees in AU are rock-bottom averaging Rs.55,000 per student per year. Against this, the remuneration of permanent faculty — decreed by Pay Commissions in Delhi — is substantial, ranging from Rs.75,000-3 lakh per annum. “Raising tuition fees is a hot potato issue countrywide and certain to arouse student protests. Simultaneously, the state government which runs a fiscal deficit cannot raise its grants to AU. Hence the reluctance of the management to recruit permanent faculty,” explains an AU professor on condition of anonymity.
All this hasn’t impressed the Madras high court. On October 19, another division bench of Madras high court comprising Justice R. Suresh Kumar and Justice G. Arul Murugan directed the university to complete the process of recruiting 372 assistant professors in AU’s constituent colleges within three months, and submit the selection result in a sealed cover.