Frontlist |1,200 faculty in rural engineering colleges will lose jobs by month-end
“What is government talking about NEP when it cannot sustain gains of an existing project?”
A World Bank funded project to take graduates from elite institutions to rural and remote engineering colleges in poorer States is coming to an end in March, leaving more than 1,200 assistant professors out of a job and some rural colleges bereft of half their faculty. The Centre is preparing its own MERITE project with some similar objectives to improve technical education, but that may be too late for the faculty employed under the current project.
Tanmay Rath holds a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry from IIT Kharagpur, with post doctoral experience in nanomaterials research in eastern Asia. However, for the last three years, he has been engaged in a project teaching chemistry to undergraduate engineering students in Motihari, a small town in Bihar’s East Champaran district.
“I was hired under the TEQIP [Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme] project along with other NIT and IIT graduates and recruited to teach in some of the poorest and most remote areas. In Motihari Engineering College, there are 52 faculty but 20 are from TEQIP,” he said. The region is so remote that he has left his family behind in West Bengal.
“We have transformed the teaching system here. There were no practical lab classes being conducted at all until we came,” he added. “I don’t know how they will manage to teach the classes once our contract finishes on March 31. In the Chemistry department, the only other faculty is also retiring at the end of the month. We have been appealing to the State and Central governments, but no one is willing to take the responsibility for the fate of these faculty or the students.”
Three phases of the ₹3,600-crore TEQIP project have been completed since it was launched in December 2002. The third phase focussed on improving quality and equity in engineering institutions in seven low income, eight northeastern and three hilly States. Among the initiatives was a bid to recruit more than 1,500 faculty from top institutions — four out of five are from the NITs and the IITs — and send them to colleges that could never have afforded them. They were paid salaries in accordance with the Seventh Pay Commission. Now, neither States nor Centre is willing to commit to continued funding.
About 300 faculty have already quit TEQIP for other jobs, but 250 of those remaining have filed cases in the Delhi High Court. The next hearing is on March 15. Other cases have also been filed in the High Courts of Rajasthan, Bihar and U.P. Already, following protests by Bihar-based faculty shortly before that Assembly elections, the project was extended by six months, moving its closure date from September 2020 to March 2021.
The issue was discussed at the last National Steering Committee meeting of TEQIP on January 27, with AICTE chairperson Anil Sahasrabuddhe batting for retention of faculty. “An amicable solution needs to be evolved to make them stay beyond the project period since these faculties have been selected through quite a rigorous process. They have contributed significantly to the project institutes. Also they will become jobless after the completion of the project. Due to the pandemic, private institutions are not hiring any faculty which does not show a good future for the TEQIP faculties,” he said, suggesting that the Ministry of Education request the State governments to hire them on an ad-hoc basis.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the Steering Committee approved a proposal for project extension “in principle”, but recommended more detailed analysis and discussion. It said, “All the relevant documents for new project MERITE for technical education shall be circulated.” Senior officials at the Education Ministry also indicated that MERITE may carry on some aspects of TEQIP.
However, TEQIP’s central project advisor P.M. Khodke said MERITE was still in the conceptual stage, did not yet have Cabinet approval and was unlikely to be approved before the end of TEQIP phase III. He pointed out that it is the responsibility of States to ensure that the gains of the project are sustained even after the World Bank funding is over.
“We have written to the States and institutions regarding their sustainability plan. Some States, such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu have been able to sustain and build on the benefits of TEQIP over the last 17 years,” said Professor Khodke. “But institutions in these poorer States are in a more difficult situation. Many are in deficit. They are not even getting regular grants from the State governments, let alone setting aside funds for sustainability. They may be willing to absorb TEQIP faculty, but at a fraction of the salary,” he added, pointing out that countrywide, there is a 45% vacancy level in technical faculty.