Raising the Bar, by Barring Opportunities; The Curious Case of Academic Consultants
Report from Haryana Central University
The assault on institutions of higher learning and curbing their autonomy is not new under the present government. Successive governments, irrespective of its political affiliation have time and again have reduced government funding in higher education. What is significant in this present NDA-2 government is the blatant intervention of government in the internal functioning of the universities. Whether it is the issue of dissolving GS-CASH in JNU, providing scholarship to research scholars or, controversial appointments made in research funding agencies like ICSSR or ICHR, there has been an increasing interference and bureaucratic control on our institutes of higher learning.
In this background recently Central University of Haryana has introduced a novel concept of Academic Consultants/Advisors. The issue was discussed in the Academic Council meeting of the University. The terms and conditions of this position of Academic Consultants/Advisors raise certain serious issues pertaining to the future of higher education in our country. On anonymity, one of the officials at MHRD confided that the ministry is also planning to come up with similar notification for which a committee has already been constituted and the Vice chancellor of Haryana Central University is a member of that committee. So, it can be assumed that whatever is being done in this regard at Central University of Haryana may be implemented in other Central Universities in future. Let us focus on some of the issues highlighted in the minutes:
1) It clearly states that the University can appoint any retired teachers of the level of Professors below the age of 70 years as Academic Consultants/Advisors, which can be made against the vacant positions of Professors or Associate Professors or supernumerary posts created by the Executive Council of the University.
2) Academic Consultants/Advisors are expected to devote full time in University and shall not be assigned any administrative positions. Interestingly, residential accommodations may be provided to the Academic Consultants/Advisors.
3) Apart from teaching they can interact with research students but, they cannot supervise any research scholar.
4) Importantly, they can actively participate in service-related activities such as departmental committees and other forums in the name of enhancing proficiency of academics.
These points indicate a gloomy picture of future of higher education in India. With a young and vibrant population, India is among few countries in the world with such a huge human resource. To block the job opportunities by appointing retired teachers as consultants is a bad idea. It is akin to the concept of siksha mitra to impart education in primary sector and we have witnessed how this has ruined the primary education in favour of private schools. Secondly, such appointments can be politically motivated as the committee under the chairmanship of the Vice Chancellor is the sole authority to appoint them. When unfortunately some of the Vice chancellors of our Universities are political appointees then a free hand given to them is a problem.
Further, these positions are positions with power but, without any responsibilities. Academic Consultants can be part of any committees as consultants, but they cannot be assigned any administrative position. They can interact and counsel any research scholar, but cannot act as their supervisor. This suggests they can meddle with each and every academic issue without any responsibility. This also alarms us to understand how certain stains of political ideologies can enter our academic system from backdoor, where academic councilors can act as eyes and ears of ruling establishment and promote their views.
Academic activities of University are internal affairs of the University. There are already certain institutionalized checks like Board of Studies, School Board and Academic Council to govern the academic activities of any Universities. What can be then the reason for the need of consultants to enhance the effectiveness of academics is questionable.
In the longer run, such positions are bound to affect the promotions and developmental opportunities of the younger faculty members. At one end the government is curbing funding provided to Universities, Research institutes and to research scholars, on the other hand the logic of appointing Academic councilors at exorbitant pay of Rs 80,000/- per month along with residential facilities within the University premises is questionable. It is a contradiction in itself as the new Central Universities with poor infrastructure is unable to provide residential quarters to all of its permanent faculties. It’s nothing but a planned procedure for making the existing public Universities defunct leading to its privatization. The privatization of health sector and primary education further illustrates the point.