It would be unfortunate if the suicide by a former ad-hoc lecturer at a Delhi University college does not end the government’s inertia over the broken recruitment system in the country’s higher education institutions. The 33-year-old who took his life last week, had reportedly not got a tenure after a provisional teaching stint of nearly five years. It’s no secret that ad-hoc appointees like him keep colleges and universities in several parts of the country running under demoralising working conditions. The education ministry figures for last year show that the central universities employed more than 4,000 teachers on a temporary basis. Though expected to perform the same duties as the permanent faculty, the ad-hoc lecturers are not eligible for benefits such as gratuity, pensions, and the full range of medical allowances. Last year, in response to a question in Parliament, the government said it had no plans to regularise the services of these teachers.
The statute books of most universities do underline that teaching demands regular forms of employment. If a vacancy is for a period longer than what is stipulated in the rules, interviews for permanent posts must be held. DU’s rules, for instance, state that “ad hoc appointment shall only be made for a period of more than one month and up to four months”. They specify that such appointments must only be made to tide over “unexpected” and “short-term vacancies”. But most universities have found ways to dodge these provisions and normalise ad-hocism. The services of these teachers are either terminated at the end of the academic year or breaks in employment tenures are contrived to prolong contingency arrangements. According to a report in this newspaper, the number of ad-hoc teachers in DU has grown eight times in the last 10 years — last year, they comprised 40 per cent of the university’s teaching force. Even when posts are advertised, interviews get delayed because of the centralised procedures. According to data presented by the education ministry in Parliament in March, more than 6,000 teaching positions are currently vacant across the country’s central universities.
The National Education Policy 2020 envisions cutting-edge pedagogy, talks of multi-disciplinary instruction, and lays emphasis on developing the critical faculties of the student. It recognises the teacher’s role in bringing about these far-reaching reforms. But the epidemic of ad-hocism in colleges and universities devalues the role of the teacher and stands in the way of attaining the policy’s lofty goals. A cadre of overburdened instructors, under constant stress over tenurial security, will find it difficult to contribute meaningfully towards the development of the knowledge economy envisaged by the NEP. Institutions cannot be built on the back of unfair employment conditions. The DU teacher’s suicide should be warning enough.