The reply to a Right to Information (RTI) request by the University Grants Commission this week reportedly revealed that only nine professors from the Other Backward Castes category are teaching in central universities against a sanctioned strength of 313 posts.
A similar situation exists for associate professors from the category, where only 38 posts have been filled with 697 posts lying vacant. However, the gap narrows for those in assistant professor posts, with1327 positions filled and 905 posts being vacant. Members from OBC communities allege that the huge backlog could have come about as a result of the consistent under-funding of higher education institutions already plagued by a systemic bias.
Jitender Kumar Meena, an Assistant Professor of History at Shyam Lal College, alleged that a shift in policy in recent years resulted in a greater focus on engaging ad-hoc and guest teachers, denying them social security benefits. Meena, an Executive Member of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association, said: “The Central Universities have adopted a formula of engaging guest teachers, who can be easily terminated at any given time without any reason. In Delhi University, we could resist it a bit but we still have colleges where almost half of the faculty staff are engaged on ad-hoc basis. So, what we have now is thousands of suitable candidates waiting for years to join.”
Meena’s words were corroborated by numbers provided by the Centre in the Parliament in February. In a reply to a question about vacancies in central universities, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, now education minister, said that 6,688 faculty positions were lying vacant – 1,483 for the position of professor, 2,452 for associate professors and 2,753 assistant professor posts. Interestingly, the number of vacant faculty positions had gone up by 892 in a single year. In 2019, the ministry had said that a total of 5,796 posts were vacant, a number which rose to 6688 in 2020.
“As far as OBC reservations are concerned, we see that recruitments have been inconsistent and done in phases; this is where the question of bias comes in. We see that for several positions it was declared that ‘no suitable candidate found’, even when the candidates were highly qualified. It recently happened in Banaras Hindu University. These seats, in turn, will be filled from unreserved category candidates,” he alleged.
Speaking to NewsClick, D.K. Lobiyal, Secretary, Federation of Central Universities Teachers’ Associations, said that reservations for Other Backward Castes were introduced after a long legal battle in 2006. “But even after 14 years, we have more than 40% seats vacant for assistant professors. If these positions are not filled, how do you expect upward mobility in other senior positions. In JNU, where I teach, we saw instances where 50% seats in few departments were declared ‘no suitable candidate found’ for reserved categories,” he added.
Lobiyal maintained that the issue of representation from marginalised communities will become graver with the New Education Policy. “The New Education Policy has proposed setting up of a new body which would give loans to the educational bodies through a higher education funding agency. Similarly, the institutions have been advised to raise their funds from independent sources. The policy also talks about the autonomy wherein an entirely new setup has been advised, including Board of Governors, who would administer the affairs of the institution. We have seen that the heads of business groups are generally made governors. When one combines both the facts, we find that institutions will be under pressure to cut costs in order to reduce the size of loans. The first brunt of this would be on teachers who would be introduced to renewed terms of contractualisation. Thus, the compromised system will have very less to offer to marginalised communities,” he explained.