Let merit decide

The protest fast last week by faculty members of the Indian Institutes of Technology should draw attention to issues that need to be addressed if the standards of education in these prestigious institutions are to be maintained and improved. The teachers’ protest was over the refusal of the Union human resources development ministry to accept their demands for higher pay and more autonomy for the institutions. The faculty had recently been offered new pay scales, but the teachers were not happy with them. The demand for autonomy is mainly with respect to the criteria for appointment of entry levels lecturers and for promotion to higher levels. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has rejected the demands on the ground that the revised pay scales are already very high and that some regulation is necessary in government-funded institutions.

Further negotiations, which are expected to be held, may lead to an agreement on the pay scales. Since IITs need to attract the best qualified persons to its faculty, the government should not be too rigid on the matter. It would be wrong to compare their salaries with those of university teachers. There are complaints that the standards in the IITs have gone down. One reason is the declining quality of the teaching staff. More attractive salaries can attract better candidates to the faculty. The teachers’ demand for appointment of fresh PhDs as regular lecturers is not reasonable. They need to prove their merit over a period to be considered for regular appointment. Yet another demand is for faster promotions. The government should consider this demand sympathetically and allow the IITs to put in place a system of promotions based on merit. The present system is bureaucratic and forces good teachers to leave the IITs out of frustration over stagnation.

Willingness on the part of the government to discuss the demands could have avoided the protest strike. The teachers also pitched their demand too high. IITs need better infrastructure and a change in admission procedures if standards are to be improved. The protesting faculty members were silent on these and highlighted only the issues of salaries and promotions. The demand for autonomy should actually go beyond promotions.

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