At 40, with a PhD and 10 years of teaching computer science behind her, Kanika Sharma (name changed to protect identity) is still a junior teacher in Delhi University. Over the decade, she has changed colleges six times. She is always the “new recruit”, loaded with paperwork and called in during vacations to help with admissions. But she gets no increments, nor is she assured secure employment.

“I am working during the holidays but have been told that when the academic session starts, I may not have a job here,” she said, about her current position as ad hoc teacher of BSc (Honours) Computer Science. In most Delhi University colleges, government or trust-run aided institutions, the programme is self-financed – unsubsidised by the government and funded with income from fees. “There are seven teachers in the department and the management needs just six.”

The peripatetic lives of ad hoc teachers is already a major concern in higher public education. Chronic insecurity allows exploitation and affects quality. But the position of teachers in self-financed programmes is even more precarious. Unlike ad hoc teachers appointed in public-funded departments against posts sanctioned by the government, they are denied even the hope of being regularised. “There are no permanent posts in self-financed departments,” explained Sharma.

This is one of the reasons why, the higher education regulator and funder, University Grants Commission’s emphasis on expansion of self-financed courses in its draft regulations on autonomy for top-ranking institutions has alarmed teachers across states. They have seen enough of self-financed courses in their institutions to know that exploitation and instability are inevitable. The most common subjects for this mode are computer science, business and finance and journalism and mass communication.

In some aided colleges of Mumbai University – a state university where, according to reports, about a third of undergraduate seats are now in self-financed courses – teachers are paid by the hour. In Tamil Nadu, they teach after the classes for government-funded courses are over – self-financed ones run in the evening shift. Where monitoring in even more lax, such as in Haryana, university rules on qualifications and appointments are flouted and underqualified teachers are employed. Reservation policies are frequently ignored.

Teachers fear that permitting growth of self-financed courses without inspection, as the UGC proposes to do, will only increase and institutionalise such practices. There have already been protests against the proposed regulations in Delhi University.

Teachers protest against the proposed policy on granting autonomy at Parliament Street, New Delhi, on June 12 (Credit: Delhi University Teachers Association)

Permanently ad hoc

In Mumbai University which, according to DNA, launched self-financed degree courses in 2000, these are now “overwhelming the regular ones”, said a senior teacher of one of the colleges. “Their number is growing and even traditional courses in the arts, humanities and fundamental sciences are being run in this mode,” she said.

Even some of Mumbai’s best-known colleges run these programmes. St. Xavier’s has three undergraduate ones in management studies, information technology and mass media. “We try to shift teachers onto a [salary] scale and let them go for special courses to give them the feel of being regular staff-members,” said Principal Agnelo Menezes. These teachers are not eligible to attend the UGC’s refresher courses. But because the “courses are permanent” and Xavier’s is an autonomous institution affiliated to the university, teachers of its self-financed courses enjoy a greater measure of stability than do their counterparts in other universities.

But the Mumbai University teacher contended that only a “miniscule minority” of colleges would be paying proper salaries. “They could be paid as low as Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 per month – a fraction of that starting salary regular teachers would get,” she said. “Some are even appointed and paid by the clock hour.” They do not get paid leave or dearness allowances and their services are frequently terminated despite possessing the same qualifications, teaching the same syllabus as funded courses and sharing the burden of exam work.

Then, as Mithuraaj Dhusiya, staff association president at Hansraj College pointed out, the teachers will have jobs for as long as these courses can attract enough students willing to pay the high fees. At Hansraj, for instance, the self-financed computer science course is staffed with four permanent teachers – holding sanctioned posts because computers is taught as part of other science subjects as well – and six ad hoc ones. It cost Rs 34,000 per semester last year – about twice the amount a student in a regular, government-funded science course paid. In massively-popular Delhi University, programmes such as computer science and business economics, launched in the late 1990s, have been “lucrative enough” for colleges to keep running them. Not so elsewhere.

Rajbir Singh, who teaches at Goswami Ganesh Dutt Sanatan Dharam College in Palwal, Haryana, said that the number of takers for courses such as bachelor of business administration and information technology reduced so drastically since 2010 that the first has been withdrawn by many colleges and the second recast into a new format and named bachelor in computer application. The Palwal college is a trust-run aided one, affiliated to the Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak. “We still have BBA, launched around 2004-2005, but there are about five students,” he added. “Students do not see value in it anymore.”

Now teachers fear this mode of funding – and operating – is being pushed even for courses like English and history, leaving many more teachers vulnerable. Teachers argue that it is vital to keep teaching subjects like Sanskrit, English, history, modern Indian languages and fundamental sciences even if they are “less marketable”.

Appointment breaches

Although teachers across states said that the government’s reservation policy is followed for admitting students into self-financed courses, in the case of teacher appointments, the picture is different.

Anand Kumar, from the economics department of Delhi University’s College of Vocational Studies, said the “roster system”, used to decide which of the sanctioned posts will be reserved, does not apply to self-financed programmes at all. “Ad hoc teachers of government-funded programmes are also included on the roster but reservation does not apply here,” he said. His department runs the self-financed business economics course but appoints ad hoc teachers for it.

Some institutions employ underqualified teachers to keep costs low. “Most staff of self-financed programmes run by managements of aided colleges are unqualified,” said S Subbaraju, a member of the senate of Manonmaniam Sundarana University, Tirunelveli, a state university of Tamil Nadu. Attempts to stop affiliation of such colleges have failed too. “The rules are never followed but the state does not want to intervene in the operation of programmes it does not fund,” he said.

The situation in Haryana, said Rajbir Singh, is similar. “Most teachers appointed are not qualified,” he said. “Also, the management tends to appoint friends and family members.”

A better deal?

The most objectionable feature of self-financed programmes is the high fees, especially because these do not imply better facilities for students. Even in Palwal, a self-financed degree course in computer science costs the student Rs 15,000-25,000 per year – several times the Rs 4,000-5,000 a subsidised one costs. There are placements cells but students do not always leave with jobs.

The gap is even wider in Tamil Nadu. It has 13 universities, 85 government colleges and over 160 government-aided trust-run ones. The state started squeezing funds in the late 1980s but the gross-enrollment ratio in higher education – percentage of population in the appropriate age-bracket enrolled – rose and is now “touching 40%”, according to Subbaraju. In addition to the private colleges, the government and aided colleges benefitted from this, adopting the policy of running self-financed programmes in the evening. Students, despite paying Rs 10,000-15,000 per year in rural colleges and Rs 20,000-30,000 in city colleges – where tuition is practically nil for aided courses – get underqualified teachers in aided colleges and study from 1.30 pm to 6.30 pm.

In colleges like Hansraj in Delhi, too, higher fees do not translate into different facilities. “They get the same infrastructure, use the same laboratories and get the same services as students of non-self-finance courses,” said Dhusiya.

He also added that these “look like elitist courses” because the class composition and backgrounds of students are different, despite maintaining the reservation policy. A 2008 study of self-financing programmes by Sudhanshu Bhushan of National University of Educational Planning and Administration, had found that “parents of the students studying in self-financing courses …[were] all highly qualified” and that students did not belong to poor backgrounds.