On September 4, ahead of the fanfare of Teacher’s Day, college teachers from across Maharashtra staged a protest to draw attention to a range of problems. Their main grouse was the large number of vacancies in the states and the increasing number of temporary teachers being appointed on flimsy contracts in colleges.

The latest government statistics on temporary appointments in higher education show that Maharashtra has a little over 8,000 temporary teachers in all its degree-awarding institutions. The estimate of the Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisation is significantly higher – over 20,000.

The organisation’s president, Tapati Mukhopadhyay, pointed out that most self-financed courses – not funded by the government but with student fees – are staffed with temporary teachers. Maharashtra’s state universities have seen a massive rise in self-financed courses since 2000, and most of its technical education is delivered in that mode. Underpaid, exploited and vulnerable to punitive action from college managements, they have been a silent lot but as a teacher from a Mumbai college said, their numbers have grown too large to ignore.

Maharashtra is not the only state facing this problem. Teachers’ organisations in some other states have also reported an increase in the practice of appointing temporary teachers to fill new or vacant posts. That is why the statistics on temporary teachers in the All India Survey of Higher Education 2017-’18, a government report, and the University Grants Commission’s state-wise analysis, Higher Education: All India and States Profile 2017-’18, based on it, have come as a surprise.

The statistics show that all types of temporary appointments in all public and private degree-awarding institutions taken together, just 66,858, or 5% of India’s higher education staff, are “temporary teachers”. This, apparently, includes everyone who is not a regular appointment on the standard pay scale and not receiving the full complement of benefits and leave – such as guest lecturers paid per class, ad hoc teachers on 11-month contracts or temporary teachers on contracts of varying durations.

Of all states, West Bengal has the highest proportion of temporary teachers – 19%. The report says the state has 10,353 temporary teachers and over 41,000 permanent staff.

Gopal Chandra Ghosh of the Guest Teachers’ Association – an organisation of temporary teachers – believes the figures are misleading. “This is wrong information,” he said. “In most cases, retired permanent teachers have been replaced with guest teachers. Now, there will be about 10,000 permanent teachers left. There are colleges where temporary teachers outnumber permanent ones.” The association he belongs to plans to launch another round of agitation in September. So does the West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association.

A member of the West Bengal Guest Lecturers Association who takes classes in two colleges – both in Kolkata and affiliated to Calcutta University – said that at one college, there are an equal number of permanent and temporary faculty in her department, and in the other, there is one permanent teacher and six temporary ones.

The many categories

Although government statistics place them all in a single bracket, temporary teachers are anything but one homogenous group. West Bengal alone has five separate categories of non-regular appointments, each one with a different standard of pay and security. In December 2010, the West Bengal government issued an order that created two categories of contractual teachers who now enjoy some measure of security. The first group, referred to as “government-approved contractual teachers-whole time”, work full-time, five days a week and draw a fixed monthly salary – now a little over Rs 25,000 – which is raised every three years. They get casual and medical leave but no paid sabbatical to complete their PhDs or pension. According to Ghosh, there are about 650 teachers in this category. The second group, referred to as “government approved part-time contract teachers”, work three days and are on contracts of five years, 10 years and over 15 years duration. Both these groups are paid by the government.

But the bulk of the temporary appointments are in the remaining three categories – college-approved full-time and part-time teachers and guest teachers. They are appointed by the college governing bodies and paid by them. The terms of their service and pay are decided by the colleges locally and consequently, vary widely. “Teachers retired, and since 2010, the state government opened new colleges and existing colleges started new departments or converted pass course subjects into full-fledged honours programmes – this expansion has taken place on the strength of contractual and guest teachers,” said Ghosh.

In Maharashtra, similarly, teachers may be appointed on fixed-term contracts earning Rs 6,000 to Rs 18,000 in a month, or even on an hourly basis, at Rs 300 per hour. “You can have a teacher going to six different colleges on six different days of the week,” said a teacher in a Mumbai college who has taught for 12 years, served as coordinator for her programme, but is still a temporary teacher drawing Rs 30,000 per month, where the regular salary for beginners is around Rs 45,000.

The government found 4,537 temporary teachers in Uttar Pradesh – 4% of its teaching staff. Vivek Dwivedi of the Federation of Uttar Pradesh University College Teachers’ Association questioned that figure. “That is not correct – they must have taken out the figures only for the aided courses or the central universities,” he said. “Even university faculties have many vacancies and staff on contract.” The University Grants Commission, however, has said that it has covered all institutions.

“There are about 150 government colleges in UP, 350 are aided colleges [that are privately managed but with teachers paid by the government] and about 4,500 self-financed ones,” said Dwivedi. “Since 1998, all new colleges are self-financing.” In these, there are large numbers of contractual appointments and government has no control over salaries, he said. “Teachers are typically paid monthly and may be hired on five-year contracts,” he said. In government and aided colleges, there is a provision for hiring retired teachers on contract and they are paid about Rs 30,000 a month.

Although Jharkhand’s public universities appointed guest teachers earlier, in 2017, the state government standardised the practice. Now the state policy requires universities to pay Rs 600 per class to a maximum of Rs 36,000 per month for teachers who have qualified the National Eligibility Test conducted by the University Grants Commission. The recruitment process, including the composition of the interview panel and minimum qualification, are clearly laid out. Teachers already employed will get Rs 300 per class for extra classes or for taking classes in the second shift and retired teachers, Rs 500 per class.

Saurav, who joined GLA College in Medininagar (or Daltonganj), Jharkhand, in January had earlier taught at Kolhan University and Vinobha Bhave University in Hazaribagh from 2016 to late 2017. The first paid as little as Rs 200 to Rs 250 per class. It is not clear how, if at all, such moonlighting is reported for survey purposes.

The September 4 protest in Mumbai (Credit: Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teachers' Organisation)

Vacant posts

In Jharkhand, these practices were nullified with the introduction of the state policy, and Saurav, 35, said he was one of about 800 to 1,000 contract teachers appointed. According to the government report, Jharkhand has just 809 temporary teachers, 7% of the total number of higher education teachers in the state.

Bihar, according to the report, has just 550 – 3% of the total. Teacher-activists in these states pointed out that the low numbers of temporary staff are actually a result of the state government not sanctioning a sufficient numbers of posts or not filling vacant ones. Taking stock of vacancies in the state institutions would complete the picture but the Centre and the University Grants Commission have said they do not have data on vacancies. Jharkhand has one teacher for every 56 students according to the Commission’s State Profiles, but that average clearly does not reflect the reality at some of its colleges.

Ravi Shankar joined GLA College, affiliated to Nilamber Pitamber University in Jharkhand, in 2008. That was the last time the state made regular appointments. Another round of applications was invited in August but recruitment has been put on hold due to a court case over reservations. Shankar and another teacher from the mathematics department of the college, between them, teach 700 undergraduate and 200 postgraduate students. “When the college was constituted in 1976, five posts were sanctioned for mathematics although it was taught only as part of the BSc General programme,” he said. “Those teachers retired. And although an honours programme was started and then a postgraduate one, no new posts were sanctioned.” Consequently, tutorials are impossible and absenteeism is very high.

In Uttar Pradesh, about 10,000 of the 16,000 sanctioned posts in aided (also called affiliated) colleges are vacant, said Dwivedi. Of the 350 institutions, only about 25 have permanent principals, the rest are all being run by officiating principals. Dwivedi himself has served as the officiating principal of BND College, Kanpur, for the past 14 years.

Mukhopadhyay of the Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisation said that the state had apparently banned new appointments in 2010 and that the ban was only partially lifted in 2013 after an order from the Bombay High Court.

Her association has further pointed out that the number of posts required is based on an assessment – or “staff justification” – last carried out in 1998. If Maharashtra is to achieve the University Grants Commission-recommended pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1, Mukhopadhyay argued, “the universities and colleges in Maharashtra require 1.5 lakh regular teachers”.

In Bihar, too, there are large swathes of vacant posts. A contract teacher associated with a fledgling movement against temporary appointments, pointed out that state government appointments take place decades apart. “The state government had last advertised about 3,300 posts in 2014 and those are still being filled,” he said. “Before that, Bihar had last recruited regular teachers in 1996, when Jharkhand was still a part of it. Teachers selected then were being placed even in 2003. Now, over 6,000 posts will be vacant in Bihar universities and colleges.” At 30 and with a PhD, he teaches English at a private law school on a contract that lasts four months – or one semester. Till the last semester, he earned Rs 600 per class, supplementing his income by tutoring students privately.

Underpaid, exploited, vulnerable

Protests in the summer of 2016 led to some West Bengal colleges starting to pay salaries per month rather than per class. But pay for guest teachers appointed by college governing bodies continues to be abysmally low. Ghosh has taught for eight years, and now makes Rs 4,000 per month teaching history at Egra Sarada Shashi Bhushan College in Purba Medinipur. Apparently that is generous by the standards of provincial Bengal. “Some colleges pay as little as Rs 2,000 – Rs 2,500 per month,” he said. “The government seems to believe the old idea that a teacher’s lot is only to surrender and sacrifice, like we are sanyasis [ascetics].”

Where states have left the management of contractual employees entirely to college governing bodies, these teachers are most vulnerable. “These teachers may take over 20 classes in a week and also perform a range of administrative functions – set time-tables, help with admissions and design question-papers,” said a teacher in a Mumbai college. Then, further casting into doubt the government figures on temporary teachers, their appointments may be kept off the books altogether. Colleges appoint teachers who do not meet the minimum qualification requirements set by the Commission, recruit after “conducting local interviews” without informing the university or getting the advertisement approved. “Once appointed, colleges may refuse to send the papers to the university,” said the teacher. “I know teachers who have taught for 11 years but none of that experience counts because their appointment was not reported to the university.” If they change jobs, they will start from scratch. The vulnerability of such teachers also guaranteed their silence. “They are afraid to speak up,” she said. “Even comments made on WhatsApp have been photographed and reported to [college] principals. There are norms for regulating these appointments but monitoring is lax.”

The income disparity is stark. Dwivedi said that in Uttar Pradesh, contract teachers get between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 a month, while those on a government pay scale, with the same qualifications and experience, draw about Rs 80,000. But most temporary teachers have no income at all for several months in a year. Paid by the class, Saurav from Jharkhand said he struggles to earn even Rs 10,000 during the summer because there are no classes. “Our income keeps fluctuating during the year,” he said. In Mumbai, many colleges do not pay their temporary teachers salaries for the Diwali holidays and for the months of summer vacations.

Question of quality

In June, the Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teacher’s Organisation resolved to “cease work” for one day – September 11. Their first demand is the “immediate lifting of the ban on appointments, and filling up of all vacancies on regular basis”. They have argued this is necessary to fulfil the University Grants Commission’s recently-framed “Quality Mandate” and the norms for the Centre’s higher education scheme, the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan.

The Commission’s quality mandate is silent on contractual appointments but recommends that universities ensure that no more than 10% posts are vacant at any point. Regular appointments will also check the flouting of qualification norms at the time of recruitment.

And as Dwivedi pointed out, regular appointments will also ensure that the better students are encouraged to remain in academia.