Vijay Kothari is a faculty member at Institute of Science, Nirma University. He attended YIM2013 as a YI. In this invited piece, he writes about the challenges faced by university-based researchers.
During my journey of more than a decade, as a young teaching professional, I have had multiple occasions to realise how critical it is to strike a judicious balance between professional demands from three different fronts i.e. teaching, research, and administrative duties. I believe most young teaching professionals (who are also active researchers) will find it easy to connect their experiences with what I am going to narrate below.
After completion of PhD or postdoctoral training, most young fellows aim at becoming either a university faculty or a researcher with some institute/industry. Those eyeing the former, apply for such positions bearing in mind that, as a university faculty they will be required to train students in theory and experiments in sciences and conduct research. Both these activities i.e. teaching and research are intellectual activities that any person with an academic bend of mind can draw satisfaction from. When a young candidate sits through interviews for any such university position, interviewers also try to assess mainly his subject knowledge (and not any other non-academic personality attribute e.g. administrative efficiency). However, following recruitment when a candidate joins the university system, he soon realises that teaching and research are not the only activities he is supposed to engage in.There are a lot of administrative tasks too, that demand him to act as a clerk and not as an intellectual teacher or researcher.
In almost all Indian universities, faculty are required not only to teach but also to take on a variety of administrative responsibilities; and after that one needs to create time for research. These are the times when multiple ranking and accreditation systems for academic institutes are there in vogue. Educational institutes are made to apply for these assessment/accreditation/academic audit systems either by the government or they (particularly private institutes) just join the bandwagon out of the herd mentality. Most of such ranking/accreditation schemes involve a massive amount of paperwork to be done by the applying university, and a major chunk of this clerical work is to be done by the teaching staff. In addition to this, the teaching staff is also made to handle various non-academic portfolios like anti-ragging committee, anti-drug squad, extracurricular activities, convocation preparations, etc. Overall, this culminates in under-utilisation of the highly qualified intellectual faculty.Its demoralising impact on the teaching professional is obviously quite a lot.
A young faculty is required to undergo departmental evaluation procedures for his performance at regular intervals. The outcome of which influences his/her career growth. Such departmental procedures usually focus more on the research productivity (grants, publications, patents, etc.) and less on teaching/administrative contribution, ignoring the fact that the administrative portfolios have already taken a toll on the research performance of the concerned faculty. While it is relatively straightforward to evaluate one’s research productivity, teaching and administrative contribution are not so easy to evaluate. Though, recruitment and promotion screenings for YIs attach heavy importance to his role as a researcher, much time goes to teaching and clerical work.
There are quite a good number of young university teachers, who despite all odds maintain a reasonably impressive research performance by making extra efforts at individual level e.g. by extending their working hours beyond the regular office hours, attending office during vacations, generating publishable data from M.Tech./ M.Sc. student dissertations etc. In order to help recognise these extra tasks shouldered by the university faculty, I put forward two suggestions:
- There should be a reasonable teaching/exam duty load and minimum administrative load on a university faculty, so that research is not forced to the back-foot. This will allow the investigators to draw significantly from their research experience into their teaching, and deliver better content to their students. This objective can be achieved by recruiting enough number of teaching assistants.
- Basic remuneration for routine teaching and administrative contribution should be similar for all, but extra incentives/higher remuneration linked to scientometric scores of individual faculty must be there. Linking the remuneration to scientometric scores like citation count, h-index, Publons reviewer merit, etc. will make the rewarding process largely transparent, as these scores are available from third-party sources (e.g. GoogleScholar, ResearchGate, Publons, Scopus), and are easily verifiable.
Hopefully, in years to come, our universities will transform into spaces where faculty are engaged in tasks that make optimum use of their intellectual abilities and not force them into tasks where they feel under-utilised.