A number of new IITs and IIMs have been set up in recent years. Not only these. A number of other institutes too are being set up. While these have been welcomed, there is a concern, if not outright fear, about how faculty is going to be recruited for these institutes. Yes, there is a shortage of faculty but only if we continue our old ways. A bit of the so-called out of the box thinking will help.
The idea is to use technology and reap benefits of what economists call economies of scale.
At present, for each course, there is a separate professor at each institute. And they all teach more or less the same thing (barring in some very specialized and advanced courses). This is repetition and waste. Let a very small number of good professors give lectures. These can be recorded and used in very many institutes. So there is no need to have so very many faculty members. This can immediately take care of the so-called shortage of faculty. In fact, more than that. It can even lead to surplus faculty if the duplication is avoided.
Since we are considering a small number of professors for each course and not one professor, there is room for different methods or even a difference in content and emphasis. So there need not be a monopoly. There is room for variety.
But isn’t there a difference between live class room teaching and a recorded lecture? Yes, there is. The latter is better and not worse! For the simple reason that the lectures can be taken by the best persons in the field. At present, the quality is varied. Some students are taught by some not so good teachers. Also, since the proposed lectures are to be recorded and are to be used on a very large scale, they can be done with the help of a professional team which can ensure that the final product including the non-academic aspects are very good.
But what if students have questions? How can they ask these questions? For this purpose there can be tutors in an institute. In fact, these too can be online. Again there can be economy even in matters of tutorials.
The idea is not just to meet the so-called shortage of faculty. It is also to reduce the cost of education. This is typically high in private institutes. In government institutes, students may well be paying a small fee but the government does bear a big financial burden. This has a huge opportunity cost. While some students get higher education and good quality education, there are others who go without much good education. They can benefit – thanks to money saved due to use of modern technology. But it need not be just about education of others, it could also be about increasing expenditure on health, for example. Money saved can be used for a variety of purposes.
But who is going to do all the work to bring about a change? Well, the whole purpose of bodies like UGC is to carry out such tasks. So, they need to get active on these fronts. It is true that not all higher education institutes are under UGC. But they are under some body. What is this somebody doing? He or she can very well do this reorganization.
But if faculty is cut down due to use of technology, won’t this hurt research? Now the fact of the matter is that there is not much research happening anyway in India. Even where there is research, it has three purposes. First, it is done for the satisfaction of the individual researcher. Second, it is done for the purpose of getting promotions, further research grants, attending conferences (preferably in other cities and other countries), and so on. Third, research is for helping the society at large. It is only in the third case that there is a social loss. So let us not exaggerate the loss to society due to a cut in faculty. In any case, there are also benefits of a cut in faculty. Funds saved can be, as discussed already, used elsewhere.
The old style of teaching of a small group of students in a room was a result of the absence of the modern technology. It was a necessity then, it no longer is.
But can all this happen in a country like India? I have a counter question. Where else can it happen? Let me explain. Let us look back. India adopted democracy when no other poor country had done that, and what happened? We have by and large succeeded. India adopted non-violent methods of fighting the oppressive rule of the British; no other country had done that. And what happened? We succeeded. In post-independence India, there have been so many changes. One more change and that is hardly big – that should not be difficult.
But the institutes at present work the way they do partly as a result of the laws and regulations that prevail. Now these laws and regulations may not be conducive or permissive of such changes in education. True. But then we do have the state legislative bodies, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and so on. They are meant precisely for this purpose – to amend laws. But will political parties cooperate? Now again there is an exaggeration in this matter.
It is not well known that while some legislations get stuck for long, there are other changes that are passed on smoothly and quickly even in this era of coalition politics and seemingly confrontation politics. So the legislative bodies have not been bad the way they are usually portrayed. Actually, we need not be going that far. The proposed changes in education may not even require a change in legislation.
A change in education is very much doable. There is effectively hardly any shortage of faculty.
By Gurbachan Singh