Let College Teachers Teach

The Academic Performance Indicators may have had a negative impact on undergraduate teaching by forcing teachers into doing things that could pass off as research

Since 2010, when the University Grants Commission (UGC) introduced the Academic Performance Indicator (API), all faculty members at central universities and about 100 odd colleges directly funded by the central government are required to, other than teach and carry out administrative duties, do research in order to benefit from the Career Advancement Scheme (CAS). While state universities and colleges are not obliged to adopt the API, many more than a few have done so. Incidentally, the UGC scrapped the API in 2013 but reintroduced it a few months later during the same year.

This April, the UGC sent out a letter to all vice-chancellors asking for their views and suggestions on the API by the end of the month. One hopes that most vice-chancellors have written to the UGC that the API in its current form is neither desirable nor useful for faculty members who teach at the undergraduate (UG) level. Indeed, irrespective of whether the vice-chancellors have suggested it or not, the UGC should do away with the research component in API altogether (or make it optional) for UG faculty.

There are known beneficial effects of research on teaching. However, those good effects can come about only under conditions that are favourable for research, which is not the case under Indian conditions.

UG faculty at our higher education (HE) institutions must be exempted from research because large numbers of college teachers lack the basic training for research; most are overburdened with teaching, administrative and other responsibilities; and a majority work at institutions with woeful infrastructure and in an academic environment inimical to substantive research. Furthermore, faculty who were hired in the pre-API era certainly did not sign up for research when they took up the profession. Now that they are being forced into research for career advancement, they are left with few options other than to publish in fake journals and/or to obtain sub-standard PhDs to accumulate the necessary points for promotion.

Low research output

There are other reasons to introduce a research exemption clause for UG faculty. Colleges and universities which offer UG degrees are the backbone of India’s HE system. A large majority of students in the HE sector—approximately 80 per cent of the total—study for UG degrees and their numbers will continue to grow in the coming years. These students need faculty members dedicated to teaching and not to be distracted by the goal of earning API points via third-rate or fake research.

In the old system, research was carried out by faculty at post-graduate (PG) departments across state universities, central universities and other central-government funded institutions. A faculty’s responsibilities included teaching and supervising PG students. College teachers were occasionally known to do research; in such cases, they were usually hired or promoted to work at PG institutions. However, as a rule, there was no expectation of research from them and many did not obtain or even seek doctoral degrees.

The clear separation of teaching and research, with each carried out at different sets of institutions, was maintained for decades until the government decided that the professoriate was not doing enough research and it was necessary to jolt it into doing so.

The real problem with the old system was that the PG faculty was not producing sufficient amount of good quality research, leading to low total research output of the HE sector. To address the problem, the UGC needed to target PG faculty and insist from them to do more and better research.

In principle, the API is a good thing. It provides a common method to measure a faculty member’s contributions to teaching, research and institutional activities. It is a good replacement to the ad hocism of the past when a faculty member’s contributions were subjectively evaluated by heads of departments and other superiors so that those with influence were able to gain at the expense of others.

Choose to do research

The API, however, other than measurement problems, suffers from a fundamental flaw – it demands the same combination of requirements from faculty across different kinds of institutions without taking into account the different objectives of UG and PG institutions i.e. teaching and teaching-cum-research respectively.

Ideally, most UG institutions and their faculty must be teaching-focused. A select number, especially those in cities like New Delhi, Bengaluru and other metros which tend to attract better qualified faculty than in smaller cities and elsewhere, should ask their faculty to choose between ‘teaching only’ and ‘teaching and research’ and assign work accordingly. It is faculty at PG institutions which must shoulder most of the responsibility for research.

The research requirement from all faculty in the API is unrealistic and has done nothing to improve quality research output in our HE sector. Indeed, it may have had a negative impact on college-level teaching by diverting the attention of teachers to doing things that they could pretend to pass off as research.

Pushkar is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa.