Tamil Nadu’s foremost government engineering college is running largely on temporary faculty
When six Teaching Fellows of the Anna University’s Nagercoil campus cleared the exam and joined the college as temporary faculty about seven years ago, little did they realise that they would continue to remain so even in 2019.
TR Kannan, E Raja Sherin, A Krishna Prakash, NR Sujin Lal, N Bethlin Nelmin and N Subash – all designated as Teaching Fellows or temporary faculty at the University College of Engineering, Nagercoil, are now fighting for their rights. The Nagercoil college is a constituent college under Anna University.
These though are only the most recent six cases. Teaching Fellows from across the 13 constituent colleges and three regional centres of Anna University – Tuticorin, Madurai and Chennai - have filed a number of cases demanding regularisation of their temporary jobs which are still pending before the Madurai bench and the Madras High Court.
Their situation is much worse – many have been recruited in 2007-08 and for over a decade have continued to remain temporary faculty doing the work of full-fledged teaching staff.
The pay for temporary faculty, designated as Teaching Fellows, is meagre, a paltry Rs 20,000. After many demands, recently it was hiked to Rs 22,000. There are no benefits accruing to them. Worse, the post of Teaching Fellows itself is an invented one, according to D Geetha, counsel for the six petitioners from Nagercoil.
“There is no post by the name of Teaching Fellows at all but they (Anna University) called for advertisements and recruited them,” said Geetha. “As per AICTE rules there is no such nomenclature or post called Teaching Fellow. There are only Assistant Professors, Associate Professors and Professors. Now that so many people are claiming right to regularisation, the University is trying to replace them with fresh recruits,” she said.
These Teaching Fellows say they do the same amount of teaching done by a staffer of the same college – an Assistant Professor’s equivalent. The Assistant Professor though gets Rs 60,000 gross monthly with benefits such as Provident Funds thrown in.
Teaching Fellows’ contracts are valid for six months and the University can renew their contracts if required.
When the University advertises to fill vacant full time Assistant Professor positions, eligible persons, including Teaching Fellows can apply.
But decades have passed and Teaching Fellows have decided to demand that they be absorbed as full time Assistant Professors in Anna University.
With one-third the pay, no benefits and equal or more work, six Teaching Fellows from the University College of Engineering in Nagercoil felt that they were being ripped off. And so they approached the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.
On 18 December 2018, Justice R Subramanian of the court passed an interim order restraining the Nagercoil College from removing them from their jobs as Teaching Fellows.
Initially the University obliged, renewing the December 2018 contracts of all six petitioners.
But TR Kannan, E Raja Sherin, A Krishna Prakash, NR Sujin Lal, N Bethlin Nelmin and N Subash subsequently faced the wrath of the college authorities.
A review meeting was conducted in June this year as mandated by the rules. Ironically this was the first review meeting conducted in seven years of service of the petitioners. Their contracts had been automatically renewed every six months without review for the duration of their job.
Two of the six are out of jobs now, following this review, despite the court’s order – the Nagercoil College has refused to renew their contracts, despite the court order. These two were verbally told that their contracts would not be renewed. They are now planning to file a petition seeking remedy for contempt of court against the University and the Dean of the College.
The other four were asked to sign a declaration stating that they would not take legal action against the University – they were informed that their contracts would be renewed only then. None of them signed the declaration.
Sources close to the Nagercoil Dean T Sree Ranga Raja spoke to The Lede on condition of anonymity. When asked whether the College had decided that the court order was no longer relevant and that they could commit contempt of court, the source stated that the Dean could only listen to his higher authority, the University’s Registrar.
“This is vindictive action against the petitioners, simply because they have exercised their right to seek legal remedy,” said lawyer D Geetha.
The Lede, however, did contact the Dean’s higher authority – the Vice Chancellor of Anna University, MK Surappa. When asked about whether the non-renewal of contract in the face of an interim restraining order by the court did not amount to contempt, Surappa said that he did not condone such moves.
“I will not allow contempt of court,” said Surappa in an exclusive interview to The Lede. “I will take care of it. He (the Dean) will not disobey any court orders,” he said.
An RTI response from the University shows that there are 518 temporary faculty across Anna University’s 13 constituent college campuses and three regional centres.
The total full time faculty strength of all campuses of Anna University as of 25 October 2015, as announced by the Tamil Nadu government is 557.
Of these, only 316 are eligible to teach, with the others facing charges of improper appointments on various counts.
In effect, the temporary faculty outnumber the full time faculty.
A number of Supreme Court judgements are available, most famously the Constitution Bench verdict in the Uma Devi case which stated that for the state, full time and regular employment must be the norm and temporary staff can only be done for a short duration of time or for a specific task.
“A regular process of recruitment or appointment has to be resorted to, when regular vacancies in posts, at a particular point of time, are to be filled up and the filling up of those vacancies cannot be done in a haphazard manner or based on patronage or other considerations. Regular appointment must be the rule,” states the verdict delivered in April 2006 by a Bench comprising Justices YK Sabharwal, Arun Kumar, GP Mathur, CK Thakker and PK Balasubramanyan.
The University Grants Commission too states in its June 2010 and July 2018 notifications that - “The teachers should be appointed on contract basis only when it is absolutely necessary and when the student-teacher ratio does not satisfy the laid-down norms. In any case, the number of such appointments should not exceed 10% of the total number of faculty positions in a College/University.”
But in Anna University and its colleges, temporary faculty are equal to or more (if the ineligible staff are not taken into account) in number – a far cry from the 10% guideline issued by the UGC.
Lawyer D Geetha says no identification of the number of posts has taken place in Anna University’s colleges. “How can you keep recruiting without even having a count of the number of faculty needed? You should identify the number of teaching staff needed, advertise and recruit accordingly.”
“If you continue to have temporary faculty, how will the quality of teaching be? Neither students nor teachers will have the security for their future. How is it going on like this, especially when it is a state government university?” she asked.
Vice Chancellor Surappa told The Lede that the courts had restrained the University from taking on full time teaching staff. “The University did not recruit for a very long time due to pending court cases,” he said. “The Supreme Court had stopped us from recruiting for two years. But now that most of the cases are over, we will begin to advertise and recruit,” he said.
A perusal of the recently affiliated constituent colleges and regional centres of Anna University in the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), the governing body for engineering colleges in the country, shows that the Anna University has simply made up designations of its temporary faculty.
The RTI response from the University shows the designations of the temporary faculty as “Teaching Fellows”. The letter of contract issued to the temporary faculty designates them as “Teaching Fellows”.
Yet, the AICTE website shows that many of the temporary faculty have been named “Assistant Professors”.
On 12 July, this same list on the AICTE website had almost all of the temporary faculty list shown as “Assistant Professor - Contract”.
After The Lede made inquiries into the discrepancy in the nomenclature of the designation in the contracts of temporary faculty and the AICTE website, the list online on the AICTE site has been changed.
Almost all “Assistant Professor - Contract” have been changed to “Lecturer - Contract” within a span of a few days.
But the post of Lecturer, since 2006 is equivalent to that of an Assistant Professor as per Unversity norms.
In the 2015 review by then Advisor to the Tamil Nadu government Sheela Balakrishnan, it was found that a total of 23 excess teaching faculty had been hired. This is included in the total figure of 557 quoted earlier.
While it is unclear as to what action has been taken over the excess faculty, what is known is that more and more temporary faculty has been recruited every few years since then.
Since 2014 onwards, direct recruitments too have been taking place in Anna University without the usual advertisements being given out.
Now the University has come up with a novel scheme – called the Hourly Basis Staff which are even more temporary insecure contracts that will add to an administration bulging at the seams.
Vice Chancellor Surappa though says that there is a need for more teaching faculty. “IIT has a student-teacher ratio of 1:12. IISc is 1:8. Anna University is 1:20. We definitely need to increase the numbers of teaching faculty and bring it up at least to the level of IITs,” he said.
“A lot of people in the administration make a lot of money over these postings of temporary faculty,” said a senior Teaching Fellow at one of the constituent colleges of Anna University. “Rs 3-4 lakhs is the going rate for a Teaching Fellow posting. If you see, by and large, those who have not paid money for the posting are the ones whose contracts will not be renewed. The ones who have paid continue to remain there,” he said.
The root cause of the issue over Anna University’s woes arose from the early 2000s. The University was unitary until then, meaning that only students directly enrolled into Anna University would get a degree from the Anna University. There were no affiliated colleges.
It was around 2004-05 when the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) government was in power that Anna University began to take on affiliated colleges.
“Until then it was only other universities such as Bharathiyar University and Madras University which had colleges affiliated with them. Which meant that students graduating from colleges affiliated with Madras University would get a degree from Madras University. But the policy makers never consulted educationists or society. They did not take a long term view of what this would mean for education in the state,” said Professor M Anandakrishnan, retired Vice Chancellor of Anna University.
By this time politicians owned and ran colleges and there was a demand for an affiliation with Anna University which would bring repute to the institutions run by them.
In 2006, the government changed and the rival DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) came to power.
This government led by Chief Minister M Karunanidhi decided that the Anna University had grown too vast and had become administratively unwieldy.
K Ponmudi, the Higher Education Minister of the state at the time said that it was “near impossible to manage the affairs of 240 affiliated colleges” by one University.
The government split the University up into five regional Anna Universities of Technology, each with its own Vice Chancellor, affiliated colleges and its own syllabus. This was a bid to decentralise administration and take the burden off the single Vice Chancellor in Chennai.
In 2011 the government changed again and J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK assumed the Chief Minister’s office. A Monitoring Committee was set up and based upon its recommendations the DMK’s decision was overturned.
The five Anna Universities of Technology were merged once again with effect from 01 August 2012.
The rationale behind this move as argued by the then government was that a single syllabus would contribute to better teaching and research.
It argued that the five Universities created by the DMK government had no autonomy and thereby no improvement in the standard of education.
“Since 2007 itself there has been no recruitment of full time teaching faculty,” said D Geetha. “The problem began then and now it is reaching its peak.”
“This kind of thing has happened before in Maharashtra too,” said Professor Anandakrishnan. “When the government changes, policy changes and everyone just has to follow. It is unfortunate,” he said.
And when policy continually changes every five years and with every government, it only aids the growth of corruption and maladministration.
The Anna University, the most reputed institution in the state for engineering, has only this year, become affiliated to the AICTE and received NAAC (National Accreditation and Assessment Council) accreditation.
What should have been done decades ago has fallen by the wayside in pursuit of power and purse by those at the helm of affairs at the University.
And this in turn, has led to an alarming question mark over the future of the thousands of students who have passed out of the University and its affiliated colleges.
Because non-affiliation with the AICTE has denied the chance for research scholarships and postgraduate fellowships for the students who graduated before 2019.
Cash for appointments has led to a substantial fall in the quality of teaching at the University and its constituent colleges.
Students, as a result, are at the receiving end of poor quality education which reflects in their becoming unemployable.
The struggle of the temporary faculty of Anna University is only the tip of the iceberg and its cascading effect washes away students in its wake.