Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Sixth pay commission debacles and looking forward... (Part 2)

In my last post I presented my views on what I believe went wrong during the 6th pay commission at the level of “policy changes” in our country’s higher education system, i.e. in colleges, universities and institutes. In this post I address issues related to salaries all the way from primary schools to universities and institutes and try and make a case for making the teaching/academic profession in our country a more economically attractive option than it is today. If I have your patience I believe I will be able to make a case for a model which can link economic growth with growth in knowledge for members of our society.

Two points before I start:

1. I’m going to present my views within the framework of state and central government educational institutions (with the additional hope that they also translate to private institutions). So I’m going to assume that housing and medical benefits are already extended to teachers and academics at all levels from primary schools up. If not, it is my request that this happen. As far as medical benefits go, it is my submission that every teacher and academic be given comprehensive medical coverage for self and any dependents that he or she may have. As far as housing goes, I suppose the extent will vary in the sense of size of quarters provided. But at a bare minimum a decent one bedroom apartment should be provided to every primary school teacher in my opinion and we move up from there.

2. Wherever I talk about salaries, I will simply talk about gross salaries. To be frank, I’ve never really understood the whole Basic, D.A., etc breakup. So I won’t get into that level of detail and simply mention the net or gross amount that I believe teachers at different levels ought to be making.

First a bit about what motivates this post:

I firmly believe that teachers, academics and those committed to seeking knowledge in all disciplines and fields (scientists, historians, archaeologists, etc) are the bedrock of society as knowledge sustains everything else. If we want our society to be intellectually and culturally healthy and vibrant once again (I do not believe it is either today), we need to make the profession of knowledge itself something to aspire to instead of thinking of knowledge merely as a means to some material end.

Now I do not believe that the strategy to achieve this mindset shift ought to be purely economic in nature. One has to be drawn as much, if not more, towards knowledge as material possessions to start with. Knowledge is a wealth too. This realization needs to set in firmly if we as a society are to start valuing the pursuit of knowledge as much as more “material” pursuits. Plus a large part of the solution lies in my opinion in restoring the social respectability of the teaching/academic profession - particularly at the primary and secondary school levels. The situation in this regard is particularly dismal in our country from what I can see. We need to realize one thing very very clearly: disrespect the teaching profession, discourage good people from taking it up, and we descend into ignorance. It’s as simple as that. Our children will no longer grow up with a sound foundation in knowledge and values and it will be a pretty sad day when such a state of affairs comes to pass. So respecting teachers and realizing that their contribution towards sustaining a knowledge centric and humane society is something very immense is critical.

But this said, we need to be aware that there is an economic aspect to this profession like any other that needs to be fairly addressed too. Teachers, academics, scientists and others in the profession of knowledge have the need to be economically secure too. They too would like for their children to be assured of the best possible education and healthcare just like anyone else. They will have ageing parents at some stage as well and would like them to have a comfortable old age with access to high quality health care whenever needed just as anyone else would. Plus they themselves would be well within their rights in my opinion to want a reasonably comfortable and well off life both during their professional careers and in their years of retirement and old age (for which they too would need to save and invest just like anyone else!). “Austerity” needs to be a personal choice in my opinion. We need not go about imposing it on some professions as some sort of a moral requirement while being alright with outright debauchery in others. A more balanced approach rather than harbouring extreme viewpoints would be what I recommend. This is a mistake we have been making for quite a while in our country in my opinion and we need to correct it.

To repeat an example I gave in a recent post that I believe underlines my concern that the teaching profession is not as economically sound as it ought to be:

Some 5-6 years ago I took a cab from Delhi airport. I happened to strike up a conversation with the cabbie during which I asked him how much he makes per month. I still remember his answer: things used to be better some years ago but now he was making only about Rs. 30,000/- to Rs. 35,000/- per month. Now I have absolutely nothing against cabbies making a decent living, but how many primary schools in our country do you think were paying their teachers at least Rs. 30,000/- to Rs. 35,000/- per month around 2009-2010 (i.e. 5-6 years ago)? And remember, as per the cabbie these were not as good days for him as before when he made more.

If we have allowed things to come to such a pass that being a cabbie in Delhi or Mumbai (or perhaps even a paan-bidi shop owner or a pizza delivery personnel in some establishments) have become more lucrative options than being a primary school teacher in one’s own town then, with due respect to all these professions, it only reflects our immense lack of maturity and foresight. Likewise with other essential professions (as I like to call them): nurses, hawaldars, soldiers... We need very good people (and lots of them) to man these professions and cannot afford to compromise on quality one bit. And we can’t hope to make this happen if we don’t sort out the economics of it. Idealism in its own place, family bread and butter in its own.

Sure let us set high standards in recruiting teachers. Sure let us expect teachers to continuously develop themselves in terms of knowledge as well as teaching pedagogies. To teach children and nurture them into becoming mature adults and responsible members of the society is no small thing. And we certainly need to recruit the best people we can to do this. But at the same time let us also then pay them salaries that are respectable enough for the teaching profession to become economically sound and not be a constraint that comes in the way of capable people choosing it as a career option – at least early in their lives before they have earned higher degrees that can enable them to pursue options of either teaching at colleges and universities or perhaps taking up other career paths if that be their eventual choice (I'll expand on the 2nd part of this statement later in this post).

So here’s my first proposition: Let the starting gross salaries for school teachers be set as follows (I’ll talk about the need to cap these salaries as well later):

Primary school (Grades 1 to 5): Rs. 30,000/- per month.                  
[Minimum qualification: B.A./B.Sc./B.Com.]

Secondary school (Grades 6 to 10): Rs. 40,000/- per month.
[Minimum qualification: B.A./B.Sc./B.Com. + B.Ed.  OR  B.Tech./B.E. (longer program)]

Higher secondary school (Grades 11-12): Rs. 50,000/- per month.
[Minimum qualification: B.A./B.Sc./B.Com. + B.Ed.  OR  B.Tech./B.E. (longer program)]

Yes! I do believe that we need to value our bachelors degrees as well as the teaching profession this much.

Similarly, starting salaries for instructors for Diploma programmes in Technical Education at institutes such as ITIs can be set at Rs. 60,000/- per month with minimum qualification requirement being a B.Tech./B.E.

I want to make a point here that I will keep coming back to again and again: Let us aim at establishing a culture wherein people in the teaching profession continue to study more themselves and pursue higher degrees alongside their teaching responsibilities at different levels.

Say someone takes up a teaching position at the primary school level right after their B.A., B.Sc. or B.Com. Let them not stagnate there. Instead, let them pursue a B.Ed. alongside and try and move up to being a secondary school teacher, and after some experience perhaps a higher secondary school teacher. Again, during this period let them pursue masters degrees in their subjects so that they can try and obtain a lectureship at the college level where they teach B.A./B.Sc./B.Com./B.Tech. students. Or they could pursue the M.Ed. degree and involve themselves in teaching B.Ed. students.

Sure pursuing higher degrees alongside one’s teaching responsibilities would likely take more time than pursuing them full time. But one earns a salary alongside and that can be exactly what is needed for many a individual or family.

To encourage this continuous pursuit of higher education oneself and migrating to teaching at higher levels, I believe we also need to put caps on salaries at each level. So the salaries at the primary school level can perhaps be capped off at say Rs. 35,000/- per month. One then has to put in the required effort, obtain a B.Ed. degree and try and move up to secondary school teaching if one wants to earn more (thereby also opening up primary school spots for others). Likewise, salaries at the secondary and higher secondary school levels and diploma institutes can perhaps be capped off at Rs. 45,000/- per month, Rs. 55,000/- per month and Rs. 65,000/- per month respectively as well. If someone wants to earn more than Rs. 65,000/- per month, he or she then has to obtain a masters degree and try and obtain a lectureship at a college.

In a similar spirit, I propose that gross salaries of lecturers in colleges range from Rs. 70,000/- per month to Rs. 80,000/- per month until they obtain a PhD (which can be pursued alongside one's teaching responsibilities). After obtaining a PhD one can either choose to continue teaching at the college level and be eligible for promotions with higher salaries within the college system or follow up the PhD degree with some post-doctoral research experience if needed and try and obtain a faculty position in a university or institute where one would also be involved with post-graduate education or a scientific position at a research laboratory.

Coming to institutes and universities:

In my last post I had argued for a reversal to PhD being the minimum requirement for an Assistant Professorship at universities and institutes (instead of PhD plus three years of post-PhD experience) while pointing out that selection committees have the discretion anyway to recommend if necessary that a particular candidate first gain some more research experience through a post-doctoral research fellowship or perhaps spend some time as a senior lecturer before being appointed as an Assistant Professor. So, I’ll first suggest salaries at the post-doctoral research fellow and senior lecturer levels (both of which should ideally be at the most 2-3 year positions in my opinion):

I would recommend setting the monthly salary for post-doctoral research fellows at Rs. 80,000/- (fixed) i.e. the salary cap for lecturers at the college level (see above).

If I’m not mistaken, this would be a significant increase in salary at this level and I believe it would be a step in the right direction. Post-doctoral research fellows can play an important role in increasing the research impetus in our universities and institutes. Such a salary might not only increase the probability of some of our brighter PhD graduates choosing to gain their post-doctoral research experience in institutes and universities within the country rather than going abroad for the same but may also help us attract candidates from outside the country.

The salary for senior lecturers at institutes and universities can be set at Rs. 1,00,000/- per month (fixed) with an expectation that they contribute in teaching as well as research.

The starting salary for Assistant Professors at institutes and universities can be set at Rs. 1,20,000/- per month. From here on it would be a matter of being promoted to an Associate Professorship and then a Professorship based on performance and I suppose an evaluation of one’s academic maturity. Again, I believe there should be salary caps at the Assistant and Associate Professor levels so that one stays motivated to keep progressing to higher levels. But I am going to desist from opining on what these should be or what the starting salaries for Associate and full Professorships ought to be.

A full Professorship, in my opinion, ought to indicate a judgement by the academic community that one has attained to a level of academic maturity beyond which one need not be judged or evaluated anymore. So there really needn’t be any more posts as I see it.

Posts of administrative and academic leadership in institutes and universities (Heads of Departments, Deans, Directors), as I see things, ought to indicate responsibilities being given to members of the academic community from time to time and not be looked at as “promotions”. I do not believe any of these responsibilities need have separate salaries associated with them. Instead, I am of the opinion that one simply continue to earn salary as per one’s station in his or her academic journey while executing such responsibilities. Just that how well one executes such responsibilities (yes, that needs to be evaluated too!) be accounted for when forming a judgement on one’s overall credentials.

I end this post with a submission that while we have certainly come a long way since our independence in 1947, we have a longer way to go still before we can claim to be relevant in the global academic community. I believe that in order to achieve such a standing we need to address the economic aspects of knowledge centric professions in our country as much as correcting our mindset vis a vis how we view knowledge and its relevance and importance in our lives. I have presented my views on what would be a balanced approach as we move forward. It is my hope that the relevant bodies in our country’s academia as well as state and central governments will take the necessary steps during the 7th pay commission to remove any lacunae that might exist and give a positive thrust to the teaching, academic, scientific and all other knowledge centric professions in our country.

True that the above will possibly require significant budgetary revisions as far as allocations to the education sector go. Would it be worth it? I hope I have been able to convince you that it would. Additionally, one mindset shift in the society at large that would go a long way in bringing about this economic impetus to the education sector is the willingness of those who can afford to pay for education to do so while subsidies and scholarships be reserved exclusively for those who actually need them. Most of us who are well off don’t really hold back from spending money on material comforts and luxuries. While I don’t really have a problem with that as such, I do believe that we shouldn’t hesitate on spending on education either. Knowledge is no less important.

Actually perhaps many of us already do spend a fair bit on education when we feed the humongous coaching industry that has taken root in our country. From what I have heard salaries in coaching institutes are possibly significantly higher than in schools. I wouldn’t be surprised if better people teach at coaching centres today than at schools. Or if school teachers double up as coaching class teachers.

I recommend that we direct our resources directly at schools. Let’s upgrade them, hire the very best to teach our children, demand the very best from them and be willing to pay them salaries they deserve.

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