Sunday, January 6, 2013

Faculty Shortage

How serious is faculty shortage. The faculty-student ratio 30 years ago was 1:6. The faculty-student ratio today is 1:16. And the small increase that we have seen in the faculty in the last 30 years (going up from about 300 to about 350) is due to two reasons - increase in retirement age from 60 to 65, and opening of new disciplines which allowed us to recruit some faculty members in areas that we would not have considered 30 years ago.

If we consider the number of faculty members who are above 60 years of age, and faculty members in newer programs, this number is equal to the net increase that we see in our numbers for faculty.

So, all the older departments put together have recruited only at the replacement levels (to replace  those who retire or resign)  for over three decades. And given that some departments like Computer Science and Engineering have actually grown in this period, it means that some other departments have actually shrunk in size.

People who talk about difficulty in faculty hiring due to lack of opportunities for spouses in Kanpur city, due to shortage of available talent pool, due to increased competitions from other IITs, including new IITs, and so on, forget one small little fact. All these difficulties are of recent origin. Our problem is that for several decades we haven't focused on faculty recruitment. The effect of that lethargy (or the attitude that we are the best and faculty will come to us) was felt slowly over this long journey by the Institute. Every now and then there will be a small increase in student strength. The faculty-student ratio will become slightly worse, and we will adjust with that. Since the impact was slow, we did not react.

It was only in 2008 that the increase in student strength happened very suddenly, 50 percent increase within 5 years. Student intake had gone up by 54% by 2010 (over 2007 numbers), and every year, a small batch graduates and a large batch takes admission. This increase is so large and so sudden that we are unable to adjust, and hence faculty recruitment has become a prime focus area.

The problem is similar to a situation where a prestigious Mumbai-Pune train used to take 3 hours for the journey 100 years ago. Every 10 years, the running time was increased by 5 minutes. A small increase in time, and hence people adjusted. So 100 years later, the train would take 3 hours 50 minutes for the same distance. If you ask Railwaymen, they would blame increased number of trains, increase in population, and everything else. But the real reason for this is that you did not care for 100 years. There was enough time and there were enough resources to put additional lines, improve signaling, build better coaches and more powerful locos, and so on. Complaints of recent origin are just to hide the ineptitude of the last 100 years.

But, better late than never. There are many initiatives, including taking help from alumni, and hopefully we will actually start growing soon.