TODAY -

Saving Higher Education in Manipur
- Part : I -

Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh *

Manipur University Library at Manipur University (MU), Canchipur
Manipur University Library at Manipur University (MU), Canchipur :: Pix - Phurailatpam Banti



The rot in higher education system in Manipur had started long ago leaving many quite helpless. The value system of the society changed. The shift from 'what I can do for the society' to 'how much I can get from the society' was fast and inexorable as if led by a hidden hand. Education was marginalised. What emerged as important was influence and connection. Majority of us became rent seekers. We applauded when the most corrupt person talked about the evil effects of corruption. We applauded when the violator of human rights talked about the importance of human rights for a meaningful existence. In the core of our hearts each of us was both crying and laughing- crying because development has become exclusive and laughing because we are acutely aware of the tragicomedy being enacted. However everything changes- the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. That is how I try to understand the changes unfolding in the higher education system in the state.

The teachers themselves are partly responsible. Several measures such as extending the age of superannuation, UGC pay-scale, basic pay for part-timers, biometric attendance register etc. were announced one after the other. It clearly shows the concern of the authority for the welfare of the teaching community. This in reality is a concern for the student community because they are the beneficiary of the improvement in education. This gives a moral right also to the authority to demand efficient service delivery from the teaching community. The society is taking care of your needs and you should deliver. My experience in placement interviews for college lecturers has never been a happy one.

Except for a few, majority of the teachers are hopelessly outdated. Many of them excel in everything except teaching. They do not talk of rights and duties at the same tone. How do you justify your lack of academic activity by appealing to the age of your children? How do you justify your lack of academic activity by pointing out non availability of reading materials? Are you living in an alien world? Now the problem is that of abundance of source materials. The source materials are just a few clicks away. How do you justify teaching economic history in place of recent developments in Indian economy by using a fifteen year old edition of Dutt and Sundaram? In one such encounter we had to request the teacher to buy the latest edition of Dutt and Sundaram on his way to home after the placement interview.

How has this lethargy crept in the system? What more do our teachers need? The first thing that comes to me is the absence of infrastructure. Inadequacies of service conditions have been taken care of. How many colleges have congenial place where a scholar teacher can sit outside the classroom? How do you expect serious academic pursuit when forty to fifty teachers are seated in a common room? Common rooms are meant for common activities. How many colleges have been buying recommended readings? The collection of most college libraries is inappropriate.

The usual practice is to collect the booklist from the concerned HODs and file it. The actual purchase is on the basis of books available with the supplier. Most of the colleges have no functional toilet. The state of drinking water source and toilets in colleges makes me wonder endlessly. Library, toilet and study rooms have to be upgraded. Allocating money is not enough. What do we see after having spent so much? These infrastructures have to be really delivered. Once these are installed, maintenance also should not be ignored.

How motivated are our teachers? A few years ago we introduced a paper in Environmental economics at undergraduate level .we offered to supply all reading materials at cost price. Nobody availed of this offer. We organised a refresher course in Environmental economics and our faculty members had to double up as participants because we needed a minimum of 20 participants. The UGC and the ICSSR are literally begging us to apply for projects and fellowships because the money earmarked for the North east remain unutilised. With the help of such major and minor projects teaching can be very exciting. One can buy books and equipment with the project money. It is also true that many of us are unaware of these possibilities. To enhance the awareness of the teachers, teachers should attend at least one orientation/refresher course every two years. In the USA doctors are required to validate their license for practice regularly by handling some equipment in public places.

How can we make them motivated? The incentive system is very important. Let us take the case of the American university system. In the American university system most of the posts are tenurial and there is lots of flexibility. Your contract will be renewed only if you deliver what is expected of you. Prof Rostow, a Nobel laureate, was denied a tenureship in University of Texas because his stylised 'stages of growth 'theory had been rejected. In the Economics department of Chicago University there were more than ten Nobel laureates and the motto is 'publish or perish'. If you do serious work, extension of your tenure is never a problem. The legendary late Paul Samuelson was in MIT and died at the age of 93 still delivering lectures in the university.

Lawrence Klein, the guide of my guide Prof V.N.Pandit, is still teaching even at the ripe age of 93plus at university of Pennsylvania. Being my guide's guide I considered him my grandfather. What about the pay scale? Prof. Kaushik Basu told me that university professors in the USA usually get what they are usually considered worth. Pay and perks are never constraints. I was told that he was offered a professorship along with the post of a director for his wife, an authority in demography. Prof Amartya Sen of Harvard University is not even expected to teach.

His presence in the department is enough. He could visit any place in the world at the expenses of the university and whenever he had time, he could deliver lectures and most of his lectures are house-full. But our prolific Sen never wastes a single paisa. He has gradually metamorphosed into a philosopher. This type of indulgence and competition has worked wonders and it has become an ideal system. Though we have been saying 'education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man' what we have been doing is the opposite. There is so much rigidity that we can do little.

Thus if we introduce a proper incentive system by having fast promotion track for achievers, higher pay scales, higher perks etc. Our teachers will feel motivated. Instead of making 65 the age of superannuation for everybody, one can make it the age of superannuation for achievers, achievement being measured by the academic output. The API system of the UGC is yet to be adopted in the colleges though Manipur University has been having it for years. The age of superannuation can even be raised upto 70 as in the university reemployment system or even more. One can go further by introducing lifetime professors, also known as professor emeritus at the college. The more productive you are, the longer you stay employed. The continued service of the experienced teacher justifies it. The need for performance and service delivery will motivate us to work harder.

Most of the genuine difficulties of the teaching community have been taken care of. The authority should capitalise on this opportunity to get the optimum efforts from the teachers. The sooner, the better. The society also will support the authority if it tries to introduce the overdue reforms. Of course, each of the stakeholders of higher education should contribute. The teaching community is just one of them.

To be continued.....




* Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
The writer is at Economics Department, Manipur University This article was posted on June 08, 2013.



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