Jennifer Shaheen Hussain
The cancellations of appointments of teaching staff on contractual basis have wreaked havoc in the lives of the teachers and students of Gauhati University.
The decision was taken after a directive was issued from the Chancellor of the University, Governor Jagdish Mukhi through a letter dated April 13, 2021, which was followed by a meeting of the Vice Chancellor with him on June 9, and a communication received from the Governor’s office on July 2.
The notification said that “…all concerned that all contractual appointment of teaching faculty has been stopped w.e.f. 30.06.2021. This is also applicable to those whose contract period is valid beyond 30.06.2021 if any”.
Going back to 2015, I started my career as a contractual teaching staff at a developing Centre in one of the leading state varsities. I taught there for nearly three years. When I left the job, for the world before me, I was considered to be foolish for resigning from a so-called government service.
The service I rendered there was immensely gratifying as I was a facilitator to nearly 300 students over a duration of three years. I did feel important and one cannot ignore the charm universities carry. You get immersed in its daily activities. As a young teacher in her mid-20s, I took a sense of contentment to be associated with a service like teaching at a premier higher education institution in the state.
However, the reality remained that I was a contractual teacher. Every order issued to me was addressed as “Assistant Professor (On-Contractual basis)”
Is there really a difference between a contractual teacher and one on a payroll as per the regulations of the seventh pay commission besides the salary accounted every month? Yes there is.
Contractual teachers are underpaid, overburdened with taking several classes a day, and bound to even carry out administrative duties, and above all live under a constant stress of job insecurity.
The life of a contractual teacher is more or less like surviving in a complicated relationship where there is always a fear of being replaced or, facing rejection.
But who is to be blamed? The government, University Grants Commission, the varsity or the teacher who walked in for that interview aspiring to teach, get a steady job, and help students get ready to face a professional world?
Universities run both departments and centres of learning, and while contractual faculties in departments still have chances in getting a permanent position, contractual faculties in Centres lack that opportunity as well.
Of course contractual faculties are also appointed without receiving a PhD degree in certain varsities, the rules for which are laid down in the varsity mandate, and it is only fair if they fulfil all the criteria issued by the UGC and then be given an appointment. But keeping that aside one cannot even question their competence, so who do you blame for such lapse in the system?
To keep up with the evolving trends of the market, the government and universities in all good interest open several academic programmes but they should also put a thought on how to make these programmes sustainable. After all, it is the not just that future of contractual faculties are being jeopardised but also the lives of students are in peril.
It also poses a question to the government that why exactly a large number of permanent positions are left vacant. As per a report, Gauhati University presently has almost 130 positions vacant, while, there are over 50 contractual teachers who were serving the varsity.
Moreover, as Assam continues to grapple with the second wave of the pandemic, is it even fair to destroy the livelihood of so many teachers, and even more practically, how would departments with more contractual faculties function? How will classes be conducted henceforth? Is post-graduate education then a farce today?
Three years ago I left the service as a contractual teaching staff for similar concerns. I also wanted to update myself in terms of acquiring higher education and exploring the industry I was imparting knowledge to students about.
Not that I complain about the enriching experience I had while I was a contractual faculty. I was able to connect with students and prolific educators but then I did feel insecure for having a steady career.
Today, I empathise with both the contractual teachers’ fraternity and the students. It is no longer an existential crisis for the teachers but also for the higher education system of the state and a crisis that needs serious attention!