ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
-A A +A

Faculty Development Training and Quality of Higher Education

Anirban Sengupta (anirban@aud.ac.in) teaches at the School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi.

The University Grants Commission introduced the Academic Staff Orientation Scheme in 1987 to set up academic staff colleges (now rechristened as human resource development centres). While the scheme is still operational, courses offered under it are hardly contributing towards quality improvement in higher education.

The author wishes to thank the anonymous referee for commenting on the draft of the article.
 

Higher education in India has witnessed phenomenal growth since independence in terms of number of institutions, teachers, and students. While this growth is no doubt praiseworthy, what has remained a matter of concern is the quality of higher education that is being delivered. Poor financial investment in the development of infrastructure and of faculty resources often explains why concerns exist around the quality of higher education in India. However, there also exist different non-financial factors that explain the poor quality of higher education in the country. The nature and quality of continuous in-service training that faculty members of state-run teaching institutions have to go through is one non-financial component of higher education that is often not given the attention that it deserves. While the faculty development training programme was conceived with grand aims of making education socially relevant and improving the quality of higher education, what it has ended up becoming is primarily a ritual (Jayaram 2003) that needs to be completed by the organisers so as to satisfy the requirements of the funder, the University Grants Commission (UGC), and by faculty participants so as to meet the conditions of promotion in their employment. What is worse is that in an ideologically charged sociopolitical environment, this politics of ritualisation of training programmes may get further complicated with the hegemonic entry of ideologies of dominant collectives. With stakeholders attributing such a restricted meaning to this training exercise, it is not a surprise that concerns prevail around its quality. It is, therefore, important to understand this politics and its influence on the nature of training programmes for faculty members.

In-service Training

The National Commission on Teachers in its report published in 1985 argued that each person recruited to academics must go through a training programme that orients them towards the profession and its system of values, pedagogic skills, processes of development of curriculum, use of audiovisual aids, educational psychology, evaluation methods, and use of the medium of instruction. The same was also argued a year later in the National Policy on Education (Jayaram 2003). The Programme of Action of the National Policy on Education (NPE) (MHRD 1986) took note of the important connection between the motivation of a teacher and the quality of education. It recognised that the system does not reward the teachers appropriately. Neither does it provide opportunities for innovation and professional development. Accordingly, along with other strategies, a proposal was made to enhance motivation, knowledge, and skills of the teachers by organising orientation programmes for all new entrants at the level of lecturers and refresher courses for each serving teacher (to be attended every three to five years) (MHRD 1986).

While the refresher course was expected to update the knowledge and skills of teachers, the orientation programme was supposed to introduce teachers to pedagogy, educational psychology and philosophy, and socio-economic and political concerns. Accordingly, the UGC introduced the academic staff orientation scheme (ASOS) in 1987 to set up the academic staff colleges (ASC) (now rechristened as human resource development centres) in each state (Jayaram 2003; University Grants Commission nd).

Orientation programmes are expected to make teachers skill-oriented, self-reliant, aware, and confident. Their aim is to familiarise young lecturers with the environment within which education is offered, and provide orientation about the larger role of education in engaging with problems experienced by the Indian society. These three-week (originally four-week) programmes are also expected to introduce teachers to achievement of goals set in the Constitution and enable them to contribute towards national development. Two-week (earlier three-week) long refresher courses, on the other hand, are expected to contain content on core, emerging, and priority areas related to the subject, and also include necessary laboratory/practical components, at times involving computer application. One-third of contact hours for both orientation programmes and refresher courses is expected to be devoted to orientation in information technology. In order to ensure seriousness of participants about orientation programmes and refresher courses, the ASOS has entrusted the organisers to emphasise on punctuality, regularity, participation, and purposefulness and take disciplinary action if necessary. Performance of participants is expected to be evaluated through written tests, presentations/teaching, and submission of take-home assignments (University Grants Commission nd).

Being Organisers, Being Participants

While the UGC guidelines on ASCs meticulously elaborate the aim and structure of orientation programmes and refresher courses, those elaborations hardly percolate down to the level of participants, even if they are understood by the organisers. While exceptions may be there, a typical faculty development programme does not attempt to share with the participants the scope of the programme either through advance notification or through discussion during the programme. What is shared is just the title of the programme. As a result, participants attending an orientation programme usually have little awareness as to what they can expect to learn from it and how learning that is going to contribute towards their integration into the profession of academics. Likewise, participants of a refresher course are usually not oriented about the structure of the programme and how it covers the core, emerging, and priority areas of the field. At times, one would hear from peers that the situation is somewhat better in established discipline-based refresher courses as the organisers may be expected to follow knowledge frameworks that are already accepted. The same often does not exist in the case of many interdisciplinary courses that are poorly defined, particularly in terms of identification of core ideas. Instead of becoming a space for serious, focused academic discussion, such interdisciplinary courses then become an umbrella under which diverse content may be put together depending on the convenience of the organiser and availability of speakers.

Vested Interests of the Organisers

In an environment where the organiser has a vested interest of promoting a particular ideology, the banner of vague interdisciplinary courses may get used conveniently to put together preferred topics and speakers. For example, a refresher course on contemporary issues of the World can primarily interpret “World” as India and bring issues of other countries only when they matter in terms of strategic and developmental concerns of the Indian nation state.

Under the present political context, therefore, such a course can conveniently promote the content and speakers that support Hindu nationalism as advocated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It, then, becomes perfectly legitimate for the ASCs to invite full-time BJP–RSS functionaries as resource persons for faculty development training programmes and introduce them as “eminent social thinkers.” It also becomes appropriate for the speakers to lecture at these training programmes as BJP–RSS functionaries even use this platform to advocate RSS slogans like Kasam khuda ki khate hai mandir wahi banayenge (I swear in the name of God that I will make the temple over there only), supporting the construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya. The platform of faculty development courses then becomes perfectly suitable for frequently using excerpts from ancient Sanskrit texts to justify one’s argument about virtually anything contemporary and also use narratives from scriptures as objective evidences of the period when that text was presumably written.

Continuity of such discourses despite reports (Iftikhar 2017; The Wire Staff 2018) of serious objection raised by participants indicates the official support behind it. In such an environment, it then becomes especially necessary to discipline the resisting participants, either by simply rebuking, or by reminding them about the presence of surveillance systems, or even by threatening of disciplinary action. Ideology-governed or not, ill-defined courses like these surely contribute in no way towards improving the quality of education.

A question that automatically emerges here is why faculty members choose to apply for such and other ill-defined courses when poor outcome is most likely. Partly, the answer to this question lies in what Jayaram (2003) refers to as ritualisation of training programmes. Even without any vested interest of the organisers, it is a reality today that leaving aside exceptions, the quality of programmes is usually quite poor (Indiresan 1993). It is difficult to say today whether this scenario evolved more out of inappropriate recruitment over the years for the critical yet permanently contractual decision-making positions at ASC, or because of the difficulty of attracting quality resource persons either due to their unavailability in the vicinity, or due to demotivation of sincere resource persons to commit their time for programmes about which many faculty participants are quite apathetic. Whatever the reason may be, the reality is that today, faculty members who are genuinely interested in learning do not have many options in hand. Therefore, one applies for any course that satisfies the requirements for a promotion. Besides, even if one succeeds in identifying a course that promises desirable learning, selection is never assured considering the long list of applicants for any course, good or bad.

Under such a ritualised environment, it is not unusual for faculty members to apply for training programmes based on considerations, such as which programme attracts least applications and therefore promises higher chances of selection, which ASCs are more relaxed in enforcement of discipline and evaluation requirements, which ASCs are located at a tourist place and therefore promises possibility of entertainment during the training, etc. Ritualisation happens not just at the level of participants. It also happens at the level of organisers. As I witnessed myself, the coordinator of a programme was also a participant of another programme running simultaneously. This means that while other participants are made to attend lectures following the UGC norms of attendance, this special participant is often given relaxation so as to also be able to coordinate another programme. Besides, ritualisation is also visible in terms of evaluation procedures involving multiple choice question-based tests. For example, in a course that I attended, participants were provided questions and answers for the test much in advance. Similarly, feedback collection mechanism is also ritualised with organisers making it mandatory for participants to disclose their identity on the feedback form. Whatever such ritualisation may achieve, it is quite clear that they can never improve the quality of higher education, which was the aim of setting up ASCs.

A Way Forward?

More than three decades have elapsed since the ASOS was rolled out. This scheme was introduced to improve the quality of higher education in India. However, it may not be an overstatement to claim that today, ASCS exist more to facilitate career advancement of faculty members and less to improve the quality of higher education. Given the contractual nature of recruitment at the ASCS and because of limited scope for innovation, engagement with quality improvement of human resource in higher education has never become a profession. Therefore, the role of ASCS is primarily restricted to implementation of the UGC scheme, and it is unlikely that the given structure will contribute much towards the development of quality of education.

With participation in faculty development training programme being linked to career advancement of faculty members, the number of the faculty members seeking to attend such training programmes has surpassed the capacity of ASCS. At the same time, considering the expansion of knowledge, it is a challenge for any single organisation to offer courses that can accommodate diverse learning expectations of serious learners. This challenge is particularly intense for orientation programmes and interdisciplinary refresher courses that are participated by faculty members from diverse academic backgrounds. Even sincere organisers and resource persons would find it difficult to identify a common ground among such varied participants. The UGC mandate for ASCS expects the ASCS to train faculty members recruited in state-run institutions. Today, the number of students passing out of non-state institutions particularly in the field of professional education has increased incredibly. If the aim is to improve the quality of education in India, that cannot get satisfied any more with just training the teachers in state-run institutions. It is also necessary to consider training needs for teachers at privately-managed institutions. Considering all these challenges, it is quite clear that higher education in India and faculty members involved with it have outgrown the capacity of ASCs. Therefore, it is important to rethink the framework of faculty development so that it does not just become a lip service to questions around the quality of higher education.

Exploring a new framework is going to require deep engagement to understand the limits of the current framework and is outside the scope of this short article. However, certain indications towards a new framework are not impossible here. If the quality of education is to be improved through continuous development of faculty members through training programmes, it is essential to accept that attainment of learning is more important than the procedure of learning. Therefore, instead of insisting that faculty members learn only through programmes organised under the ASOS, there is a need to provide legitimacy to other avenues of learning while providing necessary checks so that quality is ensured. Instead of measuring faculty development achievement in terms of duration of participation in training programmes, it is important to set broad learning targets and create scope for faculty learners to choose what to learn and from whom. It is also important to create scope for faculty learners to learn at their own convenience.

It is necessary to move out of the design of offering a one-size-fits-all programme as that is not working. If programmes meant for students are now becoming credit-based or even module-based, there is no reason why faculty training programmes should remain stuck in the traditional structure. It is quite unfortunate that despite the availability of necessary information technology, faculty development trainings are still primarily dependent on local availability of resource persons and is not attempting to utilise blended learning approaches. While it is not advisable for any central authority like the UGC to prescribe a list of individuals who may be considered as resource persons, specifying certain eligibility criteria for resource persons for faculty development may reduce the practice of calling just anyone. Finally, while it is believed that thinking in this direction would contribute towards improvement in the quality of higher education in the country, the effect is going to be limited unless corresponding improvement takes place in the quality of recruitment, terms of work, and work environment at higher education institutions in the country.

References

Iftikhar, Fareeha (2017): “Biased Irrational Topics Being Discussed at Delhi University Course for Profs,” DNA, 4 December, viewed on 18 December 2018, https://www.dnaindia.com/delhi/report-biased-irrational-topics-being-dis....

Indiresan, Jayalakshmi (1993): “Quest for Quality: Interventions versus Impact,” Higher Education Reform in India: Experiences and Perspectives, Suma Chitnis and Philip G Altbach (eds), New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Jayaram, N (2003): “The Fall of the Guru: The Decline of the Academic Profession in India,” The Decline of the Guru: The Academic Profession in the Third World, Philip G Altbach (ed), New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

MHRD (1986): “Programme of Action, National Policy on Education 1986,” Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, New Delhi.

University Grants Commission (nd): “Guidelines for Academic Staff Colleges 2007–12,” Government of India, New Delhi.

Wire (2018): “Hindutva Politics in Command at DU, Complaints Mount of Teacher Dis(orientation),” 19 February, viewed on 18 December 2018, https://thewire.in/225256/hindutva-politics-command-du-complaints-mount-....

Updated On : 8th Nov, 2019

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top