The package of measures for college and university teachers of West Bengal has been generally welcomed. Chiefly, it entails the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62 and medical benefits. It is felt that longer years of service, together with higher pay and perks, will make teaching at the level of higher education a more attractive profession.
The reward for dedicated academics could be considerable… almost manna from heaven. The best brains would be more inclined towards research and academic projects given the option. Interaction with students will appear to be more satisfying. Students will benefit with increased access to distinguished brains, and researchers would also gain from the continued expertise of their guides. In the net, it will lead to the ultimate development of human resources.
It bears recall that the sixth pay revision for university and college teachers had provided that teachers should retire at 65 rather than at 60 years of age. Although the Centre was willing to pay ~ for a time ~ 80 per cent of the additional cost incurred by the new pay structure, the states would get the funds only if they raised their teachers’ age of retirement. But some states, including West Bengal, felt that the allocation of funds should not have been made conditional. However, a number of states raised the retirement age to 65 while many states allowed re-employment for two years after 60 and year by year till the teacher attained the age of 65.
A few years ago, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development put the ministry on notice over the move to raise the retirement age of college/university teachers from 62 to 65. The government first needed to explain the rationale for the existing two-year bonus when the rest of the organised sector superannuates at 60. It was feared that raising the age would bring the teachers at a par with Supreme Court judges, a recognition that not many teachers deserve.
Above all, the move was bound to hold up vacancies at the entry level with a large number of candidates clearing the National Eligibility Test every year, resulting in a glut of youth with merit and aptitude. The standing committee had cautioned the ministry that “upping the retirement age will deprive qualified youth of suitable openings”. It might even discourage the young and talented from choosing academics as a career option.
The earlier recommendations on retirement age of teachers were merely suggestions and not orders which, at times, can cause confusion, as it did in West Bengal. College teachers criticised the state government’s contention that they should be retired at 60 as opposed to the Central government’s recommendations (27 July 1998), that the retirement age be fixed at 62.
A case was filed before the State Administrative Tribunal challenging the state government’s rejection of the Central government’s recommendation. The case in question (OA No 1671 of 1999 ~ Dr Parimal Chandra Roy v. State of West Bengal) was moved before SAT on 26 February. An interim status quo order was moved till 15 March 1999, but after prolonged hearing, the order was vacated.
A letter, dated 27 July 1998, was sent by the Department of Education of the Union HRD ministry to the UGC secretary regarding revision of pay-scales for teachers in central universities and other provisions. It mentioned the age of superannuation of university/college teachers, stating that the “age of superannuation of university/college teachers would be 62 years and thereafter no extension in service should be given. However, it will be open to a university or college to re-employ a superannuated teacher according to existing guidelines framed by the UGC up to 65 years.”
A letter, dated 24 December 1998, was sent by the UGC to the Vice-Chancellors of all universities and education secretaries of all states. The state government accepted the revision of pay-scales but did not consider the age of superannuation. It retained the usual retirement age of 60 years (vide a notification dated 1 October 1981 issued by the government of West Bengal with authority from the Governor). In the first letter, dated 27 July 1998, to the UGC, the recommendations by the ministry were only recommendations and not notifications or regulations. As such they were not legally binding.
The idea of accepting 62 years as the age of superannuation might be simply rejected by the state government because that might add to the already existing unemployment problem, apart from the fact that it would have to bear the huge expenditure involved in accepting both the recommendations from 1 April 2000.
To opt for a teaching job, one has to clear the Ph.D and qualify in NET/SET, and then undergo the tough task of getting through the state college service commission. A faculty post in higher education institutions is a coveted appointment. There are rules regulating their service including research. The teachers can attain the peak of their excellence, but will have to accept the line of control. Research and teaching in certain subjects may need cutting-edge skills and updated knowledge. However, just debating over an inflexible age of retirement without a system of accountability and incentives in place is unlikely to improve the quality of education or teaching. The predominant anxiety over pay and promotion, with little or no time for the quality of instruction will be a vain proposition. The classroom cannot be relegated to the footnotes, with the career graph denoting all and everything.
Teachers by and large are obsessively concerned over the time that is required to move up the ladder ~ from assistant professor to professor. Their commitment to teach and build up students is open to question. There is a far greater interest in the seminar stakes and junkets abroad rather than in the classroom lecture. Absentee teachers have also been the bane of higher education, prompting the UGC and many universities to stipulate a mandatory minimum number of classes.
Ironically, both the teachers and the taught condemn the system of education, the examination set-up and the social environment. Most teachers and students seem to be helpless in setting things right. Not many teachers are concerned with the methods and quality of instruction. Some of them even look upon teaching as a job for which the pay packet is the only reward.
The writer is former Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Gurudas College in Kolkata