Dr Anjani Kumar Shukla is the first and only PhD scholar in his village of Ataula, located 40 km from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Understandably, he has been a source of inspiration and pride to others in the village.
So, when he decided to decline opportunities from foreign universities to take on a job as an assistant professor in a rural area, eyebrows were raised. But Shukla was determined to give back to society, inspired by Modi’s vision of improving the quality of education in rural colleges.
But now, all this has changed.
“They used to look up to me, but now I’m on the road,” said Shukla, who had done his PhD in Banaras Hindu University. “In rural areas, children are told to start preparing for IITs from a young age. Now, when they see India’s top rankers who went to the best colleges jobless, all because they wanted to do good for society, will they still want to pursue such jobs?”
Shukla is among 1,500 teachers recruited by the central government in 2017 to teach at engineering colleges as part of a technical education quality improvement programme, or TEQIP. This was part three of the project, which is funded by the World Bank, aiming to improve the quality of technical education in disadvantaged states.
The project fell under the ministry of human resource development, which was renamed as the education ministry last year.
The colleges are located across seven low-income states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), three hill states (Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand), eight northeastern states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura) and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The teachers were hired on a contract basis. An MoU between the centre and the states said that funding for the project would be based on an understanding with state governments that “well-performing faculty hired using project funds will be retained post project, all else remaining unchanged”.
According to the , 86 percent of the teachers recruited were from premier institutions, such as the IITs, NITs, IISERs, and IIITs. Twenty-four percent of the teachers held PhDs; most of the institutions they would teach at did not have PhD faculties when the project kicked off.
Teachers protesting outside Shastri Bhawan in Delhi.
The teachers took up their teaching assignments at colleges in 2018. When the term expired in September 2020, the project was extended for six months, and another six months once the extension came to an end in September 2021.
Now that the extensions have expired and it is time for the colleges to absorb the teachers as faculty – as the MoU between the centre and states had stated – this is not happening.
As a result, over 100 teachers have been protesting outside Delhi’s Shastri Bhawan, which is where the education ministry is located, since August 25. Everyday, like clockwork, they sit outside the building holding posters with slogans such as “TEQIP faculties are not recruited to sit on Delhi streets” and “When will the recommendations of national agencies be implemented?”.
“Modiji used to give speeches then about how talent is going outside and students would go from good institutes abroad,” said Shukla, who had been posted at Gundhelpur in BIT engineering college.. He lived there for three years with his wife and child.
“We chose to work in places no IIT graduate would want to,” he said. “In Gundelpur, water would come just for half an hour in the morning. If you sleep off by mistake, you’ll have no water for the day. We’d have to walk 5-6 km just to buy vegetables. And now, for the first time in my life, I am unemployed. How do I tell anyone now that they should work for the backward parts of the country?”
Improvement in colleges
TEQIP Project III was announced with much fanfare in 2017. Teachers were invited to apply through open advertisements in newspapers across the country. Most of the teachers had studied in IITs or NITs, or were PhD holders.
In 2018, they were sent to the colleges to teach.
“In these three years, we did all that we could: research publications, lab development, accreditations. But now that it’s time to implement the project implementation plan, they are saying they can’t do it,” said Dr Virendra Kumar, who holds a PhD from IIT Delhi and was posted in Sultanpur to teach at the Kamla Nehru Institute of Technology.
He added, “The centre says the state has to do it. The states say the centre has recruited us so they have to. In all this, our careers are gone. I left my stable job in Delhi to go to Sultanpur, where there’s no basic infrastructure, with the idea to improve education.”
Adding salt to the wound is a 2020 by the National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development, an autonomous institution under Niti Aayog, which described the TEQIP teachers as a “lifeline” for many institutions across the states. The report says that the “abrupt closure of TEQIP-III will further deteriorate the faculty position” and “strongly recommended” that the TEQIP-III may be further extended till the faculty position is improved.
Similarly, a report by TEQIP’s managing body, the education ministry-run National Project Implementation Unit, also described the success of the project in terms of high accreditation rates at institutions, fewer dropouts, and more students qualifying for the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering. The retention rate of SC/ST students and women students had also increased over the last three years.
Given this, TEQIP teachers are baffled as to why they aren’t being retained.
“The government is taking credit for the success of this project by showing our achievements,” Kumar pointed out. “But when it’s time for them to absorb us, they say they have nothing to do with it.”
Rashikta Amall is one of the teachers contracted to Sultanpur’s Kamla Nehru Institute of Technology. A graduate from NIT Patna, she said there were no chairs and tables when she first got to KNIT.
“Kids would take chairs and tables and carry it to the next class,” she said. “We got tenders passed, ordered chairs and tables, got cupboards, smartboards. Now that we’ve improved the quality, they are removing us.”
Pendulum between centre and states
Education comes under the concurrent list. The union and state governments have been quick to take credit for the project but have been passing the buck when it is time to implement the absorption of teachers. After the project term got over, the centre extended it twice for a period of six months each. It asked the states to come up with a sustainability plan for the teachers but so far, only two states – Bihar and Uttarakhand – have agreed to absorb the professors so far.
The centre has not given any more extensions, thereby discontinuing the project. Teachers have started receiving notes from the colleges they taught at, telling them their time is up.
Teachers protesting outside Shastri Bhawan in Delhi.
“The centre recruited us, sent us to the states. How is it our fault?” said Gitesh Patel, 29, who taught at Government Engineering College, Raipur, under the project. “We’ve become like pendulums, swinging between the centre and the states. They both keep telling us to go to the other.”
The protest in Delhi comprises teachers from across India. Those living near the capital would attend the protest in between their classes. Some of the teachers also held a hunger strike on September 30.
“The government has taken away four years of our lives, in a way,” said Kehav Dutt, who teaches at Government Engineering College, Jhalawar in Rajasthan. “And for the last two years, we couldn’t even focus on our PhD work due to this.”
Dr Ekta Roy concurred. Roy is the only earning member of her family, she said, and holds a masters degree and PhD from IIT Dhanbad and a post-doctorate from IIT Guwahati.
“I had a lot of job opportunities but I took this one up as teaching is my passion,” she said. “I came with a lot of energy for my dream to teach. But now, three years later, we are left without jobs.”
More than anything else, Roy said, it’s the students who are suffering, since the teachers haven’t been absorbed yet and the project has ended.
Despite multiple attempts to reach him, Vineet Joshi, the additional secretary for higher education under whom TEQIP falls, remained unavailable for a comment.
Update: Speaking to Newslaundry soon after this report was published, Joshi said the ministry had taken up the issue with the state governments and that some of them were in the process of creating a sustainability plan. Besides that, he said they were in touch with the teachers protesting outside Shastri Bhawan but that there was nothing more the centre could do besides speak to the state governments.
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