India faces a severe shortage of teaching staff as it rapidly expands it higher education system. At such top institutions as the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management, the generation of academics who matured with these schools is now retiring and there isn’t another cohort in the pipeline to take their places. Similarly, there are shortages of well-qualified staff in departments as most Indian universities responsible for graduate (post-graduate) degrees. The undergraduate colleges face fewer problems although they too have problems finding highly qualified teachers.
The pace of expansion at the top of the higher education sector has been remarkable—eight new IITs, 7 new IIMs, and 12 new central universities established in the past two years. It is not clear how these new institutions are being staffed—or for that matter paid for. Although the national government has increased its investment in higher education by 40 percent, to US$3.1 billion, this is nonetheless a modest amount given the degree of expansion taking place. While most of Indian higher education is the responsibility of state governments or the private sector, the institutions above are supported by the central government and although US$3 billion is a significant amount, it is not sufficient against the need resulting from the combined challenges of expansion and retirements.
Why are there staff shortages? The answer is simple. While academic salaries in India are not bad in terms of the emerging Indian middle class, young well-educated Indians have many more opportunities in the growing technology, service and other sectors of the economy, and thus are not attracted to academe. Large numbers of talented students still pursue degrees abroad, and many do not return. For example, a majority of IIT graduates depart immediately for overseas study upon receiving their degrees, and a high percentage of this particularly talented group of individuals do not return. Of those who do, they are in high demand in the private sector and rarely take up teaching appointments.
The dilemma is real and not easily solved. Indeed, it is likely that the quality of instruction in the elite sector of Indian higher education will decline in the short-term because of these shortages and the resulting need to hire less well-qualified teaching staff. This quality decline may increase the attractiveness of a foreign degree. This would be unfortunate.