An open letter to Shri Rohit Kansal (IAS), Honourable Principal Secretary to Government, Higher Education Department, J&K
Despite knowing that your noble self is busy enough with obligations and responsibilities of your office, I nevertheless thought to communicate with you through this open letter. Before proceeding further, let me introduce myself as an academic arrangement candidate writing to your good self on behalf of the entire academic arrangement fraternity working in different colleges of J&K UT. I hope you will lend us a keen ear and try to analyse the multitude of problems we face at the hands of the state machinery merely because we rank lowest in academic hierarchy in the higher education department of Jammu and Kashmir. As a disclaimer, this letter is not intended to malign the image of any particular person or organisation but is merely a summation of our collective grievances.
Though we are a group of intellectual and fertile minds with enough efficiency and creativity, we are still looked down on as inferiors or, more so, as parasites in the higher education department. The department hires and fires us like casual labourers by creating rules and framing guidelines that often spring surprises. Meanwhile, the guidelines of University Grants Commission (UGC), a central body authorised to take care of academic affairs in colleges and universities across the country, are suitably amended to get maximum work out of the most qualified candidates with payment of bare minimum wages.
I don’t intend to find problems in the higher education department of J&K, but simply wish to utilise this platform to put across our genuine grievances. Here, I have tried to summarise them point-wise for kind consideration by your excellency.
Salary: The salary paid to academic arrangement candidates is ?28,000 per month, which falls easily into the category of “peanuts” even by the most benevolent yardsticks. It is pertinent to mention here that most universities and institutes in the length and breadth of the nation pay a scholarship of ?35,000 (plus HRA) per month to students pursuing PhD programs which is enhanced to ?38,000 (plus HRA) per month after two years. Isn’t it sad that in our part of the world, higher qualifications instead of benefitting us financially lead to decrement of our remunerations? Moreover, the HED of J&K has been very vocal about implementing UGC criteria for selecting academic arrangement candidates in different subjects. Sir, why then is the UGC norm regarding payment of our salaries harshly overlooked by the same authorities?
Academic loss to students: Till the year 2018, faculties engaged on academic arrangement basis used to work for the entire year or till academic arrangement faculties for the next season were hired. This not only provided an aura of academic stability to the colleges of the UT but also minimised the sufferings of students because teachers remained available round the clock despite being on temporary or ad-hoc basis. The dynamics of higher education in J&K took a U-turn in 2019 via an order (passed by HED) which necessitated that faculties engaged on the basis of academic arrangement were to be disengaged with the onset of winter vacations in Kashmir and summer vacations in Jammu division. This had a very detrimental impact on the studies of those students who were in the middle of their semesters. On one hand it created acute deficiency of teaching faculty and on the other many departments in a number of colleges were left completely headless and without any teaching faculty. Sir, this is not an exaggeration by any means because you might be very well aware about the dearth of permanent faculty in colleges across the UT – case in point being Shri Pratap (SP) College, Srinagar, where the geography department is headless and being run by academic arrangement faculty, and the list goes on. If this is the ground situation of one the oldest and premier institutions of higher education in Kashmir (as claimed by the college website), your excellency with enough wisdom can imagine the situation of hitherto lesser known colleges.
Experience and working months: Academic arrangement candidates working in various colleges of the UT are assigned work for lesser number of months. They remain unemployed for considerable periods of the year (reason being the order discussed above). The experience certificates we receive are mostly “bits and pieces” and sum up to sizeable ones only after a candidate works continuously for four to five years. For example, candidates working on academic arrangement in Kashmir division received experience certificates of eight and half months in 2020 and five months in 2021. Anyhow, we are used to it now but the irony is that these experience certificates are not considered but turned down as null and void outside the UT with the primary reason being our wages (which are not in accordance with the UGC salaries act) and the secondary reason being the working periods which raise eyebrows of suspicion from every quarter.
Job Policy: The HED of J&K UT as well as successive governments failed to create a job policy for candidates engaged as lecturers/academic arrangements over the years. This proved catastrophic for the candidates who gave their precious time (in some cases as many as 15 years), energy and productive phase of their life to HED. They were slowly pushed out by the influx of fresh candidates, went past eligibility ages of most government jobs, and were forced to open small businesses like shops, cosmetic and garment stores and so on.
To your good self, dare I ask sir, what is the purpose of NEP (New Education Policy) and other such programs if highly qualified youth is pushed in such engagements and arrangements which they can do even with minimal education and without wasting hard earned money of their parents as well as spending decades together on achieving higher standards and degrees? A job policy, irrespective of massive opposing opinions, is immediate need of the hour especially for those candidates who are approaching the age of 40 or have served the HED for considerable period of time, sir. Otherwise, this entire exercise is futile and merely like a carrot dangling in front of academic arrangement candidates.
Advertisement of permanent vacancies: The sanctioned strength of faculty positions is relatively low as compared to the student enrolments in most colleges of the UT. These posts should be created in proportion to the number of students and all vacant positions should be filled on a priority basis so that the aspiring youth who have been waiting for years altogether can breathe easily and infuse new life into their sinking careers.
Thanking you in anticipation, sir, with the hope that you will consider the above points seriously and initiate prompt and necessary action.
Academic Arrangement fraternity of J&K
The writer teaches Geography at SP College, Srinagar. [email protected]