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India gives teachers a big raise

Good news for the country's "dysfunctional" education system? Think again.

The low pay teachers receive in India has been an issue for many years. In this picture, Bombay school teachers took to the streets in March 1995 to demand higher wages and better working conditions. Last December, in an effort to combat this problem, the government approved a hefty pay raise for public university teachers. But the salary increase has failed to draw in more teachers, and with a massive university expansion plan underway, the problems in India's education system are likely to worsen. (Savita Kirloskar/Reuters)

NEW DELHI — A couple of years ago, third-year students at a college in the state of West Bengal went on a hunger strike saying they were unprepared for semester exams because no classes had been held for six months.

These students were supposed to have 20 full-time professors. They had one. Administrators tried to recruit more faculty from other institutions but realized that many of those schools didn’t have enough professors to meet their own needs.

This problem isn't restricted to one institution. India’s universities are reeling, with some of them unable to fill as many as 50 percent of professorial positions, and the problem is about to get worse as a massive higher education expansion plan is underway.

Last December, in a bid to combat this problem, the government approved a hefty pay raise for the 500,000 academics who teach in the public university system. The increases, which average 70 percent, could end up nearly tripling some faculty members’ salaries and will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2006. Professors will see minimum monthly salaries increase from 16,400 rupees ($344) to 37,400 rupees ($786).

“One of the critical factors affecting the quality of universities and institutions imparting higher education is our inability to attract and retain young and talented persons to the teaching profession,” D. Purandeswari, the junior minister in charge of higher education told parliament while announcing the salary hike. In the last decade, fewer and fewer college graduates have entered academia as India’s galloping economy created a variety of more lucrative job opportunities in fields such as the media, entertainment and travel.

Yet, without any workable plan to deal with faculty shortages Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — who publicly called India's higher-education system "dysfunctional" — has in the last couple of years announced the establishment of as many as 80 new universities, engineering schools, management schools and research institutes, along with more than 350 undergraduate colleges. Singh is no doubt concerned about the low rate of India’s 18- to 24-year-olds entering higher education — it currently stands at 9 to 11 percent, which is half the average for Asian countries.