When a bunch of engineering students from prestigious institutes set out to improve the quality of engineering education in rural India under a new project, they thought it would be followed by their retention and absorption by the host colleges or institutes. But that did not happen for almost 1,500 Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP) faculties, who are now fearing an uncertain future in a post-Covid economy after giving their best shot in these state engineering colleges.

In 2017, the government of India signed a financing agreement with the World Bank to support the project designed for enhancing the quality of engineering education in existing institutions with a special consideration for low-income and special-category states.

The third phase of the Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP-III), was appreciated in the National Steering Committee (January 27, 2021) for changing the picture of engineering education in the state institutes. Scholars and graduates from IITs, NITs and other centrally funded technical institutes (CFTIs) enthusiastically came on board with the objective of improving the quality of engineering education in rural India, situated in focused states.

Four years later, the TEQIP-III faculties are worried about their future, as the services will be terminated by March 31, 2021 (they got an extension in September 2020). They have aired their grievances on social media over the unemployment staring at them. TEQIP-III is fully integrated with the Twelfth Five Year Plan.

For this project the government established a National Project Implementation Unit (NPIU) in the form of a central project team to see the day-to-day progress. The NPIU (MoE) are of the view that the temporary nature of the project was clear from the start and helped the institutions running short of faculty get accreditation and also gave the faculty exposure.

The Memorandum of Understanding stated that the “project becomes effective on April 1, 2017”. “It is expected to proceed over three years commencing April 1 2017 and is expected to be completed by March 31, 2020.” However, the NPIU Faculty Welfare Society, associated with TEQIP-III and headed by Rabel Guharoy, highlighted the clauses in the project design document that encouraged retention of the faculties, and the society complained that there was no effort by the central or state government to retain them.

According to the TEQIP faculty, the clause in the project document – “Recruitment and retention of high quality faculty (through better faculty appraisal systems and the faculty recruitment plan) in focus States” – has not been followed as it makes a point regarding retention.

This clause in the project document states: “The project will support states in filling sanctioned posts through hiring of contract faculty at the entry level as per AICTE norms on qualifications and pay, by funding the cost of such faculty during the project period. Such funding will be based on an understanding with state governments that well-performing faculty hired using project funds will be retained post project, all else unchanged.” In a statement, the TEQIP faculty said, “There is no effort by any party to retain or absorb us; as a result we are on verge of being unemployed after 31st March.”

These are assistant professors recruited under the TEQIP-III project on a temporary basis by NPIU/MoE for 71 engineering institutions of rural and focus areas, spread across 12 states of India. They were selected through a centralised process conducted at various NITs of the country (GATE exam). The objective of their recruitment was to improve the quality of technical education in various government/autonomous institutions.

The faculties are now worrying about their own future.

The faculties comprising the graduates and scholars from IITs, NITs and other CFTIs have been demanding the regularisation of their services for the past few months and also wrote to secretary Amit Khare, seeking appointment to discuss the issue in 2020 as well.

PM Khodke, central project adviser, NPIU (MoE), said, “The TEQIP appointments were made by the institutions for getting accreditation and from the start its temporary nature was clear. These appointments were not made against any sanctioned posts for a temporary period until completion of TEQIP project. There were many institutions where sanctioned posts were not available but wanted to make themselves eligible for accreditation. Whatever number they were short of for the student-teacher ratio, the services of TEQIP faculty was availed by these institutions.”

NPIU assisted such institutions only in centralising the process of getting the TEQIP faculty for the project. They were paid an honorarium of Rs 70,000. “This was a platform for getting experience so that in the meantime they can apply for regular appointments elsewhere. And indeed over 200 of them left the project after they got better opportunities in regular/sanctioned posts elsewhere since TEQIP services were essentially temporary and project related appointments,” Khodke said.

They were called project faculty and were not hired against sanctioned posts, and there was extension of the project to achieve the target, he added.

The project document said that it focused on, “Improving quality and equity in engineering institutions in focus states – Low Income States (LIS1), eight states in the North-East of India, three Hill states viz. Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Andaman and Nicobar Islands (a union territory (UT)).” “System-level initiatives to strengthen sector governance and performance which include widening the scope of Affiliating Technical Universities (ATUs) to improve their policy, academic and management practices towards affiliated institutions,” and “Twinning arrangements to build capacity and improve performance of institutions and ATUs participating in focus states.”

The project scope covers “the government and government aided AICTE approved engineering institutions /engineering faculty /engineering, teaching department/constituent institutions of universities/deemed to be universities and new centrally funded institutions in SCS will be the part of the project.”

An estimated 200 government and government-funded engineering institutions including Affiliating Technical Universities (ATUs) were to be selected under different sub-components in one or two cycles.

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