This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Achal Agrawal. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

I Quit My Job As An Assistant Professor Because I Couldn’t Bear The Rot In Indian Academia

I recently resigned from being an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science department of a private engineering college. I did so because I was exhausted trying to keep clear of the all-pervasive rot that Indian academia is. What I am about to present to you is an inside view of a typical private engineering college based on two years of experience as a faculty member.

The rot is deep and multi-layered, but it can be easily gleamed, even from the surface. If you are into facts, then fathom this: Over 80% of the new engineers are unemployable. Here’s another: Graduates have two times higher level of unemployment than non-graduates. This last fact might seem paradoxical and scary at the outset, but when you delve deeper into the rot, you realize that these are just natural consequences of how the system has been designed. The new education policy does mention some of these issues but does virtually nothing to address them.

For example, Data Science, which is in huge demand in the industry and has become useful in almost every field, is taught as late as the third year in colleges. From my first day as a professor in the college, I had been pushing our college to teach it much earlier so that students get time to do projects and are ready for jobs. Moreover, it was a subject that is simple enough for even class 12 students to understand.

My repeated requests were firmly rejected because the powerful people did not want their knowledge to be undermined by calling it simple. Some faculty were straight-up against the field of Data Science entirely calling it a fad; a very durable fad apparently! This problem is the rot in a nutshell.

Representational image.

Here Is A List Of Problems That Indian Academia Is Grappling

Out Of Touch Curriculum

In most cases, Assistant Professors are people with no prior industry experience. Indeed, my college prides itself on having only PhD faculties. Having a PhD implies that the faculty has usually remained in an academic setting and always worked on toy academic problems. Expecting such faculty to teach the latest industry-ready tools and technology is wishful thinking.

In fact, professors have every incentive to not teach modern tools. Doing so will require them to constantly update their skills as well as their courses to include the new content. Also, changing the content will mean increasing the probability of being found out by the students. It is safer to stick to what you know. Result: The curriculum is at least ten years behind the industry in terms of technology.

As an example, programming can be daunting for many initially. Even I, who had always been among the top students, struggled so much with it initially that I had decided to never do programming ever again. After 10 years of avoiding programming, I learnt Python. It was only then that I realized that it isn’t programming that is tough, but the programming languages that I was taught which were tough! Most colleges, even now, introduce programming with those old fashioned languages. It makes even the brightest of the students fear programming.

When I suggested my college to use Python as the first programming language, I was derided as weak by everyone. They said that they had learnt programming with the old languages and thus the students should be able to do it. Python will make it too easy for the students. This argument reeked of ragging; I was ragged as a student, why should the students have it easy?

Unfortunately, this kind of logic makes a lot of students scarred for life and they end up feeling weak and useless. Instead, we should be giving them confidence and power by showing them what awesome things they can do with programming. Then they can understand more complex languages without fear, and with enthusiasm. My college still does not teach Python, the simplest and most versatile of all programming language.

Representational image.

Outdated Teaching Methods

While technology has grown leaps and bounds, most professors still continue using outdated teaching methods. With Covid, there has been a dramatic rise in online education with content curated from the best teachers around the world. Professors feel threatened by this assault to their livelihood. Indeed, if everything we can teach has been done much better and for free, then why are we charging hefty fees from students? This is the deep malaise that professors do not want to address.

Referring to online courses are thus, a strict no-no. We even got a mail from the Head of the Department asking us to not share any video links with students as this will imply we are not capable enough as teachers! This reeks of utter disregard for what’s best for students. We are encouraged to do a shoddy imitation of great content, but never ever reveal your source!

We should instead be embracing the new technology and content. Classes can now be made much more interactive with tools like Kahoot. One can create interactions among students within and outside the classes using collaboration tools like Slack. One can gamify the content and let students learn while playing games. Instead of all these new possibilities, we still stick with the old model of one-sided lectures and tutorials.

An Unhealthy Focus On Research

Most people think that research is a good thing and our Higher Education Institutes must be encouraged to focus on them. Unfortunately, when it becomes a metric to judge a college, it leads to unwanted side effects. For one, in the race to publish more number of papers (since quantity is the easiest metric), professors end up paying journals to publish dubious, derivative and mostly useless work.

Even the ‘serious’ researchers do not benefit our society in any way and are usually tackling first world problems. Also, this leads to students doing ‘high level’ work without grasping the basics and becoming workhorses executing orders instead of really learning something. Lastly, excess focus on research means professors have much more incentive to cut corners while preparing and updating courses, as time spent on research is valued much more.

It would be much better if researchers instead concentrated on building products and solving immediate problems of our society. This would also impart students with much-needed skills of problem-solving as well as making a useful product and deploying it to gain valuable experience.

Along with some students, I made India’s first live district-wise tracker. Being the first of its kind, we had a million visits in the first two weeks itself. It taught us all many practical lessons about hosting and maintaining a site with so much traffic. This was indeed a rare opportunity and our team of 7 worked very hard (almost 18 hours a day) for it. Guess what was the reaction of my colleagues? A senior colleague of mine (Associate professor) called it a useless application that could be made by a 15-year-old in 30 minutes. If it ain’t research, it’s trivial. This was after the site had become a reference for Covid data in India.

Later, when the number of cases were going up, and the site needed our complete undivided attention, the college refused to exempt the students from online classes and assignments. It was a death knell to our effort and our site tapered off from then on. The refusal of the college to recognize the importance of the work and considerable learning for everyone involved was baffling.

Representational image.

Old Guard

Most people who have decision making power in Academia (Deans and HODs) tend to be very old. While experience, in general, does help you make better decisions, it also makes you wary of change. There is a tendency to stick to the status quo because changing it might lead to undermining your own position.

However, given the rapid changes in technology, it has become necessary that decisions are taken in a more democratic manner by including younger faculty and students in the process. Successful companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft realize this and make sure that the CEOs are from the younger generation with a better finger on society and technology’s pulse. Academia needs to follow the same model to stay continually relevant.

Do We Have Solutions? Yes, We Do

  • Colleges, and consequently professors, should be judged on the value they add to the society and community based on the projects that are deployed and not the number of research papers published
  • Professors should be hired based on industry experience, and not academic qualifications like PhD. This will ensure that what is taught is relevant to the industry and not just of academic value
  • Young people should be encouraged to become professors as they can connect more easily with the students as well as to adapt with the latest tools to make the learning more efficient
  • The curriculum should be revised more frequently and opinion should be taken from industry experts
  • Colleges should leverage freely available online content as much as they can. Professors should instead be there for clearing doubts and guiding students with the appropriate content. This will also help colleges become more affordable as professors will need to spend less time creating the content

Those are but a few non-exhaustive suggestions. However, creating an incentive system with these objectives is not an easy task. How does one go about quantifying contributions of projects to our society? How to convince the old guard to give up their stranglehold? There are no easy answers and it requires a substantive debate. Even a small progress in addressing these issues will considerably improve the quality of our education and our students.

With the spate of layoffs and the impending financial crisis due to Covid, we need to urgently stem the rot, lest it leads to massive amounts of unemployment and economic stagnation for years to come.

Note: All of what is said here is based on personal anecdotal evidence but my colleagues from other colleges have confirmed to me that my conclusions are indeed valid for almost every private academic institution in our country.

Featured images are used for representational purposes only.
You must be to comment.

More from Achal Agrawal

Similar Posts

By Internshala

By Charkha features

By Senjuti Chakrabarti

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below