"As for leadership in academic institutions, whatever the carrots available, a soft touch is essential. Coaxing rather than cajoling, persuasion rather than dictation is what will eventually work. This is true wherever you are dealing with highly skilled people but is especially true of academia." -- Mohan (2006)
When one thinks of an excellent technical educational institution, what comes to mind? While all constituting elements of an institution are important for its success, it is its enhanced ability to attract and retain the best quality faculties that separates it from the other run-of-the mill institutions (Bowen & Shuster, 1986).
The faculty is the main storehouse of knowledge, driving and influencing all activities towards pursuit of excellence. The calibre and scholarship of an institution's faculty influences the quality of its teaching and research programmes; and its image in the outside academic and business world.
Characteristics and performance of faculty members, like the number of PhDs on a school's faculty, the international profile of faculty, and research output by faculty, play weighty roles in popular press rankings of technical institutions.
Currently, the biggest challenge faced by technical educational institutions in India is the acute shortage of qualified and competent faculties (Times News Network, 2006).
The genesis of this lies in rapid mushrooming of technical institutions on account of surging demand of technically trained manpower by fast growing industrial sector of Indian economy; and abysmally low number of PhDs/Fellows in technical disciplines from premier institutions opting for the teaching careers on account of possibility of higher incomes from the non-academic career options (Rosenfield & Jones, 1988).
Further the problem of faculty shortage has been accentuated due to the entry of foreign universities in the India post to enactment of provisions of GATS Agreement to education sector in India in April 2005. This has resulted in a scenario where technical institutions in India are vying with each other to attract and retain for them the best available faculty talent.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that technical education institutions should design and pursue policies/mechanisms so as to compete well in market place to attract and retain for them the best faculty talent.
With preceding background, this paper offers some reflections, growing out of my personal experiences and informal discussions with faculty members in a variety of institutions, on the possible strategies that institutions can adopt to attract & retain for them the best available faculty talent.
Attracting and retaining faculty
The administrators in any institution should be continuously asking themselves the following questions:
- Has the institution been able to attract faculty talent of the highest calibre in their academic fields who have employability at best of institutions?
- Are most of its faculty members willing to commit themselves to the institution for longer terms?
In case the answer to any of the above questions is not in the affirmative, the institution's strategy for attracting and retaining the best faculty talent requires fresh approaches.
An effective strategy for attracting and retaining the best faculty talent can be worked out by setting its following salient elements in order:
1. Recruitment and selection process
A high-standard recruitment and selection process is a prerequisite to attracting and retaining the faculty talent of the highest calibre. Currently, most technical institutions in India: (a) do not have any HR department to carry out human resource requirement planning; and (b) they do not follow any clearly defined recruitment and selection process.
Their recruitment and selection process is mostly responsive rather than being proactive. On account of the lackadaisical attitude of institute authorities, faculty searches are sometimes not authorised until well into the 'recruitment season,' which in most cases begins in the March-April for a position to be filled the following academic year.
Early approval of faculty searches permits more thorough and probably more successful faculty searches. Approval in the preceding September-October by the institute authorities is highly desirable.
The way an institute advertises its faculty positions has bearing on the number and quality of applicants. The institute needs to work on the content of faculty advertisement. A plain advertisement without any mention of institute's achievements and standing in the market place fail to generate enough response.
Table 1: Growth in higher education in India
Type of Institutions
Source: UGC Annual Report, 2001-02 and UGC brochure
The institute must advertise its faculty positions through multiple-channels like widely circulated dailies, professional magazines/journals, own web sites, e-groups, et cetera.
The institute can lure fresh PhD candidates by writing to the universities/ institutions running doctoral programmes. Alternatively, the institute can mine lists for candidates that have graduated over the past five years at different and actively and directly contact them or their faculty advisors.
It is good strategy to consider advertising without a strict closing date; instead institute can advertise the faculty positions as 'search until positions are filled.'
Once applications are received against the advertised positions, they should be circulated to the concerned department/area to do the first-level short-listing. The department faculty should do the short-listing keeping in view (a) the academic and research achievements of the applicants; and (b) the existing teaching gaps to be filled in by the recruitment of new faculty members.
It is always good to prefer comparably young applicants as they can better adapt to the institute's requirements. The institute's authorities should avoid playing a predominant role at the first-level short-listing. The short-listed candidates should then be invited for a research seminar before the departmental faculty, who can give their recommendations regarding the suitability of the candidate for the department.
A final opinion can be taken by conducting interviews of the recommended candidates by the outside area experts. Involvement of outside experts at the final stage helps avoid any inbreeding tendencies and nepotism from within the departmental faculty.
2. Arranging a familiarity visit
Identification of the top candidate for a position completes only the first half of the hiring process: once a desirable candidate has convinced the institute to extend an offer, the institute must convince the candidate to accept the offer.
An important element in attracting outstanding faculty to the institutes can be to arrange a familiarity visit to the institute for the candidate, his or her spouse and immediate family. During this visit, the particular benefits of joining the institute's community, not only for the candidate, but also for his/her spouse and immediate family should be highlighted.
Familiarity visits to institute by the candidate (and possibly spouse and family members) should be as carefully orchestrated as the original interview, and the visit should be managed with great personal care. It would be particularly useful to have somebody from the institute's HR department accompanying the prospective faculty to highlight him/her the positive features of the institute.
An up-to-date collection of local information coordinated at the institute level would be helpful to the HR department. A meeting can be arranged for the candidate to have ample time alone with the existing faculty members, students, and staff if they wish. Babysitting a candidate signals that you don't trust your own faculty, staff, and students. It sends a negative message to the candidate. The candidate has the right to ask about the environment in your institute. Familiarity visits help the candidate assess whether her or his style and value system match with the institute's vision and working.
3. Offering an attractive compensation package
A few research studies conducted in US have argued that non-competitive compensation represents the most-cited factor in faculty attraction and retention (Weimer, 1985; Schuster and Wheeler, 1990; Moore and Gardner, 1992).
Similar observations have also been heard of in the campuses of technical institutions in India. Today, the Indian labour market offers a strange spectacle: it is commonly seen that the individuals with a Master's degree earning in excess of $1,000 a month, while the highest of human capital -- a PhD who knows how to do research -- earns below $500 a month in academics.
Most technical institutions offer UGC (University Grants Commission) or AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) scales to their faculty members. Now question here is: Whether UGC or AICTE scales are really a global benchmark?
Of course, some technical institutions have gone ahead of UGC or AICTE scales to attract and retain their teaching talent. But even then, brain drain is evident as many good Indian teachers are jumping to overseas management schools.
In terms of faculty attraction and retention, the greatest competition comes from the corporate world, with pay scales there being hard to match, and infotech, finance and strategic planning offering a range of opportunities for academics.
I expect leading management schools to move into India (and some have already done so), and compensation is going to become a major concern. Faculty salaries in technical institutions are falling farther and farther behind the salaries offered in the industry. Add the high cost of living in most metros, and it is no surprise that faculty are open to other offers.
In fact, such offers are often the best way for faculty to negotiate a salary increase within the technical institutions. Taking cues from this, technical institutions in India should offer competitive compensation to attract and retain the best faculty talent.
Institutions will no more be able to attract the best faculty talent merely by offering UGC or AICTE scales. The rigidity of the UGC or AICTE pay scales needs to be dispensed with. The labour market for the faculty talent will increasingly become competitive where smaller technical schools may experience more difficulties in crafting solutions to the faculty shortage problem than larger business schools for reasons of resource constraints.
With the globalisation of the market for high skills, a good PhD has a global market. It is, therefore, mandatory to offer competitive starting compensation packages to attract best candidates with PhD degrees to the teaching profession.
Those packages should be multi-dimensional, involving compensation, but also the other monetary resources available to a faculty members like laboratory space, research support, secretarial and research assistant support, liberal start-up research grants, and, yes, sometimes even a reduced teaching load.
4. Equity in compensation
Having equity in the compensation offered to faculty members according to their relevant past experience and educational qualifications would surely create a just feeling among the faculty community. The institute's authorities should ensure transparency and equity in deciding the increments for the existing faculty and in offering a compensation package to the new faculty.
While a new PhD candidate is accepting an offer, it is not uncommon for him/her to be inexperienced in negotiating a compensation package. It is the role of the department chair to offer her or him the right compensation package.
5. Creating best physical infrastructure
An impressive and supportive physical infrastructure within the campus setting plays a critical role in hiring and retaining the faculty talent. Faculty housing within the campus is the foremost attraction for a faculty joining from a distant place.
Most private institutions in India, with rare exceptions, do not have any provision of faculty housing within the campus. This dissuades the talented faculty from geographically and culturally distant places against joining institutions where in campus faculty housing is not available.
Hence, institutes should prioritise faculty housing within the campus to enhance its appeal to its existing and prospective pool of talented faculty. Other ingredients constituting best infrastructure include: state-of-the-art IT infrastructure, library & laboratory facilities; in-campus school, hospital, super-market, recreational facilities, a good family cafeteria, et cetera for the campus residents.
6. Building realistic initial expectations
The 'met-expectation hypothesis' posits that employees tend to withdraw at work if their initial expectations about the job are not met (Wanous, Poland, Premack & Davis, 1992; Irving & Meyer, 1994). Talented faculties have high initial job expectations.
These high expectations are a significant challenge to the institutes. The difference between initial expectations and the actual work environment can cause declining job satisfaction and increased turnover. The key to managing turnover issue is to either manage initial expectations or to work harder to deliver what is expected.
'Job shock,' whereby faculty members leave shortly after joining is a relatively common phenomenon in many technical institutions in India for reasons that the institutes fail to match up to initial expectations of the faculty members. 'Overstate and under-perform' is highly risky.
Faculties will look for opportunities once they will come to know that they will not be given what has been promised while hiring. Therefore, institutes must build rational initial expectations while hiring the best faculty members. Possible and impossible must be clearly demarcated.
7. Help the new faculty in settling
The job is not done when the candidate arrives. The candidate will need to settle down in institute and this is not a problem-free procedure for an outstation candidate. When they arrive, they should be helped by allowing them some days of free stay at the institute's guest house till they ready their house.
In a non-residential institution, it is good idea to recommend the newly arrived faculty member some reliable realtors, physicians, etc.
Other important assistance may include: providing support to the candidate in getting all paperwork processed to secure startup funds, laboratory space, and equipment; make sure that conditions and agreements in the startup package are adhered to and on the schedule provided; lower teaching loads should assigned initially upon arrival; information about internal and external competitive grant opportunities should be provided; provide office supplies and other required additional equipment, provide information about promotion and other procedures in your institute (For example, what are the written and unwritten standards), an introduction to the community members with a formal welcome should immediately be done.
8. Best colleagues
Several survey studies conducted in American universities have documented that a sense of professional isolation, including a lack of competent, supportive and friendly colleagues, as an important concern, for faculty (Moore and Gardner, 1992).
High quality faculties tend to stay at / drift to places where there is no dearth of high quality colleagues to do deliberations on difficult issues. Therefore, institute should ensure that its eligibility criteria for faculty positions should remain stringent and are strictly adhered to. Compromisingly hiring mediocre faculty members does not serve long-term goals.
Quality is self-perpetuating: The best faculty seeks and remains in environments where they are surrounded by colleagues who are defining the leading edges of their fields. Smart people cluster to where other smart people are, so starting up a cluster from scratch is very difficult.
High-quality faculty, in turn, insists on and attracts high-quality staff and students.
9. Quality of students
This is an obvious, but crucial, issue faced by all the technical institutions. Quality of students plays a vital role in the research and teaching efforts of the institute's faculty. In some technical disciplines the quality of the students impacts the quality of the research more directly than any other resource. Therefore, attracting and maintaining a pool of high-quality students is an important aspect of both retention and hiring of faculty. It is a general observation that institutes attracting quality students have low faculty turnover.
However, vying for quality students in a competitive marketplace is not an easy task. Attracting good students to attract high calibre faculties is a chicken-egg problem. Nevertheless, the policies that enable the institute to get its students placed in avenues offering competitive salaries, fellowships, quality office and laboratory space, etc, should be strengthened.
It is worth noting here that many faculty members rely on the institution's rating in making a judgment about the quality of institution's students and faculty. Quality of students joining institute's research programmes has high positive correlation to overall research output of the institution.
Competition for excellent research students is fierce and ability to get these top students can be enhanced by providing additional funding to attract the best candidates.
Additional funds should be spent by institutes to augment their teaching assistantships and research associateships; given the importance of outstanding research students, an extra investment of a few thousand rupees per year is money well spent.
Indeed, institutes should never have to face a situation where they lose a high-quality research student to a comparable or lesser institution based only on the difference between two stipends, which in any case are fairly modest.
10. Academic planning
A haphazard academic system disturbs the talented faculties. Hallmark of any successful technical institutions is the attention it pays to academic planning. Institutions must spend time to work out their year-long academic planning in the beginning of the year. The academic load of faculty members should be communicated to them at least three months in advance to allow them to prepare well for their classes.
For new faculty members who take their first teaching assignment, some extra time for settling and preparation should be given. They should not be given any teaching load at least for first six-months to allow them the preparation time and settle down to the new place.
However, the expected teaching load for the newly arrived faculty members should be communicated to them immediately.
The author is a faculty member in the Finance & Accounting discipline at Indian Institute of Management Lucknow. Before that he was deputy director (business planning) and an associate professor at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies. He has done his PhD in Finance from IIT Bombay.