By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
AN educational institution needs vision to move forward. A number of factors contribute towards realising the mission set by an educational institution but the most crucial one is its faculty. It is the faculty that sets the tone of academic quality in an educational enterprise.
In Pakistan we see significant quantitative expansion in terms of new schools, colleges and universities. This expansion became more visible with the advent of private-sector education. The increased number of educational institutions on the one hand provided opportunities to students to acquire education, and on the other, opened new avenues for jobs for faculty.
The hiring of faculty has become a major challenge for educational institutions. Yet a much bigger challenge is that of a high turnover, since a number of faculty members switch organisations. The sudden loss of faculty members impacts on existing academic plans of organisations in a negative manner.
What are the reasons for the high turnover rate? What steps can be taken to ensure their retention? An oversimplified response is that people move to other organisations for more money, therefore they can be retained by increasing their salaries. This may be true to a certain extent but it is not the only reason for faculty switchovers.
Let us first look at the remuneration factor. With the introduction of private-sector education there has been a sizeable increase in the salaries of faculty members. A number of qualified faculty members left public-sector educational institutions for handsome salary packages in the private sector.
Money can be a major factor in retention but there are other factors as well, some of them much stronger. One of them is the culture of a certain educational institution. This refers to the academic freedom available, the team of professional colleagues, opportunities and sources of creativity available to faculty members.
This factor plays a very important part in motivating a faculty member to continue working at a place. Another important factor is the respected ‘brand name’ of the educational institution. The quality of students is important to set the tone of academic standards. The poor quality of students may have a negative effect on teachers’ pedagogy. But if it is a good institution, then it would attract students of quality. A faculty member working in a good institution feels a sense of pride being associated with it. In such case, he or she may not be swayed by the salary factor.
Another strong factor in faculty retention is the opportunity for upward mobility. If a faculty member feels that there are no further opportunities for upward mobility and the career path is blocked s/he would start thinking about making a move. Good organisations are always concerned about the career path and professional development of their faculty members. This may include short-term training courses, scholarships for further studies and leave for studies. These opportunities not only help empower faculty members but also create a feeling of ownership amongst them.
The work environment plays an important role in the retention of faculty members. This includes the infrastructure, such as the institution’s building, furniture, cafeteria, grounds and temperature-control arrangements. If the educational institution is located at a distant place which is difficult to access, and if there are no basic facilities available on campus, it would de-motivate the teaching staff.
Furthermore, the work environment includes the quantity and quality of work assigned to faculty members. Sometimes they are overburdened, which usually happens in schools and colleges where a teacher is given an extra load to teach. At times, the work assigned to a faculty member is not relevant in terms of his or her qualifications. In this case, the faculty member would not be very happy carrying out his/her assignment.
The security element is vital in the retention of faculty. What will a faculty member get at the end of his/her tenure? Good universities have attractive pension and/or gratuity plans for their faculty members. They are concerned about the wellbeing of their employees and offer them health insurance and other benefits. Beyond these benefits, some universities give interest-free loans to their employees. To further facilitate their employees, some universities provide subsidised accommodation on campuses. Such gestures tend to develop a mutual sense of ownership.
The system of rewards is crucial for the retention of faculty members. The feeling that good work is going unnoticed is painful; good performance should be acknowledged. Such acknowledgment could be verbal praise, a letter of appreciation, a bonus or higher increments.
Research is an integral part of a university. Though all universities acknowledge the importance of research, very few universities provide opportunities to their faculty members in terms of well-equipped libraries, access to academic journals and above all, time for carrying out research. Similarly, opportunities to disseminate the results of research through publication in journals or presentations in a conference are an important step. Good universities encourage their faculty members by giving them rewards for publication and sponsoring them to present in international conferences.
The retention of faculty is considered the foremost priority of good universities. A high salary is an important factor but the work environment, security and faculty’s wellbeing are also factors that play an important part in the retention of faculty. Of similar importance are the educational institution’s reputation, the chances for upward mobility and research, opportunities for professional development and academic freedom.
The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics, and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.