The recent decision by the Government to allow foreign universities set up campuses in India is an encouraging step towards the globalisation of higher education. The decision is based on the recommendation of the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) recommendations.

Indeed, this could enable Indian higher education institutions (HEIs) to compete in the international market. However, the bitter fact is that talent retention is already becoming a massive challenge in HEIs in India. The situation may deteriorate without competitive compensation, better prospects, and efficient human resource management practices.

Most HEIs are functioning with 40-50 per cent of their sanctioned workforce. The high achievers and those highly skilled join international universities, corporates and non-academic institutions. Management of the higher education workforce, including staff and academic administrators, particularly faculty members, is critical to HEIs.

First, recruiting quality faculty is becoming challenging due to various constraints, including a scarcity of quality human resources, obsolete recruitment and selection processes, funding restrictions, inefficient human resource management practices and a lack of an efficient support system. The recruitment system in HEIs is centralised, which is one of the main reasons for the delays. Also, the selection process is not flexible enough and are initiated mainly by staff who may not be professionally trained for the task. Consequently, in most cases, the candidate would have already joined a different organisation by the time job is offered.

Second, retaining talent is becoming difficult in universities, mainly publicly funded HEIs, because everything is based on rules and regulations. There is little room for the head of the HEI to retain talent. The compensation structure and other incentives offered by the universities need to be more attractive to help retain talent.

Third, universities do not follow proactive succession planning. As a result, the recruitment process starts only after a person retires, resigns or leaves the HEI. There is hardly any scope to ensure continuity and to leave a legacy for the new-comer . The person takes a long time to understand the role and responsibilities in the absence of systems.

Fourth, the performance management system is in flux. While it is true that some HEIs follow a system, it needs to be more compelling. There is hardly any way to differentiate between a good and a bad performer.

To deal with these challenges, the systems, especially human resource management practices, need to be professionalised. NEP 2020 is a crucial blueprint for transforming the higher education system. It offers several recommendations for transforming HRM practices and exploring incentive schemes to motivate and energise the capable faculty and staff.

It also includes appropriate rewards, promotions, recognition and upward scope for institutional leadership and gender-diversity measures. Moreover, NEP suggests a dynamic recruitment system, modernised selection criteria and the introduction of fast-track promotions to recognise high-quality research and individual contributions.

Going global, joining campus placement programmes and visiting various academic platforms at national and international levels are required for the talent hunt. Faculty members must play a decisive role in recruiting teaching and research staff, supported by an efficient HRM team to ensure that the hiring process fulfils the statutes.

Merit driven

Recruitment of faculty and staff should be strictly based on merit, and all the university’s stakeholders should prioritise this process. While appointing academic administrators and other staff members, a professional workforce with requisite qualifications and academic and administrative training should be prioritised. HEIs must have well-designed job advertisements to attract talent while providing all the crucial information, such as job titles, compensation and incentives. The screening, shortlisting, selection and job offer processes must be swift and time-bound. The recruits need to be provided proactive and efficient support from the HRM team with all relevant information to enable them join the university soon.

Empirical research concludes that working environment plays a crucial role in the retention of university employees, in particular faculty members. Accordingly, providing them with academic and professional freedom is very critical. Understanding the needs of the HEI employees is an essential factor. Providing flexible incentive schemes will empower the head of the HEI to retain talent. Succession planning is another crucial factor which needs a professional approach in HEIs.

The system will not only help preserve institutional memory and intellectual knowledge but also help recruit the right person for the right job at the right time. Promotion and career progression, annual increments, and training must be strictly linked with the performance of the individual.

Finally, to make it to the list of the best universities in the world and implement the recommendations of NEP, there is a need to professionalise our university management.

The writer, a Fulbright Fellow, is Registrar, IGIDR, Mumbai. Views are personal