When Professor Ashish Nanda — Robert Braucher Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School — agreed to take the top job at IIM-Ahmedabad recently, a critical factor that influenced his decision was the availability of a reasonably good job for his dentist wife in the city. Dr Shubha Nanda, a leading dentist at Brookline, Massachusetts, is learnt to have done the rounds of the city with Prof Nanda, till she found a suitable post in a Gandhinagar dental college.
The Nandas are not alone. Top institutes like IITs and IIMs are suddenly facing a new generation of faculty members who sign on the dotted line only after their spouses find a decent job in the same city. And there are others who are quitting their jobs at these institutes because of the lack of opportunities for their spouses.
For instance, a management professor from IIT-Kanpur recently quit his job to join IIM-Calcutta because his wife could not find a suitable job in Kanpur.
The situation has serious implications for the new IITs and IIMs in smaller cities. So much so, that the union human resource development ministry has sought data from all IITs on faculty attrition.
Take the case of IIT-Jodhpur, one of the eight new IITs set up by the UPA government. In the last three years, 23 faculty members have relocated to bigger cities. Trends show that most of the faculty members left for established IITs that offer better professional opportunities.
Prof Goverdhan Mehta, chairman, board of governors, IIT-Jodhpur, pointed to changing social dynamics and working couples increasingly becoming the norm. “Most of our young faculty members come with equally well-qualified working spouses, and they often fail to find a job suited to their qualifications in smaller cities. This is an issue we need to address,” he said.
“We have 55 faculty members at present — most of them are young people. In 50 per cent of the cases, they are looking for jobs for their spouses as well. Many spouses come with PhDs and so on, so we try to employ them whenever possible,” said Prof T A Gonsalves, IIT-Mandi director.
“Recently, we could recruit a senior faculty member from the US as her husband was setting up a business near Mandi. But on an average, one or two faculty members leave us every year due to lack of work opportunities for their spouses. We are in the process of setting up a research centre at IIT-Mandi so that entrepreneurial opportunities can be made available for spouses,” said Gonsalves.
At times, the couples face procedural roadblocks. Prof Baidurya Bhattacharya quit his job at the University of Delaware to join IIT-Kharagpur in 2005. But his doctor wife, Sangeeta, an MD from Johns Hopkins University, found it difficult to get permanent registration from the Medical Council of India, with the process dragging on for years.
“The problem of recruiting quality faculty and retaining them is faced by university administrations all over the world. This problem has become urgent in our generation since people have become more mobile, dual career couples are more common, and a highly educated assistant professor is very likely to have a highly qualified spouse these days,” said Prof Bhattacharya.
“A large educational institution can offer various employment opportunities to highly qualified spouses — as scientific officers, administrators, physicians, counsellors etc. The administration should not view the two-body problem as a liability but as an opportunity,” he added.
“In new IITs like in Ropar, Mandi, or even the older ones located in places like Kanpur, Kharagpur or Roorkee, there are limited employment opportunities.The solution is to create an enriching academic environment and bring soft options on the table,” said Prof S G Dhande, former IIT-Kanpur director.
“We have created excellent infrastructure and are giving seed grants for research. In fact, among the new institutes we have the highest number of couples working on campus — as many as four qualified spouses,” said Prof M K Surappa, IIT-Ropar director.
“No longer is it just about a qualified spouse opting to teach at a nearby school. Now you have highly qualified spouses. We recognise that and are planning to set up a consultancy cell for them. We also encourage spouses to opt for PhDs at the institute and venture into entrepreneurial segments,” said IIM-Kozhikode director Prof Debashis Chatterjee.