The Union government’s decision to create 20 “institutions of eminence” for higher education in the country—10 in the public sector and 10 in the private sector—and to invest Rs 10,000 crore for achieving this goal is a welcome move. It has been reported that these institutions would have complete autonomy. In this context, what is the role of non-academic staff in such institutions, and the need to keep them motivated.
Non-academic staff plays an important support role in any academic institution in the country. Of course, the academicians, researchers and students are central to creating a “world-class” institution, but one should not forget the synergetic relation between them and the non-academic staff. In this regard, it is important to keep the non-academic staff motivated through various ways such as meaningful career development plans, performance evaluation systems, social welfare schemes, as well as skill development initiatives.
First and foremost, it is imperative for any institution to provide a well-defined career path for the administrative staff. This is one of the most neglected areas. In most government-run or publicly-funded institutions, the time-frame for promotion is defined in such a way that it leaves little motivation for the employees to improve their skills. But a well-defined promotion path helps the staff to evaluate themselves and identify the areas that need to be improved upon. It is imperative, in this regard, that promotions are based on performance and skills. Performance evaluation systems are central to such a set-up. Performance needs to be linked with benefits such as promotions, cash awards, etc.
Similarly, regular training is a must for the support staff as it helps them to expand their knowledge base and their ability to play their part more effectively. Even the most dedicated staff members might not have the most pertinent skills to perform certain tasks. Inability to perform successfully could lead to a fall in morale. This can be avoided by timely skill improvements. Again, the design of the training should be based on the specific requirements of support functions. It is also of crucial importance that the training programmes are selected after incorporating the feedback from the support staff. But before anything, a policy decision needs to be made at the level of the institute, so that the administrative staff are kept aware that appropriate training will be provided. That is because such training programmes would have financial implications. Therefore, it is important to make adequate budgetary provisions outlining a training expenditure plan at the very outset. Such training programmes could be conducted in-house or the staff may be deputed for programmes conducted by reputed institutions externally.
With regard to training programmes, a recurring challenge that administrators notice pertains to ensuring the whole-hearted participation from the staff. Convincing them to attend such programmes requires making them understand the benefits it offers and how such programmes would help in their career development. Incentives, both monetary and non-monetary, would also encourage them to willingly participate.
Moreover, the training programmes need to be appropriately structured. Each institute may have some specific skill requirements. As such, it is important to add a specific module in the training/induction programme. In addition, good communication skills and mastery over the drafting of notes, which are key requirements for support staff, need to be addressed. Staff members also need to be encouraged to further enhance their professional qualifications from time to time. The staff members who acquire higher qualification may be offered some monetary incentives and better career progression.
Lastly, better social welfare schemes also play a very important role in keeping the staff motivated. It is important to have schemes such as health and life insurance, accidental insurance and other family welfare schemes in place. Considering the modern lifestyle, there has to be a provision for regular health checkups by a recognised physician. Additionally, an institution should provide some recreational facilities—such as a gymnasium—to the staff.
Keeping an eye out for the welfare, the training and career progression needs of the non-academic staff members can not only keep their morale up, but also energise them to contribute wholeheartedly towards raising the standard of an academic institution.
-Jai Mohan Pandit is a Fullbright Scholar and Registrar, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research. Views are personal