The curious case of India's 'Scooter faculty'
Is the trend of B-schools hiring visting faculty hurting or helping management education and students? Apurv Pandit reports.
After tea and a heavy breakfast, he leaves home to attend to his first appointment of the day. After putting in his first hour for the day, he bids his first 'client' goodbye, secretly hoping that the 'client' will hand him a cheque with the pending payment. But no such luck. "Payment will be cleared by month end," says the 'client'. Exiting the building, he kickstarts his Bajaj Chetak parked outside the premises. There's still two hours to go until the next appointment, so he drives towards his home, hoping to complete a couple of household chores in the meantime. But just as he leaves that traffic, the mobile phone rin gs. Another client needs someone like him, and they need him now. Can he make it? He quickly calculates the feasibility of attending this unexpected call and says yes. After all, the B-school is just a little off the route and earning a grand off an hour of teaching marketing management isn't a bad deal at all.
That was not a day in the life of a music or dance instructor, but one variety of management faculty that forms virtually the majority teaching backbone of India's privately-owned business schools in tier-2 and below category.
In B-school administration-speak, they are often called 'Scooter faculty' or 'Briefcase faculty'. In Delhi, they are called 'Metro faculty' because they carry their office in the Delhi Metro. In more descriptive vocabulary, they are known as 'Cheap visiting faculty'.
The common thing between all of them is that they are not on the fulltime payrolls of any B-school. They live their entire day on the road, going from B-school to B-school and delivering an hour-long lecture at each in the one or two subjects they are good at. The better ones have their days planned out in advance. The not-so-good ones get work as the day passes, often in the same way that convenience servicemen such electricians or plumbers get work.
Every management hub in the country has a floating population of 'scooter faculty' who live their day carrying a briefcase on a two-wheeler, doing rounds of business schools and taking lectures wherever required.
Photographs: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
'Some might want variety, others could just be lazy'
It makes perfect sense for us as well as them," says the director of a prominent private B-school in Noida, under the condition of anonymity. "The problem with hiring fulltime faculty is that I will be tied-down with someone who could turn out to be a lousy teacher. So I only hire as much fulltime faculty as is dictated by AICTE or whatever other norms. The rest of the capacity I fill using visiting faculty who I can hire or fire depending on their performance."
"For them the benefit is of freedom. They choose the number of lectures they want to take according their will," he adds.
What would they do with the freedom? It depends.
"Some could be just lazy. Being a fulltime professor means eight hours of daily work at the college. They might want to teach fewer hours and spend the rest of the day at home or to do something else," explains the director.
"Some might want variety so instead of being stuck with the same batch, they may want to teach in different colleges where they can interact with more students," he adds.
Money is another important reason. A 'Scooter faculty' would teach on an average three to four hours a day for 20 days in a month. At an average industry rate of Rs 1,000 per hour taught (for a professor of average quality), they stand to earn between Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000 per month. The rates could go up to Rs 1,500 per hour, taking the monthly earning well above Rs 1 lakh. Compare that with the fixed salary for a fulltime faculty in a private second-tier B-school: Rs 35,000-Rs 45,000.
The rates per hour of course, can be as high as Rs 3,000 per hour for the really top-quality visiting faculty. These professors would usually be former industry professionals who have retired from very senior positions in corporates. According to the B-school directors I spoke to, the term 'Scooter faculty' would be too demeaning for them.
'Visiting faculty is a touchy subject'
A typical 'Scooter faculty' would not be too qualified, but sufficiently proficient in pulling off a lecture on basic management subjects at low-rigour B-schools. Some would be in the profession because they did not get a job anywhere else after completing an MBA or a PGDM from a lower-rung B-school.
For all their seemingly 'un-academic' ways of operating, they have been an indispensable necessity to the management education boom.
Faced with an acute shortage of good quality faculty in the face of increasing MBA batch sizes, private B-schools have since the last 4-5 years begun to keep just three to six faculty members on their permanent payroll. The rest of the faculty strength is made up entirely of cheap visiting faculty.
Says the director of a B-school in Gurgaon, "Suppose I have to teach Kotler to a bunch of 60th percentile students from class B and C towns. Do I really need a big-shot marketing vice-president? Whatever he or she teaches will go over their heads. So all I want is somebody who can teach them the basics. I don't want an Einstein."
Some B-schools keep an entire directory of floating faculty in their towns segregated by department. If the school needs a professor for Six-sigma, coordinators in the institute will call a number, and as soon as a suitable price is negotiated, a faculty will be on its way to teach that subject.
The market for visiting faculty too has boomed. In cities such as Pune, many visiting faculty are engineers in their 50s who have taken voluntary retirement from their firms.
For all the practical sense that 'Scooter faculty' makes for them, no B-school director that I spoke to was ready to be quoted on this subject.
"Visiting faculty is a touchy subject. We have a market positioning and if people know that we use scooter faculty, it will be damaged," said a B-school dean in Pune.
'There is no career growth in being a fully visiting faculty'
While both B-schools and visiting faculty agree that the 'Scooter faculty' or 'Briefcase faculty' system works for them, they were divided on whether it also works for the most important stakeholder: the students.
We got the following quotes from B-school heads who thought that the system was good for students.
"If our students don't like the professor, they complain to us and we get him changed. Would that be possible if we had a permanent faculty in his place?"
"We are charging Rs 7 lakhs in fees and if we don't deliver, the parents are at our necks. So I cannot afford to keep dead weight (permanent faculty) in my B-school."
"I have further subdivided core subjects such as finance, marketing and human resources to sub-topics. I am finding the best guy to teach every sub-topic so that the students are getting exposure to the best possible person for their studies under the circumstances."
"We are taking students from backward regions who do not even have basic communication skills or table manners and uplifting them for a basic corporate job. Even if they absorb what our basic-qualified teachers are teaching, it is a huge leap for them."
And then there were those who spoke against running a B-school on the back of visiting faculty.
"If most of your faculty isn't fulltime, you are nipping all research in the bud. Years will go by and your intellectual capital will remain the same."
"There is no career growth in being a fully visiting faculty. You teach the same subjects over and over again without any additional input or experience. It won't be much time before which you'll become obsolete."
"How can you teach core subjects using a faculty who cannot be guaranteed to be there for students' doubts? Faculty at B-schools are not just teachers, they are mentors also. How will mentorship happen if your professors keep changing?"
"The teaching profession is all about pride. If you chase money and a comfortable life, you may amass some wealth but you will have no respect in the academic circles."