The Dismissal of over 100 employees at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) campuses, and the subsequent withdrawal of that order, has raised concerns about the health of one of India’s premier higher educational institutes.

On June 28, TISS dismissed close to 55 teachers and 60 non-teaching staff members across its four campuses in Mumbai, Tuljapur, Hyderabad, and Guwahati. It cited the non-release of funds for salary expenditure by the Tata Education Trust (TET), its sponsoring body, for the dismissal.

All terminated staff members were contractual employees appointed under projects funded by the Tata Trust. With their contracts set to expire at the end of May, TISS administration said it had been pursuing matters of fund release and extension of the grant period.

“Apart from correspondence from the institute, a dedicated committee was formed encompassing senior faculty members to pursue the matter with the Tata Trust. But there was no response, which led to the decision to dismiss the employees,” said an official from the administration.

The notices of dismissal of contracts stated that “in the event of non-receipt of approval/grant from Tata Education Trust”, the employees’ services would end with effect from June 30.

Festive offer

TISS withdrew the notices on June 30 after TET assured resources to the institute. “TET has committed to releasing funds for the salaries of TET project/programme faculty and non-teaching staff,” a statement said. TISS administration confirmed that the trust has sanctioned Rs 4.79 crore.

What led to the delay in funding?

Some faculty members linked the delay to recent changes in the institute’s organizational structure, where certain decision-making powers were shifted from the Tata Trust to the Union Ministry of Education, around six months ago.

Founded in 1936 by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT), TISS was declared a “deemed university” by the Government of India in 1964, under section 3 of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act of 1956. A deemed university is a higher learning institute other than a university, which is declared as such by notification in the Official Gazette.

Prior to the changes, the TISS Governing Board was chaired by a nominee from Sir Ratan Tata Trust, and included two nominees from SDTT. The Central government had one nominated member from the education ministry.

However, UGC regulations in 2022 for deemed universities stated that those receiving more than 50 percent of their funding from the Center were to be brought under the purview of the Central government.

Therefore, the TISS Governing Board was replaced by the TISS Society chaired by the Union Education Minister. It has one nominated Tata Trust representative, apart from other nominations from the chairman. The TISS Society also facilitates the institute’s Executive Council, chaired by the Vice-Chancellor. Apart from other government representatives, the council has four members nominated by the Education Minister.

Appointments to major posts such as the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor are now also under the education ministry. Accordingly, Professor Dhirendra Pal Singh was appointed as the Chancellor of TISS by the ministry in April this year.

The TISS administration has dismissed any connection between the recent events and its new regulations.

Is the issue resolved now?

The recently-cleared funding is likely to only sustain projects temporarily. A TISS official said around Rs 75 lakh is required per month to cover salaries for Tata Trust projects. “Even the Tata Trust is demanding that the institute finds self-sustainable ways to continue the projects hereafter,” the official said.

Some students say the uncertainty could have a detrimental impact. Progressive Students Forum, a TISS students’ organization, issued a statement on Monday saying the situation “could demotivate employees and may force many to leave the institute”.

What is the plan of action?

To discuss the issue with TET, a committee of senior faculty members and administration representatives has been formed. It is expected to arrive at a plan and roll it out before the latest round of funding is used up.

This will include identifying and creating necessary teaching and non-teaching positions that are approved by the UGC, so that appointments can be made through advertisement of posts according to UGC norms.

According to TISS’s 2022-23 annual report, there are 181 UGC-sanctioned positions at TISS, of which 164 are filled. Of the 252 administrative positions, 162 are filled. Faculty members claim that close to 30 UGC-approved positions are currently vacant.

“The irony here is that we have vacant approved positions and qualified individuals for the job, but posts remain vacant and contractual employees are dismissed instead of absorbing them on these positions,” a senior faculty member told The Indian Express.

Stakeholders are also concerned about potential delays. “The institute currently does not have a full-time Vice-Chancellor to chair the Executive Council as per the new structure. In the absence of a full-time VC, the recruitment process, including identification of posts and their approval from the UGC is likely to be delayed,” said a faculty member.