How Universities are Re-defining Sabbaticals

Sabbaticals have traditionally been the bastion of academic institutions, with universities granting sabbaticals to professors every 5 to 7 years to work on research and innovation. It is only recently that the scope of sabbaticals has started expanding - giving individuals more autonomy on how they want to spend their time off - be it research, a start-up or spending an extended period of time with family. This signifies a deeper shift in the attitude towards work and the relationships between individuals and the institutions they work with.

Sabbaticals were originally meant to be used by professors to further their academic credentials - something that directly benefits the universities they work with. It is easy to make a cost-benefit analysis for this. But what is the tangible benefit of giving time off to a professor to spend time honing a personal hobby, invest time in a start-up, travel the world or spend time with family? This gives us an insight into how institutions have evolved and started looking at their people as more than just ‘resources’ that add to the bottom line, meant to only focus on their careers be it while they are on the job or a sabbatical. What we are seeing is a shift from this excel-sheet view of people to a more human outlook - of seeing them as unique and multidimensional individuals who have their own set of priorities, values and passions. And that giving them the freedom to decide how they want to spend their sabbatical leads to the intangible, but more long-lasting, benefits of better mental well-being and personal fulfillment. It is also a shift in attitude towards work. From your job defining who you are, there are now many who want their life to be bigger than their work-space.

Even in India, universities are re-defining sabbaticals. Back in 2016, IIT Madras, famous for its thriving entrepreneurial culture, made policy level changes that allow professors to take sabbaticals to work on their start-ups.

"Typically, an academical sabbatical means a faculty would either go to another university or a research organisation or even an industry in some cases and they will spend time there up to a year or so. What we are offering is also an opportunity to do more. If you are involved in a startup from the beginning and want to focus more on it, then sabbatical is a way to do it.“ - Prof Krishnan Balasubramanian, Dean of IC&SR department, IIT-M

In another encouraging move, IIT Hyderabad has extended the scope of sabbaticals to include students. Students will now be allowed a year-long sabbatical to pursue their ideas.

“The one-year sabbatical will most likely be offered to second year BTech students. Initially, we will ask them to pursue their idea on the campus and funds will be allotted, if needed, by the institute. Subsequently, based on merit, we will allow students to take a sabbatical.” - BS Murthy, Director, IIT-H

Other colleges are catching up. In 2019, the University Grants Commission (UGC) set up a committee to come up with ways for “Promoting and improving the quality of research in Indian universities and colleges”. One of the key recommendations was for universities and colleges to set up an action plan to send mid-career teachers on a sabbatical to pursue research.

While limiting, we hope this is the first step that will lead the way for more inclusive sabbatical policies across campuses.



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