The current higher education system in India consisting of over 900 universities, 39,000 colleges and 10,000 standalone institutions has grown leaps and bounds in the last few decades. With the satiating quantitative upsurge, the pinch of poor quality in higher education is being felt by all owing to the evident lack of relevant competence in the students graduating out from higher institutions. The poor employability of students being blazoned by various agencies and prospective employers has attracted the concern of regulators. After quantitative growth, the higher education system direly looks for the qualitative reforms to set its tone proper. Also, the evaluation of education offered by higher education institutions has become inevitable for assessing the overall standard of education offered by them. As a result, higher education institutions have started mooting on the accreditation.
Assessment and accreditation - the new buzzword in education
Assessment and accreditation have become the buzzwords for enhancing the quality of education, and the institutions are being sensitised to get assessed for accreditation. This can be felt by ongoing committed efforts for bringing all education providers to the anvil of accreditation. The accreditation of around 568 universities and 11,816 colleges by a national agency indicates the fructification of efforts in this direction, which is sufficient to tweak the institutions for an essential upswing in their education processes.
The proclaimed resolve of the regulators for compelling higher education institutions to undergo assessment for accreditation through the well-established national accreditation agencies is admirable. It will trigger the essential changes along with the public disclosure of the state of institution in the prospective students. Undoubtedly, the setting up of quality initiatives through remolding of the education processes by the institutions being a precursor to the assessment and accreditation offers reasonable assurance of ameliorating the state of higher education in the country. The quest for achieving quality in higher education inexorably considers the accreditation as a panacea.
Need for remodelling of education processes
The prevailing process of accreditation involving the objective assessment based on quantitative as well as qualitative criteria widely varying from curricular aspects, teaching-learning, evaluation, research, innovations, outreach, infrastructure, learning resources, student support, governance, leadership and management, institutional values, etc. is being understood by the institutions for upgrading their existing practices. Remodelling of education processes in these contexts holds the promise for overall improvement in the education system.
Although the accreditation process has been made reasonably objective and elaborately prescribed by the national accreditation agencies, quite often the Institutions find it difficult to spell out their activities and processes in their self-study reports and resort to adapting some practices for presentation to earn better scores merely to help the institution in fetching the accreditation. Such preparations purportedly made by the institutions for their assessment may lead to somewhat falsification of the true situation. In fact, the accreditation believes in the perpetuity of the proposed facts narrated by the institutions themselves and constant improvement for making the whole education better.
Factors endangering the integrity of the assessment process
Any initiative for camouflaging the practices and processes in the institution may help in securing good grades in accreditation, but the real intent of classifying the institution concerning the educational benchmarks may not serve the actual purpose of accreditation. The institutions having the actual educational practices and processes being different from the ones shown to be happening in the institution during the accreditation process endangers the integrity of the assessment process.
The aim of accreditation being to assess the institution in respect to set of attributes should not be misconstrued as a means for qualitative improvement rather the Institutions should consistently work for improving and enriching themselves on all accounts.
A clue regarding the best quality education can be drawn from the ancient Indian educational establishments namely Pushpagiri, Nalanda, Taxila, etc. whose education model was completely based upon the prevailing needs of the society and creation of the competent human resource.
Need for institutions to transform academic process
Today’s institutions must holistically transform their academic processes for creating the worthy educated ones who can amicably negotiate the challenges faced by the present civilisation. The efforts are required for achieving excellence by making the education relevant while retaining the features of being accessibility and equity. The situation prevailing in higher education institutions entails for integrating all academic and nonacademic processes with the quality centric approaches to create a compelling framework for achieving good quality in education.
Accreditation helps the Institution in knowing the specific areas seeking the attention for an overall improvement. The findings of the accreditation actually nucleate the process of positive change in the institution provided the functionaries are committed for improving the overall quality of education, and is not the solution to the problem of poor quality. The ongoing debate for having multiple agencies for accreditation should be viewed from the perspective of uniformity in assessment and credibility.
The moot point of integrity in education
The moot point of integrity, commitment for quality and thorough understanding of the dynamics of education in the functionaries involved in the assessment system decides the efficacy and reliability of the outcome. Present single national level agency for institutional accreditation though overburdened with the assessment assignments offers the advantage of the near uniformity in the outcome of assessment and accreditation process, which will be coupled with numerous variants in case of multiple accreditation agencies. Also, the accreditation outcome from a number of agencies performing the similar task will be creating a differing impact on the stakeholders regarding these being good, better and best and will eventually load the national regulator for rationalising the outcomes.
Looking at the challenges faced by the higher education institutions in respect to the quality of output, it is inevitable to reinforce every institution’s ecosystem for remodelling education processes, synergising the efforts of educators, institutional governance and external stakeholders with the appropriate infrastructure to offer the outcome based relevant education for creating much more productive and useful educated human beings.
(The writer is the founder Vice Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur, UP. Currently, he is the Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur, UP)