Quality of education imparted by the higher education institutions (HEIs) encapsulates the capability of being an accelerator or decelerator in realizing the growth of any nation. It is evident from the changing context and circumstances that the education system of the country is on the cusp of change. Therefore, every initiative should hold potential to bring positive change in it. Accreditation being the process of assessing the institution in respect to its processes and practices by peers is perceived as a potential indicator of the state of the HEI.
In this respect, since quite some time, the discussions are abuzz for having multiple accreditation bodies for assessing the higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country. Recently published draft of New Education Policy also elaborately delves the subject of accreditation of HEIs. Currently, the task of accreditation and assessment of any institution is carried out by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) which is an autonomous institution of University Grants Commission. Presence of this body well interlaced with the apex regulator of education in the country enjoys enormous trust and good credentials in the institutional accreditation. But the target of ensuring that the every HEI in the country gets NAAC accreditation with minimum score of 2.5 by 2022 is a mammoth task. Probably, the gigantic size of India’s higher education system comprising of about 800 Universities, 39071 colleges and 11923 stand alone institutions is questioning the feasibility of the assessment exercise for accreditation by a single body in the stipulated period.
The provisioning of multiple bodies for accreditation is likely to have its own implications in respect to the credibility of assessment and accreditation processes carried out by each one of accrediting body. It is natural that any exercise being done by different bodies will have variances and over a period of time some among these will be perceived as the accreditation body performing the task with high, moderate and low level of rigour in the assessment processes.
This situation will eventually result in the credibility ranking of the accreditation bodies and public perceptions would be assigning differential weightage to the accreditation outcome from each of them.
A look at the current practice of the assessment for accreditation shows that it undertakes quantitative and qualitative assessment of different attributes like curricular aspects; teaching-learning & evaluation; research, innovations & extension; infrastructure & learning resources; student support & progression; governance, leadership & management, and, institutional values & best practices through peers drawn from academia without any conflict of interest.
In spite of the common format provided by the single accreditation authority, there emanate various dissensions from the institutions about the final outcome not being as per their expectations. Therefore, with the multiple bodies performing the task of accreditation of HEIs, the inconsistency in the outcome may be more prevalent and eventually the benchmarking exercise may gradually loose its shine. Moot point of realizing accreditation of all will have positive implications only if the exercise of assessment and accreditation is similar for all and there is single body to perform this task, however depending upon the different nature of institution, the assessors can be appropriately chosen and the framework be modified accordingly. It should be understood from the diverse ranking systems of institutions prevailing across the world, that each ranking system has its own worth for different stakeholders and creates ambiguity in arriving at the correct conclusion about standing of any institution. The mammoth size of higher education system should integrate competitiveness in HEIs for rolling out the best quality of students from them and strive hard for improving their accreditation outcome. Undoubtedly, the accreditation outcome provided by a credible accrediting body will assist the students aspiring for higher education in making right choices about the institutions.
The national level accreditation body should be asked to maintain the highest standard of accreditation, because it will eventually prescribe the standards to be practiced and followed in HEIs. Global scenario shows the presence of an international quality assurance body namely International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education, which coordinates with various National Accreditation bodies across the world for regulating the education quality. In general, the majority of countries have single national accreditation agencies. It goes without saying that the process of standardization of education cannot be done at multiple ends; however there can be stratified national accrediting bodies for differing levels of education institutions such as for primary education, secondary education, higher education etc. Mandating the HEIs to participate in the accreditation process should be essential for identifying their standards, however, the achievement of the target of accreditation of all HEIs with certain minimum score requires ample improvement in them. Realistic consideration of the state of higher education across the country will show that the public funded and self-funded educational institutions have their own typical challenges in discharging basic responsibilities such as teaching resources both human resources and physical resources, removal of obsolescence, financing, research & development etc. Each institution should be first cajoled in time bound manner to honestly identify the factors hindering the impart of good quality education and then the suitable hand holding will help them.
Accreditation of all HEIs with prescribed minimum grade is a long term goal and can be cherished after holistic improvement in HEIs with the participation of all stakeholders. Credibility accomplished by the national accreditation body should be further strengthened by upgrading its processes and teaching & allied human resource for faster deliveries of the outcome. Kudos to the NAAC for making extensive use of e-governance in processing which can be further modified to reduce the duration between the application and result of accreditation exercise for any institution.
About Author: Dr. Onkar Singh has been the founder Vice Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.), the first non-affiliating technical University of U.P. state. Currently, he is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).