Challenges of Accreditation in Higher Education Institutions

Prof V B Nanda Gopal of Jain University Bangalore analyzes the new accreditation system for HEIs under NAAC.

Challenges of Accreditation in Higher Education Institutions Prof V B Nanda Gopal

A Critical Analysis of the New Approach

Prof V B Nanda Gopal

Director, Center for Virtual Learning and Innovation, Jain University, Bangalore

Accreditation, quality and the effort to develop Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in India into globally acceptable institutions are top priority concerns of the government. The issue has been an area of utmost criticality for the last four decades.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), as a national accreditation agency was established in the year 1994, and subsequently became an autonomous institution of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Looking at the performance of NAAC in the last two decades, in a large HEI base as in India, this achievement is far from what the demand requires. Moreover, the quality aspects of higher education are far from the claims made by the institutions, even those who have been accredited by NAAC thus far. Considering that these issues have a direct relationship with quality, it has raised critical questions regarding the functioning of NAAC.

The Government in a recent notification has delinked NAAC from the UGC and has announced that NAAC will hence forth work as an independent body and will be known as the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for HEIs. In the context of this and the concerns and issues mentioned above, it is of extreme importance to examine, assess and analyze a few issues and challenges for NAAC, especially with respect to how the accreditation process will become operational after the delinking with the UGC.

The first issue is the mandatory accreditation of all HEIs by NAAC, including institutional processes, programmes offered and their delivery. All institutions are to be accredited within a period of three years. In case of medical institutions the period is five years. It must be noted that any accreditation is a tedious process. Despite this, the frequency and periodicity must be defined very clearly. If we take the examples of standardization process, it is two years in the case of ISO, and every year for financial institutions and banks.

Without setting up a periodical accreditation process, institutions will have a tendency to carry the score for years, without a review. Further, institutions where this period is not strictly defined are likely to develop complacency, and sacrifice quality mechanisms. It is must be remembered that in case of programmes related factors - the course content, delivery systems and the dynamic use of teaching tools - institutions must upgrade themselves to meet the market needs and the demand of the society. Thus, it is necessary that a specific period must be defined and the awarding of different scores (depending on the level of accreditation of the institution) must be mentioned by the Accreditation Regulatory Authority. The use of the scores after the expiration of the accreditation must be avoided. Thus, it will be mandatory for the HEIs to approach the regulatory authority for review and if not they will be disqualified by the regulatory authorities and refrained from functioning.

The next issue is that the new accreditation process mentions the NAAC nod is mandatory as a prelude to admissions. This process is currently followed by Distance Education Council before the launch of ODL programmes by HEIs. ODL programmes are reviewed every two years. This process is going in the right direction, but one has to note that it is difficult to implement as the number of institutions that offer a large number of ODL programmes are themselves very large. 

The issue that directly follows this is the speed by which these accreditations are issued. In order to speed up the process and cover the large base of HEIs in the country, while ensuring that quality is on par with global standards, it has been suggested that the accreditation process be conducted by independent agencies for a specified procedure at a specified fee. NAAC should register and monitor these agencies across all relevant parameters. Further, these agencies will have to be non-profit organizations, controlled by the respective central or state governments. Alongside this, the capacity and capability of these independent accreditation agencies should be periodically screened and reviewed. They should also be empanelled, registered and monitored by the regulatory authority.

It is stated that these external agencies should be governmental, not-for-profit organizations. The accreditation agencies being governmental bodies will defeat the very purpose of developing HEIs of high quality. There are chances of political involvement and pressure groups to influence decision on qualifying institutions. Thus, a compromise will emerge in a few cases, as many of the HEIs are promoted by political heavy weights and corrupt bureaucrats in the states. The very philosophy of the new process is to improve the standards of higher education in India. This should be undertaken in a very professional manner by qualified professionals and it must be executed without any compromises.

The accreditation process will have to be qualitative and this should be executed by qualified accredited professionals empanelled by rigorous scrutiny and checks.  In case this is not undertaken, there will be dilution and the very objective of creating a healthy and competitive quality rating process of HEIs will be compromised. The accreditation process in USA, UK, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Finland are conducted by qualified private entities and it has been successful.

These agencies are required to facilitate the HEIs to improve their quality and may be penalized for not performing their duty. There is a need for debate and clarification with regard to the facilitation process and penalty. The agencies, as a first step, must facilitate the HEIs to upgrade and improve their quality by through training. They should also help in developing points of concern in order to maintain quality standards in all processes - course development, course delivery, and examination and evaluation system.

Training is an important mechanism. This approach should facilitate the implementation of quality standards in the HEIs with direction and futuristic view of the Indian education policy systems. For example, this process is followed by the ISO system. In the banking system, the agencies facilitate corrective mechanisms before the submission of the reports of the HEIs. The award is conferred by the regulatory authority.  There needs to be more discussion on the use of penalty. This must be imposed for both the HEI and the agencies involved.

The usage of the term “accreditation agencies” also needs to be deliberated. The term “auditors” has found an important place in such a regulatory system. The usage of the term is popular, relevant and significant. If we examine the function, processes, and mechanisms in the accreditation system, it is in reality an audit of the systems, followed by the institution. In ISO or the banking industry, the terminology followed is internal auditors, external auditors, and statutory auditors. This terminology is well recognized and carries a mindset and a psychological image of seriousness in the persons and individuals. It drives the nerves of persons towards perfection and delivery.

Generally, the auditors are perceived as guides, and philosophers of the policy driven process of the Government, and also work towards maintaining standards of quality systems. Their approach should be futuristic in thinking and approach. This discussion could be concluded by adopting term for the external quality assessing agencies as “educational auditors” rather than “accreditation agencies”.

The accreditation process is a complex one. It involves policies of the Government, the regulatory process, standards, review follow-up, documentation and reporting to the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority. All of the agencies and their auditors must be trained and approved by the regulatory agency on how to best use these factors to come up with a fair accreditation of institutes. The empanelling must be through review and evaluation.

The mandate of the accreditation process, as per the new mechanism, has presented a serious implementation challenge. The first important initiative is the identification of external agencies or auditors for the process of development and implementation of the accreditation process. This is a very critical step. We need to understand the real challenges involved and an effort has been made to understand this process and presented below are a few suggestions.

Firstly, the issue has to be discussed on a few assumptions:

  • There are a number categories of higher educational institutions, which could include Central Universities, Central Open Universities, Central autonomous institutions like IITs, IIMs NITs and Institutions of national importance and Government deemed universities, State Public Universities, State private Universities, Deemed Universities. All these institutions are spread all over the countries.
  • There are affiliated colleges and some have been given autonomous status.
  • There are Government colleges, aided colleges, semi-added colleges, and private unaided colleges.
  • There are 29 states and 7 union territories in India.
  • There over a huge number of institutions of Higher Education like 690 Universities and over 40, 000 institutions of Higher learning and colleges.

The institutions are of varied nature, functions, status and their geographical spread. We need a stringent, and robust, institutional mechanism to see a real impact, building a defined time-frame in the approach.

In the following paragraphs, the discussion will cover the challenges and options available. A few assumptions are drawn in the following paragraphs.

  1. The process of accreditation is assigned to Educational Auditors or agencies. We need to examine the total number of such Auditors. It is suggested that the validity of the accreditation is for two years and consequently before the expiry, the HEI must get the review process completed well ahead of time.
  2. We need to classify the HEI institutions basically into two: Universities and Institutions of National importance. The other being colleges as under.

(i)                Central Universities - 44

(ii)              State Legislated Universities - 306

(iii)            State Private Universities - 154

(iv)            Deemed Universities ( Central and Private) - 129

(v)              Institutions of national Importance - 67

Colleges:

(i)                Government

(ii)              Aided

(iii)            Unaided

(iv)            Autonomous

The total number of such colleges is roughly around 35,500.

  1. In the case of the first category of institutions, the audit will have to be rigorous and cover institutional process, programmes, delivery, assessment and evaluation, research, use of digital and ICT methodologies. In the second category, the focus will be on institutional processes, programme delivery methodologies, student-teacher competency development processes being followed by the institution, systems, and implementation of ICT for learning and teaching (as these institutions will follow the course approved by the Universities to which they are affiliated).
  2. The number of Educational Auditors required will depend on the number of educational institutions in each state. India has 29 states and 7 union territories. The distributions, as of 2012 , are as follows:

(i)                Universities: Tamil Nadu- 59;UP-56;Andhra Pradesh (Undivided) 46 Karnataka-43; Maharashtra 44 and the least Goa 2 Arunachal Pradesh ; Chandigarh, Tripura 3 and Sikkim 6.

(ii)              Similarly, the number of Government, Government Aided and Unaided collages also varies from state to state. E.g. Andhra Pradesh Undivided has 3611, Karnataka has 2844, Maharashtra 1524, Gujarat 1557, and the least Dadra-Nagar haveli 1; Dam man Die 3; Sikkim 9.

(iii)            We need to identify the number of Educational Auditors required in each state, based on the number of Universities and Educational Institutions to be audited every year. The validity of an accreditation should be a minimum of 2 years as explained.

The next challenge is the time frame required for auditing and reporting by the Educational Auditors. For the universities, we may consider 3 - 4 months of involvement by the Educational Auditor, which includes review by experts before awarding accreditation, and 2 - 3 months for colleges. There could be another consideration based on the number of programmes and the number of students in the institutions to decide on the period.

In the case of ODL institutions, number should not be considered. Instead, the facilities for student interaction, use of ICT in programme delivery evaluation should be reviewed and the focus should be on institutional process, programmes, modality of delivery, and course content.

The educational auditors could be a team of three individuals for each institution and could undertake audit in more than three to four institutions at the same time. There must be a cap on the number of institutions an Auditor could audit in a year.

  1. The other component mentioned in the document is that the accreditation agencies shall facilitate to accredit every higher education institution on a specified procedure and fee. The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority must fix a standard fee on defined criteria to be paid to Educational Auditors, as is seen in the case of other accrediting institutions. A few suggestions are as follows:

(i)                A standard fee:

  • Based on the complexity of the institution – UG, PG, Doctoral or a combination of these and its size.
  • Process: admission, examination, programme delivery, faculty, training, HR etc.
  • Location of the institution: metro, urban, semi-urban, rural, aided, and unaided;
  • Number of students.

(ii)              Expenses: travelling, boarding and lodging, and per day halting expenses of the Auditor/staff of the Agency.

(iii)            Maximum period of audit.

(iv)            HEI will pay for the costs, except in the case of government colleges, where the authority shall claim the same from the respective governments.

 

In conclusion, the new organization “National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Education Institutions” is a corrective approach. The efforts need to be deliberated among a cross-section of professionals. Learning from the experience of other accreditation bodies could facilitate in making this effort effective and workable.

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions presented in this articles are of the author's own)


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