Accreditation in higher education why and how
India has witnessed a massive expansion of universities and colleges since 1950-51. While universities grew from 25 to 614, colleges grew from 700 to 33,023 with student enrolment increasing from one lakh to 169.75 lakh and teachers from 15,000 to 8.17 lakh, resulting in the gross enrolment ratio (GER) of 13.58 per cent as of 2012. With the 2011-12 student enrolment of 1,79,96,752, the GER is projected to swell to 30 per cent by 2020.
Despite rapid reforms in higher education, matching reforms in funding pattern, accountability, quality and excellence could not be achieved because of capacity constraints in government higher education institutions (HEIs). This resulted in private HEIs (60-80 per cent) gaining prominence; substandard infrastructure and inadequate faculty (average deficit of 51.36 per cent in universities and 41per cent in colleges, UGC 2009); and loss of ethics and values in administration of both government and private HEIs.
In order to authenticate quality and certify HEIs, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) was set up in 1994. So far it has been able to accredit only 172 universities and 4,857 colleges as on September 15, 2012. Of these, only 35.38 per cent of universities and 10.03 per cent of colleges are graded ‘A’, lending force to the call that accreditation be made “mandatory” instead of “voluntary”.
While the need is justified, the road map and methodology are contentious. In the West, accreditation is an integral component of both government and private HEIs. Affiliation of new colleges, though uncommon in the West, happens only after Level I accreditation.
Besides, accreditation councils there are fully autonomous.
The scenario in India is skewed due to political and money-power interference right from the time a college is established. Affiliation is dictated by forces from outside as well as from within for pecuniary benefits by following farcical processes. Neither the existing NAAC nor the proposed state-level accreditation councils have full autonomy, structural stability and operational accountability. According to the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority (NARA) for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010, an accreditation agency has to be a non-profit organisation registered as a company under the Companies Act, a society or trust and controlled by the Central or State government; contravention of the Act or obstruction of any officer of the agency will be punishable. The pursuit of quality must be aimed at internalising and institutionalising it. A logically feasible quality cycle may consist of:
(a) Level I accreditation of any new HEI before it is provided affiliation to a university, using an uncompromising, robust methodology by that particular parent university.
(b) Level II accreditation is the establishment of a structured Internal Quality Assurance system within a year of Level I accreditation, as a self-regulatory mechanism.
(c) Level III accreditation is the mid-term assessment of the HEI through external academic, administrative, audit committee once in three years to be co-ordinated by the State councils for higher education.
(d) Level IV accreditation is the ‘Grade’ awarding mechanism by the State-level councils/non-profit private organisations/professional PPP organisations once in five years. These bodies have to be duly approved after an accreditation process by the NARA with the condition that they be insulated from multidimensional interference while being bestowed with accountability-linked autonomy.
(e) Level V is the national-level quality monitoring system by NARA to develop policies, instruments, approval norms, legal and incentivising mechanisms, besides imaging the national-level higher education quality enhancement to people, government and international agencies.
It is high time we decided whether we require translatable and implementable programmes or policies with programmes only on paper!