With the falling rupee struggling to appreciate against the dollar, students with hopes of studying abroad, especially the US or the UK, may not have it easy. There are entrance tests to be cleared to convince universities abroad of the worth of our Bachelor degrees. But what if Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong China, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and the UK and US recognised Indian Bachelor degrees as their own? Postgraduate studies would be a lot less harder and jobs would be easier to come by.
The Washington Accord
To the relief of 1.6 million Indian engineers and the one million engineering students passing out every year, India recently became a part of the Washington Accord that enables the recognition of Indian undergraduate Engineering degree programmes in 16
other countries. As the question of unemployment challenges a burgeoning population of the country, the recent development in the Indian Engineering education landscape is expected to widen the arena of job opportunities for millions of Indian youth.
What is it?
This is an international agreement among bodies responsible for accreditation in the respective signatory countries. It recommends that graduates of programmes accredited by any of the signatory bodies be recognised by the other bodies as having met the academic requirements for entry to the practice of engineering in the area of their jurisdiction.
In India, The National Board of Accreditation (NBA) is the sole authorised body responsible for accreditation of technical education programmes. The membership is an international recognition of the quality of engineering education offered by the Member country. It facilitates mobility of engineering graduates and enhances their opportunities around the world. Apart from enhanced employment opportunities across the world, this Accord will enable credit transfer among engineering institutes in member countries, a system that is non-existent in India.
Surendra Prasad, Chairman, NBA, and Former Director, IIT-Delhi, said, “International mobility brings lots of benefits. Opening of jobs for Indian engineering graduates internationally is an important direct consequence. On the other hand, multinational firms can now employ Indian engineers from accredited programmes here, with a greater sense of confidence, because of assured quality. These engineers will be seen as equals of any of their colleagues from other countries, in as far as their degrees are concerned.”
This Accord is being seen as a two-way exchange of students, talent and workforce. With Indian engineering degrees acquiring recognition internationally, asked if students from countries like the US, the UK or Australia would come to India, he said that as the quality of engineering education improves in India, and if the degrees are regarded of equal value, there is certainly a theoretical possibility of this happening. However, for this to happen on a large scale, there are many other important factors, he said: “Easy availability of good jobs in the host country is one of them. Quality of everyday life could be another. But if we can give quality education of international value at a much lower cost, it can throw open many possibilities,” he explains.
How it works
Only NBA accredited programmes offered by Tier-1 institutions are eligible for recognition of programmes by other signatories of the Washington Accord.Institutions with autonomy to review the content of their curriculum and make changes to it and those that have fiscal and academic independence without waiting for the approval of outside bodies like affiliated institutions are categorised as Tier-1 institutions. NBA has shortlisted over 220 engineering colleges that can apply for accreditation. Those that already had accreditation prior to the agreement have to apply afresh to be recognised by other signatories of the Accord. According to the web-based register on the NBA website, there are only 15 programmes of five institutes in the country which have been accredited and are recognised by other signatories.
The five institutes are BMS College of Engineering, Karnataka; Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Maharashtra; National Institute of Technology (NIT)-Silchar, Assam; NIT- Rourkela, Odisha and NIT- Trichy, Tamil Nadu.
Prasad adds, “There is only criterion for Tier 1 accreditation. The college or the institution, to which the candidate programme belongs should be recognised as an autonomous institution, having control over its curriculum and examinations. We believe there are more than 300 such institutions running about 1,500 plus engineering programmes between them.”
He continues saying the process of Tier 1 accreditation has just started, and that they hoped to have the second list of accredited programmes declared soon. “A large number of programmes are currently in the pipeline for accreditation, and the process is truly on. Thus the picture is likely to be very different in terms of the number of programmes processed under tier 1 accreditation, in a short while from now,” he says.
Five of the 15 accredited programmes are those being offered by NIT-Rourkela. Prof Sunil Kumar Sarangi, Director of the institute, said, “The accreditation has no legal benefits. People who like to be employed abroad will be benefitted. Institutionally, when recruiters come to our campus, they will give more value to the students and their degree. It will give confidence to the employer that we have got NBA accreditation.”
One of the direct benefits, he said, includes saving on testing costs. “Foreign players don’t have to conduct mandatory entrance exams for a job or a university course anymore. The students can be exempt from the first round of testing while filtering job candidates.” He emphasised that even if a small fraction of these students going abroad come back with increased confidence and skill set, it is of critical value. “We should look at the net benefit. There is no other way of getting this knowledge. It is the price we pay to get that kind of knowledge.”
He continues, “I don’t think it will lead to an increase in brain drain. The number will remain the same. It will in fact lead to increased salaries in our country with students coming back to India with value skills. Out of 10 students going to Harvard, Berkley and Stanford if half of them or even two-thirds come back, it is of great value.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, Prasad says, “It is not likely to be a reason for an exodus of Indian engineers.” Sarangi points out that now there is a guarantee of getting jobs. “Now parents don’t have to be in a rush to send their children abroad as soon as they turn 18 to get a lucrative job. With their degrees being valid in 16 other signatory countries there is an assurance that they will get a job in one country or another.”
G Kannabiran, Professor of Management, NIT-Trichy says, “There are indirect benefits to this Accord as well. Funding agencies, for example the World Bank, are working with the state and central governments on many education issues. With this Accord, they will provide funding with increased confidence.”
He adds saying, “US universities have a credit-transfer system wherein a student who completes part of his course in one college can study in any other State in the US or country by transferring his credits. India lacks that concept. This accord will enable that.”
Rekha Sethi, Director General, All India Management Association, and one of the four industry experts nominated to the NBA Executive Committee says, “With companies going global, it makes a huge difference if a student’s degree is recognised the world over, as transfers would be easier. They don’t have to do a foreign course all over again to meet their standards.” But more information needs to be given to recruiting companies in India, she says.“They need to be sensitised about the significance of this Accord. It is too early to talk about how the industry’s perception will change with this agreement.”
When edex contacted recruitment managers of state chapters of companies like L&T, GE and ABC, most seemed to be unaware of this recent development.
Shekhar Sanyal, Director and Country Head, Institution of Engineering and Technology, a not-for-profit multi-discipline professional society of engineers and technicians, with over 10,000 members in India, says, “It will take four-five years for our students to accrue the benefits of this Accord. But our country has too many engineers. It produces over 15 lakh engineers ever year. They have nowhere to go. Many of them risk being unemployed. This Accord creates opportunities for them, they should utilise it,” he says.
B Santhanam, Former Chairman, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) — Southern Region and Managing Director, Saint Gobain Glass India Ltd., says, “It will make a difference but none of this will happen overnight. It is an evolutionary process. This is a step. Some of our courses are not recognised in West Asia. This Accord will help those who want to be employed there.”
Asked if the Indian industry’s perception about students will change when they are from colleges accredited by the NBA, he says, “About the Indian industry, I’m not so sure. They know the Indian engineering colleges and their students well. But for Indian engineers going abroad, it may make a difference. In a generic sense, yes, but companies have a way of evaluating the individual’s competence on their own.”
Question of the IITs
IIT graduates have had no problem with recognition or mobility the world over as they are already exempt from taking mandatory entrance tests before taking up jobs or post graduate courses abroad. So far, none of the IITs have applied for an NBA accreditation. Prasad says, “I believe that the IIT Council has taken a decision to carry out an internal review of all departments and centres at all IITs. This is not to be regarded as an exercise in accreditation. In any case, NBA is not a regulator, and does not tell any institute to opt for accreditation of its programmes. We believe that the college or the institute will approach us if they see a value to the process of accreditation. So we are not concerned whether IITs approach us or not for that. If any IIT department approaches us for accreditation of its programmes, we shall be happy to engage with them, and go through the exercise as per our norms. The important thing is, it is not for us to dictate NBA accreditation. It is a choice to be made by the management of the institute."
It is also to be noted that this Accord does not apply to Information Technology engineering students. India has to be a part of the Seoul Accord for that.
Benchmarking Indian engineering education
Mobility is an important but small benefit from being a Washington Accord signatory. The real value of accreditation lies in the process, which if rigorously followed, leads to improvement of quality of education in the accredited programmes, Prasad points out, “That is the real goal of NBA. We believe that while the certificate of accreditation is an important value, a greater value lies in the quality improvement that results when the college attempts to put new academic systems and practices in place.”