In my curtain-raiser article for the Varanasi Shiksha Samagam organised by the Education Ministry and University Grants Commission, I invoked the spirit of Mahamana with the hope that the Varanasi Summit shall be the second coming of Mahamana’s first vision. The three-day ‘higher education kumbh’ saw the successful convergence of thought and action leaders across the nation deeply drenched in the waters of policy action to advance the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.
The nation saw the Varanasi declaration swinging into quick action when Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan took the podium position at the NIRF 2022 release on July 15. The minister’s transformational announcement necessitating the need for a robust and unified mix of accreditation, assessment and ranking to enhance quality in higher education is quality and quantum leap into an orbit of 360-degree excellence.
The evolution of university ranking, at global and national levels, has increased the level of competitiveness among higher education institutions (HEIs). The global rankings have made competition intense at the top while the NIRF has democratised competition at all levels, ensuring the percolation of best practices across a cross-section of institutions. While the rise of India’s share in the global rankings has been increasing but restricted to a capable few, the overall growth of HEIs has been catalysed by NIRF.
The lesser proportion for perception makes the growth due to NIRF objectively progressive when compared to the reputation triggered by Times Higher Education or QS ranking, which is questionably subjective. Be that as it may, as much as NIRF has significantly improved the quest for quality since its inception in 2016, so has the autonomous rating instrument of UGC, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).
NAAC was mid-wife by the Programme of Action (1992) of the NEP 1986 and since its inception in 1996, it has accredited 36 per cent of Indian universities and 20 per cent of colleges with the share of Central and deemed universities being the maximum among universities and autonomous ones among the colleges. In a recent mammoth exercise (in which I was also a privileged contributor), the NAAC released a white paper that reimagines the accreditation and assessment framework in the light of NEP 2020. The white paper is a product of a collective effort of thought leaders and thinkers that have the ingredients of a blue-ocean strategy ushering NAAC into unchartered territories.
This white paper accommodates different levels of measuring ‘educatedness’, and higher-order cognition with equal importance to general and specialised education, making it NEP 2020 compatible. Though the policy accent on the need for NAAC has accelerated the process of NAAC grading, which despite the pandemic has seen high levels of quality activism among universities and colleges, it’s still a long march towards excellence as a vast majority of HEIs are outside the NAAC orbit. While the new framework waits for the official launch, the existing mechanism refuelled with enlightened awareness and progressive willingness among institutions shall hopefully accredit 50 per cent of all universities & HEIs by 2023.
The length and breadth of ranking and rating (grading) capture India’s higher education landscape, with each having its own units of measurement capable of maximising the resultant area of institutional quality. Capturing such high values with a 360-degree orientation and providing freedom to high-value institutions is the essence of autonomy as envisaged by NEP 2020. The UGC is also on the verge of announcing new reforms and regulations for deemed universities which shall hopefully end the existing disparities. In the larger interest, however, of providing universities and HEIs full autonomy in this emerging paradigm of creative intelligence and disruptive leadership, the Education Ministry needs to churn the quality pot to extract the best.
NIRF and NAAC are the quality eyes in higher education and the greater heights and sharper vision that institutions have, the more they are entitled to freedom. In short, all universities in the NIRF Top 100 and NAAC A++ grades need to be treated equivalent to institutions of eminence with full administrative, academic and financial autonomy. This winning formula of the twinning qualitative towers shall accelerate India’s race for global academic supremacy.
Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed University