Is India's engineering education on course to getting global recognition?
Engineering education in India will get that much-needed international recognition if the country's hope of becoming a permanent member of the Washington Accord 1989 is realised in June 2011.
Now, India enjoys a provisional status, which will end in June 2011. It became a provisional member in 2007. Normally the provisional status is for two years after which the country becomes eligible for a permanent membership. But in the case of India, the provisional membership was renewed for another term (2009-11). Since there have already been two renewals, “there is a very rare chance of it being further renewed.”
In this scenario, it is very important that India becomes a permanent signatory, failing which there is a chance that it may lose the provisional status too. But there is optimism in the engineering fraternity that India will pull it off this time for good.
The Washington Accord “is an agreement between the bodies responsible for accrediting professional engineering degree programmes in each of the signatory countries. It recognises the substantial equivalency of programmes accredited by those bodies, and recommends that graduates of accredited programmes in any of the signatory countries be recognised by the other countries as having met the academic requirements for entry to the practice of engineering.”
Some of the permanent signatories to the Accord are Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Africa. Those holding provisional status are Germany, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, besides India.
The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) constituted a special National Board of Accreditation (NBA) to push the proposal of permanent membership forward on a fast track in 2010. It was decided to select institutions to conduct a mock accreditation to check whether the courses of the colleges met the norms and objectives of the Washington Accord. The report of the trial accreditations will be sent to the AICTE that will prepare a comprehensive report of the findings to be submitted to the officials of the Accord.
Accordingly, four institutions — Coimbatore Institute of Technology (CIT), National Institutes of Technology, Tiruchi, National Institutes of Technology, Surathkal and BITS, Pilani — were selected by the Board for mock accreditations. A team of professors from Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology visited the four institutions and conducted the trial accreditations of select courses.
The findings of the same have been submitted to the AICTE. They have not been made public, even to the members of the NBA. Now that India has completed the procedures, the next step is to see whether the accreditation findings meet the norms of the Accord. This will be done by officials of the Accord.
The accreditation report of the four colleges could well be the determining factor for India to enter the treaty as a full-time member.
According to the correspondent of CIT, S.R.K. Prasad, who is one of the NBA members, officials from the Accord are expected to be in India sometime during March. “There will be three options once they see the report. They may take the report back with them for the final decision. Or they may visit the institutions. Or they may call representatives from the institutions to the U.S. for a presentation. We are expecting any one of these to happen,” says Mr. Prasad.
Whatever the modality chosen, the final announcement has to be made in June when the provisional membership expires.
According to engineering experts, by making India a permanent signatory to the Accord, Indian degrees will be accepted in all respects as equivalent to that of other signatories, and the institutions will be recognised on a par with those in the signatory countries. Also, Indian engineers with Indian degrees need not have to undertake special qualifying tests for recognition of their degrees by other countries. It will also enable credit transfers and mobility.
Vice-Chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham P. Venkat Rangan says the permanent status will bring in manifold advantages. “Our reputation in the international arena with regard to research in higher education institutions is not too good. This is in spite of the quality of education being good. Once India becomes a permanent signatory, Indian institutions will have to maintain a certain quality and this will only strengthen our institutions and will encourage reverse flow of students from Western countries.”
The same view is echoed by Mr. Prasad who says that the membership will put India on the world map and will encourage inflow rather than outflow of engineering aspirants.
Experts believe that findings of the mock accreditation processes will serve as a valuable yardstick to assess the quality of engineering education, the areas to be emulated and lessons to be learnt.