Multiple agencies that will assess the accreditation eligibility of higher education institutions on the basis of a set of “proxy parameters” should be the way forward for quality assurance in India's higher learning sector, experts said on Wednesday.
Educationists attending the two-day international conference on accreditation hosted by the Indian Society for Technical Education (ISTE) and the RMK Group of Institutions, felt that tasking a single body with the evaluation and certifying process would lengthen the backlog of institutions seeking accreditation, especially given the rapid expansion of capacity in higher education.
R. Natarajan, former Chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education, said India was moving towards a legislation that would integrate the accreditation system in professional education into a common framework under the supervisory ambit of the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Education Institutions (NARAHEI).
The proposed reforms in technical education were aimed at better aligning accreditation systems in the country with international benchmarks such as the Washington Accord, he said.
Stating that the Bill in this regard was widely expected to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament, M. Anandakrishnan, Chairman, Board of Governors, IIT-Kanpur, said one of the key objectives of the major revamp of the higher education sector mooted by the government was to distribute the task of accreditation among a host of competent agencies.
This, he said, would address the mounting backlog of institutions seeking accreditation.
As of now, about 1,511 engineering colleges out of 3,241 institutions in the country were eligible for accreditation under the basic criteria of having functioned for a minimum period of five years (the equivalent of having graduated two batches of students).
Prof. Anandakrishnan said the current Indian strategy was to go in for mandatory accreditation for all higher education institutions. The national supervisory body would confine its mandate to the issuance of licensing and leave the task of accreditation with multiple not-for-profit rating agencies, he said.
The process envisages provisions for programme-wise rating in addition to institution-wise rating, he said.
The experience with India's two-decades-old engagement with accreditation revealed that many institutions continued to look at accreditation as a status symbol that could be used as marketing ploy for commercial advantage and spiking the capitation fee, Prof. Anandakrishnan said.
One of the major drawbacks in the move towards mandatory accreditation and quality assurance was the absence of an internationally acceptable benchmark for quality assessment. The current practice of assessing input parameters, or the physical infrastructure, is a “necessary but insufficient” form of evaluation, he said.
Pointing out that often teacher-student ratios, size of classrooms or amount of video material were an insufficient gauge on quality, Prof. Anandakrishnan suggested the advocacy of “proxy parameters” adopted by many international accreditation bodies.
David Holger, former president, ABET Inc, US, underscored the importance of diverse approaches to accreditation at the global, national and regional levels. The challenge of accreditation was to attune to competencies and attributes that engineering graduates would require in the future, he said.
N. R. Shetty, ISTE president, outlined the backdrop of the accreditation meet. R. S. Munirathinam, founder-chairman, RMK Group, also participated.