By Dr J S Dev
Indian higher education system is the second largest in the world. It caters to the needs of about 13 million students through 559 universities and 31324 colleges. After globalisation many countries of standing established their own national councils/bodies for assessment and accreditation of their institutions of higher education for ensuring the quality education in order to compete the world market. Following this global trend the Govt of India also established National Assessment and Accreditation Council with its headquarters at Bangalore in the year 1994. It was established with a mandate to assess and accredit higher education institutions and also with an objective of maintenance and improvement of quality of higher education.
National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) besides its primary functions of assessing and accrediting the institutions of higher education also performs complementary functions which include preparation of pre and post accrediting strategies, organization of seminars/workshops/conferences to share and discuss education quality related issues, to provide guidance to institutions for preparing their self study report and to promote the establishment of quality assurance units etc. Though in a NAAC has put forth its best efforts to propagate the quality assurance mechanism yet it has faced several challenges and resistance from academia for the assessment process. Many institutions had apprehesions and some of their were indifferent or reluctant to undergo the process of accreditation. As the accreditation process is voluntary in nature. Therefore, NAAC cannot enforce the institutions for the same. And the result is that NAAC has so far accredited about 5000 institutions including 167 universities and 4500 colleges of which 67 universities and 732 colleges were re-accredited because accreditation is valid for five years only.
During the first phase (1999-2002) NAAC adopted 5 grades (ranging from a single star to five stars) methodology for assessment and accreditation. Assessment is performance evaluation of an institution and is accomplished through a process based on self study and poor review using a defined criteria. Accreditation refers to the certification given by the NAAC which is valid for five years. The process of assessment followed by NAAC is in accordance with internationally accepted practice but with certain modifications to suit the Indian system. During the first phase 258 institutions were accredited including 47 universities and 81 colleges.
From initial period of resistance it then moved to acceptance and during the second cycle (2002-2007) NAAC put in practice 9 point scale. Under this system institutions were assessed on pre-determined criteria but were graded on 9 point scale with nine grades viz A++, A+, A, B++, B+, B,C++, C+ and C. About 3500 institutions were assessed under this system. Even though these was normal distribution of grades under this method, yet it was found to have certain inherent limitations. Based on the field experience and to overcome limitations NAAC switched over to a new method effective from Ist of April, 2007.
According to new methodology the institutions have been classified into two groups. Group I includes affiliated and constituent colleges. Group II includes universities, autonomous colleges and colleges with potential for excellence. For institutions falling under Group I a two step process has been introduced where as for Group II a single step approach is in vogue. An intending institution from both groups is first required to submit its letter of intent on the prescribed proforma and Group I institution has also to apply for obtaining Institutional Eligibility for Quality Assessment Status (IQAS). Group I institution successful in earning IQAS moves to next step and those who fail to obtain IQAS can again apply after one year.
Under second step a self study report is submitted as per NAAC manual. Then Peer team is deputed for on site visit to validate the information reflected in the self study report by the particular institution.
As per new methodology the institutions are graded under four categories viz A,B,C and D. The category A denotes very good, B-good, C-satisfactory and D-unsatisfactory. As compared to previous methods it is more rigorous and ensures better reliability. NAAC has also established a committee to look into the grievances of institutions about Peer team visit and accreditation status earned.
The HRD Ministry introduced in Parliament, ”the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010” to make provisions for assessment of institutions of higher education through mandatory accreditation by independent agencies and to establish a statutory Authority for the said purpose. The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority when in place shall register independent accreditation agencies and shall regulate the process of accreditation. It shall also specify the norms and standards to be followed by these agencies for accreditation.
Though the NAAC has been striving hard to inculcate the culture of quality improvement in higher education yet there are many areas to cover. NAAC concentrates mainly on academic programmes only and leaves administrative affairs which are otherwise equally important and without that the process and product of NAAC would certainly be farce.
Conclusively the Philosophy of NAAC is ameliorative and enabling rather than punitive or judgemental. It provides guidance to the institutions of higher education so that their different constituencies are empowered to maximise their resources, opportunities and capabilities.
(The author is former Registrar Jammu University)