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Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

The controversy over NAAC’s system for assessing higher education

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council courted controversy recently over the ratings of Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, which changed from A to A+. What is NAAC, and how is the accreditation process carried out? What is the recent controversy about?

Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (Source: msubaroda.ac.in)

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), which carries out quality checks or assessments of Indian Higher-level Educational Institutions (HEIs), courted controversy recently over the rating of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and allegations of bribery in the process.

When the NAAC released the ratings, the institute’s score changed from A to A+ on the back of improvement across parameters. The allegations have surfaced at a time when the NAAC is exploring changes in its approach.

What is NAAC?

The NAAC, an autonomous body under the University Grants Commission (UGC), assesses and certifies HEIs with gradings as part of accreditation. Through a multi-layered process, a higher education institution learns whether it meets the standards of quality set by the evaluator in terms of curriculum, faculty, infrastructure, research, and other parameters. The ratings of institutions range from A++ to C. If an institution is graded D, it means it is not accredited.

How is the accreditation process carried out?

In a recently-published white paper, co-authored by NAAC executive committee chairman Bhushan Patwardhan and former Indian Institute of Science Education and Research professor KP Mohanan, the current approach has been described as “input-based”. In other words, NAAC relies heavily on self-assessment reports of applicant institutions.

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The first step has an applicant institution submitting a self-study report of information related to quantitative and qualitative metrics. The data is then validated by NAAC expert teams, followed by peer team visits to the institutions. This last step has sparked controversy.

What is the latest controversy about?

NAAC had reportedly withheld the grading of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda after receiving an anonymous complaint that the university unduly tried to influence the peer review team with gold, cash and other favours.

However, on September 15, NAAC released the improved grading, terming the allegations as “false”. Interestingly, the controversy has surfaced at a time when the council is considering reducing the role of the peer team visits in the overall scheme of things. “The process of Peer Team Visits adds substantial effort on the part of both NAAC and the HEIs. Hence, we recommend that the role of Peer Team visits be facilitatory in nature and not have a significant weightage in assessment and accreditation,” according to the white paper published on July 13 following its review and endorsement by the NAAC academic advisory committee and the advisory council.

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What are the alternatives being explored?

From the prevailing “input-based” approach, the NAAC plans to adopt an “outcome-based approach”. The white paper states the current system is akin to accepting the claim of a PhD candidate that his thesis is of high quality. Instead, it suggests that emphasis should be on finding out if students are equipped with relevant skills and academic abilities.

Rather than relying exclusively on the self-study reports of the HEIs, the NAAC should ask institutions to provide evidence such as samples of learning materials, continuous assessment tasks and final examinations to show they have outcomes of learning specified in the syllabus, according to the white paper.

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How many institutions in India are accredited?

There are 1,043 universities and 42,343 colleges listed on the portal of the All India Survey on Higher Education. As per the latest data from June 21, there were 406 universities and 8,686 colleges that were NAAC-accredited. Among the states, Maharashtra accounts for the highest number of accredited colleges at 1,869 – more than twice as many as Karnataka’s 914, the second highest. Tamil Nadu has the most accredited universities at 43.

Can all higher educational institutes apply for accreditation?

Under the rules, only higher education institutions that are at least six years old, or from where at least two batches of students have graduated, can apply. The accreditation is valid for five years. Aspiring institutes need to be recognised by the UGC and have regular students enrolled in their full-time teaching and research programmes. There are only 19 universities and 121 colleges that have been reviewed by the NAAC four times, with a gap of five years between each grading. When an institution undergoes the accreditation process for the first time it is referred to as Cycle 1, and the subsequent five-year periods as Cycles 2, 3 and so on.

Why are so few institutes accredited?

According to current and former officials of the NAAC, the fear of obtaining a poor grade or no accreditation at all holds back higher education institutes from voluntarily applying for evaluation. This is despite accreditation having been made mandatory through the UGC (Mandatory Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012.

Earlier this year, NAAC explored the possibility of a new system of Provisional Accreditation for Colleges (PAC) under which even one-year-old institutions could apply for accreditation. The provisional certificates would be valid for two years, it suggested. But the committee that drew up the white paper, which also underwent multiple rounds of revisions, observed that such a system can lead to compromise with quality. “The PAC proposal implies a lowering of standards so that a greater number of colleges can gain Provisional Accreditation. Instead, it would be wiser on the part of NAAC to help the colleges improve the quality of education they provide, such that they can be successful in meeting the standards that NAAC accreditation calls for,” it said.

First published on: 20-09-2022 at 04:38:35 am
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