Accreditation of Higher Education Institutions in India

Accreditation of Higher Education Institutions in India

Higher education accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operations of post-secondary educational institutions or programs are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. If standards are met, accredited status is granted by the agency.The United States-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-governmental organization, maintains an International Directory which “contains contact information of about 467 quality assurance bodies, accreditation bodies and Ministries of Education in 175 countries. The quality assurance and accreditation bodies have been authorized to operate by their respective governments either as agencies of the government or as private (non-governmental) organizations.” In September 2012, University World News reported the launching on an international division of the CHEA.

In most countries around the world, the function of educational accreditation for higher education is conducted by a government organization, such as a ministry of education.

The Indian system of higher education has always responded well to the challenges of the time. Two decades ago, when the system came under severe criticism that it had allowed the mushrooming of higher education institutions (HEIs), compromising the quality of educational offerings, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) took initiatives to restore the standards of higher education. Consequently, the National Policy on Education (1986) that laid special emphasis on upholding the quality of higher education in India noted certain policy initiatives. On the recommendations of the Programme of Action (1992) document that provided the guidelines for the implementation of the National Policy on Education (1986), in 1994, the UGC established the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) as an autonomous body to assess and accredit institutions of higher education and its units thereof, with its headquarters at Bangalore.
The mission statements of the NAAC aim at translating the vision into action by the following engagement:

  1. • To arrange for periodic assessment and accreditation of institutions of higher education or units thereof, or specific academic programmes or projects;
    • To stimulate the academic environment for promotion of quality of teaching-learning and research in higher education institutions;
    • To encourage self-evaluation, accountability, autonomy and innovations in higher education;
    • To undertake quality-related research studies, consultancy and training programmes, and
    • To collaborate with other stakeholders of higher education for quality evaluation, promotion and sustenance.Striving to achieve its vision and mission, the NAAC primarily assesses the quality of institutions of higher education that opt for the process, through the internationally accepted methodology.

The NAAC also has many advisory and consultative committees to guide its practices, in addition to the statutory bodies that steer its policies. The NAAC has a core staff and consultants to support its activities. In addition, it receives assistance from a large number of external resource persons from across the country who are not full time staff of NAAC.The activities and future plans of NAAC are guided by its vision and mission that have a focus on making quality assurance an integrated functioning of the higher education institutions. Its vision isto make quality the defining element of higher education in India through a combination of self and external quality evaluation, promotion and sustenance initiatives.
The methodology
The NAAC follows the following three-stage process, which is a combination of self-study and peer review, for assessment of a unit:

  1. • Preparation and submission of self-study report by the institution
    • On-site visit of the peer team for validation of the report and for recommending the assessment outcome to NAAC
    • Final decision by the Executive Council of NAAC

The self-study report to be validated by the peers is the backbone of the whole exercise. Manuals have been developed to suit different units of higher education, with detailed guidelines on preparation of the self-study report and the other aspects of assessment and accreditation.The NAAC functions through its General Council (GC) and Executive Committee (EC) where educational administrators, policy makers and senior academicians from a cross section of the system of higher education are represented. The Chairperson of UGC is the President of the GC of NAAC; the Chairperson of EC is an eminent academician in the area of relevance to NAAC. The Executive Officer of NAAC is the Director who is its academic and administrative head, and is the member-secretary of both GC and EC.
Criteria for assessment
The NAAC has identified the following seven criteria to serve as the basis of its assessment procedures:

  1. • Curricular Aspects
    • Teaching-learning and Evaluation
    • Research, Consultancy and Extension
    • Infrastructure and Learning Resources
    • Student Support and Progression
    • Organisation and Management
    • Healthy Practices

The self-study report is expected to highlight the functioning of the institution with reference to these areas.

The validation of the self-study report by the peers results in criterion-wise scores and a detailed report. The criterion scores are further used to arrive at the overall institutional score. The NAAC assigns the institutional grade on a nine-point scale based on the institutional score. If the overall score is more than 55%, the institution gets the “Accredited status” and the accredited institutions are graded on a nine-point scale. Institutions, which do not attain the minimum 55% points for accreditation, would also be intimated and notified indicating that the institution is “Assessed And Found Not Qualified For Accreditation”. The assessment outcome is valid for a period of 5 years. With these methodological elements NAAC has seen various stages of development.From the initial phase of apprehension about the philosophy of external review, the country has gradually moved to the current phase of appreciation for the intrinsic benefits of accreditation. Hundreds of seminars organized by NAAC throughout the country, have created awareness among the stakeholders on quality related issues.

The publication program of NAAC has ensured effective dissemination of information about assessment and accreditation. The way NAAC developed the manuals and guidelines through a large number of national consultations and workshops, involving the cross-section of the academia, has led to the acceptance and appreciation of the methodology of NAAC. With stakeholder behaviour making it clear that the outcome of assessment by NAAC will form the basis for some of their decisions, large number of institutions have approached NAAC for assessment. The following characteristics of NAAC that have greatly contributed to this acceptance and appreciation deserve a mention:The overall quality assurance framework followed by NAAC incorporates elements of all the three basic approaches to quality assurance – accreditation, assessment and academic audit. NAAC accreditsinstitutions and certifies for the educational quality of the institution. It also goes beyond the certification and provides an assessment that classifies an institution on a nine-point scale indicating where the institution stands in the quality continuum. A small team of external peers is sent to the institution mostly as generalists and the report is made public as in the case of academic audit. In practice this has been found to be the best choice for the huge and diverse system of higher education we have.

The unit of assessment appropriate to the objectives of assessment and the national context has been chosen based on clear rationale. Since putting systems in place was seen as the major objective to meet first, NAAC decided to promote institutional accreditation in the first cycle. Further, the Indian context with regard to the following also strengthened the leaning towards institution as the unit of assessment: Feasibility of Coverage within the cycle of assessment, Usefulness of outcomes to Stakeholders, Size of beneficiaries, Impact on Policies, Centralised Facilities at the institutional level, Collective Impact being more than the sum of parts, Inter-disciplinary Approach to Programs, Linkage to Funding, Critical Mass of the unit, Sustainability and Public Consciousness of Quality.The reporting strategy of NAAC is an overall institutional grade supplemented with a detailed assessment report, which is made public. NAAC was aware that “confidentiality Vs public disclosure” of assessment report is a bone of contention in many countries, and that both the points have valid arguments. However, the evolving systems are more towards public disclosure and NAAC consciously opted for public disclosure. After ensuring through appropriate safeguards that the report qualifies to be a NAAC document, the full report is made public.
Care was taken to ensure that its strategies had the following elements:

  1. • Broad involvement and consensus building to ensure widespread support in evolving the norms and criteria
    • Careful development of the methods and instruments for assessment
    • Transparency in all its policies and practices
    • Rigorous implementation of procedures
    • Safeguards to enhance the professionalism of assessment

Value framework of NAAC
In this era of values losing their significance, the accreditation framework of the NAAC has made higher education institutions in India think about the values they practice. The focus on values practiced in the functioning of higher education institutions has been rekindled due to the salient features (critical elements) of the NAAC’s model that are based on certain assumptions of values, i.e. desirable practices. The appreciation of the desirable values is expected to result in a better understanding of the practices, particularly in the context of varying realities.

The value framework of NAAC starts with its right choice of ‘unit’ of evaluation, namely institution as a whole, which promotes a holistic value. The institutional accreditation that focuses on the policies, facilitating aspects and evidence of healthy practices of the whole system strengthens a healthy interdependence among the campus community. Gradually it promotes the holistic mind-set that is essential for developing institutional excellence and institutional ‘dharma’, subsuming individual excellence and individual ‘dharma’.

Added to the holistic approach to assessment, the criteria-based assessment of NAAC that forms the backbone of the whole assessment exercise promotes judgment based on values. The key aspects identified under each of the seven criteria serve as Indicators of Quality and they reflect the values of the system on which assessment is made. For example, the criterion on “Research, Consultancy and Extension” promotes the values such as Knowledge Creation, Knowledge Dissemination, Knowledge Application, Social Responsiveness and Community Orientation. The criterion on “Organisation and Management” promotes the values such as Participation, Transparency, Integrated View of Things, Team Work, Justice, Self-reliance and Probity in Public Finance. The values to be promoted by NAAC are also made explicit in the criterion statements.

The process of undergoing the accreditation itself has been a rewarding experience for the institutions to rethink the values they should be practising. When institutions worked on the accreditation framework of NAAC and prepared the self-study report, they realized that it promoted the values of Self-realization and Participation. Gradually it has triggered an objective ‘self-critical’ approach to one’s own behaviour and has led to self- realisation, which is very essential for an educational institution that stands for autonomy and self-regulation. Self-knowledge has to precede self-regulation, which in turn is a prerequisite for self-realisation.

Innovations Triggered by the NAAC’s process
The impact analysis revealed that the NAAC’s process made a significant change in all aspects of institutional functioning – pedagogical, managerial and administrative. One could see that the institutions had become more open and sensitive to the needs. The need to keep abreast of changing trends was felt by one and all, and institutions now found it easier to introduce innovations as everyone realised the importance of coping with the needs of the present world. The autonomous institutions that had the freedom to innovate in curriculum and the affiliated colleges that were offering additional programmes of their own restructured the curriculum. In the scheme of assessment of NAAC, the criterion Teaching-learning and Evaluation carries the maximum weightage.

It gave a positive stimulus to institutional attention and oriented the institutions to improving their quality of teaching-learning by going beyond the routine examination-oriented outcome. Improved teaching methods using educational technology, projects and student seminars, providing of computer skills, encouragement of co-curricular activities, and incorporation of community orientation were observed.While the characteristics and the impact the process has made among the accredited HEIs is very encouraging in the case of first timers of the first cycle of assessment, the way NAAC moves forward with the re-accreditation also needs a mention here. Based on a large number of national consultations and building on the lessons of experience, the re-accreditation methodology is being firmed up.

Collaboration with other Professional Bodies
The Indian system of higher education has many regulatory mechanisms to ensure the satisfactory functioning of the HEIs. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) is a statutory body established in 1995 to regulate and maintain norms and standards in teacher education. NCTE signed a MOU with NAAC in 2002 for all teacher education institutions to undergo collaborative assessment. The methodology is the same but the criteria have been slightly modified, to suit the context of the teacher education institutions. Combining the subject expertise of NCTE and the quality assurance expertise of NAAC, the methodology has been implemented for the teacher education institutions of the country. The efforts of NCTE and NAAC to ensure and assure the quality of teacher education in the country are complementary to each other. While the norms of NCTE ensure the minimum requirements that is essential for quality education, NAAC’s framework for assessment looks for the quality and excellence of the institutions. In the years to come, NAAC will enter into agreements with professional bodies for collaborative assessment, in areas where it is required.
Re-accreditation method
The following five core values have been identified for the re-accreditation process:

  • 1. Relating to National Development
    2. Fostering Global Competencies among Students
    3. Inculcating the Value System
    4. Promoting the Use of Technology
    5. Quest for Excellence

Quality sustenance
During the first assessment, the NAAC’s process has triggered quality initiatives in many aspects of functioning of HEIs. The preparation of the self- study report has served as a catalyst for institutional self-improvement. The participation of the faculty members, administrative staff, students, parents and alumni has lead to new initiatives. Interaction with the peers has assisted this process and also provided a means for the wider dissemination of information about educational development. It has triggered many innovative practices and paved way for institutionalising those practices.Establishing internal quality assurance cells to coordinate the quality initiatives and use of technology in the learning process as well as for administration are a few such initiatives. These changes have a direct bearing on the quality of education and the re- accreditation will consider how these initiatives have been sustained during the accredited period.

Quality enhancement
It is proper and educationally sound to expect that re-assessment has to bring to limelight how institutions have progressed over a period of five years with accredited status. It is reasonable that the re-assessment will give a due place to the quality initiatives promoted by the first assessment and the consequent quality enhancement that has taken place.
Issues of concern
The points highlighted so far indicate how NAAC is making a steady progress in the field of quality assurance in higher education at both national and international levels. The developmental path is not free from concerns, but most of the concerns NAAC is dealing with today continue to be the concerns world over. A few of them are as below.
NAAC is promoting the establishment of Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) in all higher education institutions in general, and in accredited institutions, in particular. Establishing an IQAC is a pre-requisite for any institution that comes forward for re- accreditation.

To conclude, during the past nine years, the NAAC has made a niche in the higher education scenario of India. It will continue to uphold its upward growth to ensure its leadership at the international level in general and in the Asia-Pacific region in particular. The next few years will show how NAAC moves ahead successfully balancing both the national context and the international expectations. With the support of the enlightened academia, policy makers, and dedicated staff, one can be sure that NAAC will face the challenges reasonably well and prove its mettle.

By – Assistant Professor – Ms. Kumud Misra
Department of B.Ed.
Uttaranchal College of Education
Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital