Reducing compliance burden in Higher Education

Representational Photo

Early this year Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry (DPIIT) was entrusted to act as a nodal department for coordinating the exercise of minimizing the compliance burden on industry as well as on citizens with an aim to provide services in a time bound, transparent and predictable manner to the industry with a minimum human interface. Later Prime Minister of India desired that this should be adopted by all ministries, departments and states including the Ministry of Education in a mission mode and completed in time bound manner for better compliance management and ease of doing business.

Compliance management comprises the actions and measures taken to facilitate ease of doing business at the higher education institutions both internally as well as externally with a view to reduce the burden of filling up forms and completing processes and thereby enhance adherence to norms, rules and regulations as well as minimize costs and inconvenience to all the stakeholders. Internal controls and measures govern all activities falling under the ambit of interface between university and departments as well as between departments and teachers and students whereas the external controls and measures govern the activities at the interface between university and regulators like UGC or Union Ministry of Education. Compliance management includes solutions mostly based on Information Communication Technology (ICT) and e-governance that are primarily aimed at simplifying the statutory procedures and making them less tedious and cumbersome both for the students and the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) through an online single window system. Once an integrated and well-coordinated system is in place for complying with regulatory and statutory requirements for the students, teachers and higher education institutions, adherence to norms and instructions and fulfilment of requirements becomes a whole lot easier. It also minimizes the hazards of wrong doings at the organizational level besides statutory non-compliance. Though developing a common understanding of compliance management is a real challenge in higher educational institutions, it provides an excellent opportunity to move a few steps closer towards excellence with improved performance and optimized outcomes. Implementing rules and regulations, internal or external, in letter and spirit is the responsibility of all stakeholders including teachers, non-teaching staff and students.

Primary goal of measures aimed at reducing compliance burden is to harmonize, streamline, and wherever possible eliminate unnecessary forms, procedures and reporting requirements with a view to maximize and speed up compliance, integrate processes, increase fund utilization and optimize outcomes in teaching and research while ensuring accountability at higher education institutions. These measures are also aimed at helping the universities to review their existing institutional policies to ensure that they are not adding unnecessary processes, procedures, burden and costs on themselves or on their teachers and students. At present universities are functioning under a great deal of command-and-control system and regulations from UGC/MoE, that includes burdensome documentation, recording and reporting requirements. One characteristic feature of regulations under the current system governing higher education institutions is that their eligibility for financial assistance under various central schemes is determined by the periodic ranking, accreditation and review by the government authorized accreditation agencies like NAAC, NIRF and NAB. However, the quantum of forms required to be filled and documents to be submitted for such accreditation and ranking is so huge that it deters many institutions from applying for the same in time thus reducing their compliance. Similarly the quantum of documentation and compliance by teachers required at various stages of their promotions is so enormous that many teachers end up applying too late for the same. All this needs too be changed radically by making online solutions and portals available to students, teachers as well as institutions for uploading their data from time to time where from it can be extracted and integrated in real-time as and when needed.

For managing workflows in higher education, system safety and security, accuracy, accountability and user-friendly interfaces are critical. HEIs deal with a large quantum of paperwork, documentation and requests that have to be managed on daily basis. As per Barta BZ et al (1995) computers can be used extensively for effective educational administration in workflow areas including general administration, pay roll and financial accounting, administration of student data, inventory management, maintenance of personnel records, library and information system etc. By automating the workflow around activities and functions like student registration, student admissions, selection of OE/GE courses under choice-based credit system, conduct of online classes, student information, time table, transport, examinations, performance, grades, hostels, security, maintenance of attendance, internal assessment, library, salary and expenses, registration and conduct of examinations, e-award system, e-transit modules, result compilation and declaration, re-checking and re-evaluation system, certificate distribution, issuance of transcripts, marks card printing, sms or text-based alert services, stream change or migration, e-tutorials and e-contents, online learning and open education resources etc, paper-based manual processes reduce considerably paving way for a more efficient and productive institutional workflow. It brings a lot of convenience and comfort to the students as well saving a lot of their precious time while enhancing compliance to norms and regulations. However, the need for submitting hard copies after applying or registering online should be minimized as that mars the very spirit and purpose of the entire automation exercise. And secondly all these systems should be integrated and well connected with each other so that the information uploaded at one system should be visible and retrieved everywhere else. In this regard, progress already made and ground gained under NAD (National Academic Depository) needs to be further exploited and scaled up.

Attempts need to be made to make single window management system available for both internal and external controls of the higher education institutions. Homepage of the institutional website must provide links to all online services and tools available that must be clearly visible as well as easily accessible. Secondly data uploaded by departments and teachers using only one Unique Institutional or Universal ID through Internal Quality Assurance or IT wing must be corroborated and integrated with all other sections dealing with examination, recruitment, accounts, research and academics. Data must be consolidated in real-time and the same must be automatically used as and when required for promotions, reconciliation, appraisals, assessment, annual reports etc without the need to submit any hard copies thus avoiding duplication, repetition, deficiencies, discrepancies and inaccuracies in the data submitted. Need for uploading the same data for each wing separately at different times must be completely done away with. Similarly the UGC or Union Ministry of Education must develop a portal at the central level where higher education institutions can upload their data from time to time and the same gets consolidated and utilized for different purposes in real time as and when needed for activities like accreditation, assessment and evaluation, ranking, project allocation, funding, grant of positions, programmes and centres. Phrases such as Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) or Management Information System (MIS) have been typically used for integrating information from different universities to consolidate them on a common operating platform for analysis or data aggregation purposes. In order to achieve the objective of a paperless university there is need for complete automation of the file management system, accounts management, online payment gateways, online budget management system, class schedule approvals, curriculum peer reviews, faculty travel and deputation requests, financial aid requests, grant proposal processes, internship applications, staff and faculty onboarding besides vendor approvals.

Processes and procedures involved in research too need to be simplified and automated through a well-integrated Research Management System that provides all services in a seamless manner including online synopsis submission, minutes of DRC meeting online, allocation of research guide, submission of synopsis to BORS, synopsis approval (or rejection) by the BORS, half-yearly progress report submission, online thesis submission, approval by research guide, submission to Head of the Department, academic clearance by Dean Research, award of degree, publication of result notification, online accounting system for research projects, online system for M.Phil. and Ph.D. registration, assessment and award. A single window system in research will ensure accomplishment of research projects and completion of research degrees well in time thus avoiding delays and unnecessary hassles for the scholars as well as principal investigators. It will reduce red tape too that acts as a great deterrent for many a promising researcher in seeking grants from funding agencies for executing their research projects.

Higher Education Institutions need cost-effective, IT-based, online solutions that allow forgeneration, use and re-use of customized, user-friendly, automated processes that can eliminate redundancies, delays and non-compliance and consolidate student as well as staff services into a single portal, provide a better service experience, limit or completely replace manual and paper-based processes for students and staff, centralize and streamline the review and approval process for requests, track and summarize requests that need to be routed through departments before final approval, meet statutory and regulatory requirements and improve internal controls. With workflow automation, we can streamline workflow in critical, student-facing departments like studentswelfare, admissions, registration, examination and academic records. An efficient and fully functional e-governance system in higher education will enable various stakeholders to achieve an improved operational efficiency in various key processes like submission of grant requests, disbursement of funds, utilization certificates, approval processes, ranking and accreditation, feedback mechanism etc. Our universities need to evolve by providing their students a centralized, user-friendly portal to submit requests and provide information, while providing teaching and non-teaching staff with powerful, automated workflow and request handling tools. By replacing slow, manual processes with the automated workflow universities can move students through their processes faster, improving their experience and compliance with the standards at the same time.

Author is Dean, Academic Affairs, University of Kashmir