While India has made considerable progress since independence in enhancing access of its citizens to higher education and the number of higher education institutions in the country has increased manifold, quality of higher education has continued to remain a serious concern for a pretty long time as a result of which excellence continues to remain elusive as a distant dream till date.
With a view to address these very concerns related to quality and excellence in higher education, National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) was established by the University Grants Commission in the year 1994 for evaluating the performance, assessment and accreditation of higher education institutions in the country.
At around the same time, National Board of Accreditation (NBA) was established by the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) in the year 1994, with the objectives of assurance of quality and relevance of the professional and technical programmes offered by educational institution from diploma to post-graduate level in engineering and technology, management, pharmacy, architecture, hotel management and catering technology and other related disciplines duly approved by the AICTE.
“Memorandum of Association” and Rules of NBA were amended in April 2013 to make it administratively and financially independent of AICTE. This was followed by the institution of National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the year 2015.
The parameters broadly covered under NIRF ranking include “Teaching, Learning and Resources,” “Research and Professional Practices,” “Graduation Outcomes,” “Outreach and Inclusivity,” and “Perception”.
Based on this framework first ever national level ranking of institutions was released on April 4th, 2016.On the other hand, assessment and accreditation criteria covered under NAAC include “Curricular Aspects”, “Teaching, Learning and Evaluation”, “Research, Innovations and Extension”, “Infrastructure and Learning Resources”, “Student Support and Progression”, “Governance, Leadership and Management” and “Institutional Values and Best Practices”.
While releasing the outcome of NIRF ranking 2022 on July 15 this year at an impressive function held in New Delhi, Union Minister of Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Dharmendra Pradhan reiterated that only those universities and colleges having NAAC grading or NIRF ranking will be eligible for inclusion in the list maintained by the University Grants Commission of India under Section 12B of the UGC Act, 1956 for the purpose of receiving financial assistance thus making it imperative for all institutions of higher learning to get themselves assessed and accredited by NIRF and/or NAAC for receiving financial assistance from the concerned ministry and UGC.
He further announced in his address that by next year the Ministry of Education will integrate institutional assessment and accreditation that is being currently undertaken by NAAC, NBA and NIRF and bring it under the ambit of NIRF including rankings finalized by AICTE on the basis of innovations.
He also declared thatNIRF ranking categories will also include innovation and entrepreneurship and the ranking of ITIs, Polytechnics and individual schools of various universities will also be undertaken from next year.
Though all these progressive measures are highly appreciated and welcome, in light of the implementation of new National Education Policy that is being carried out at present, need of the hour is to bring all these ranking and accreditation systems under one umbrella of National Accreditation Council (NAC) that is already slated to be established as one of the verticals of the upcoming National Higher Education Commission (NHEC) of India, under the aegis of NEP-2020.In either caseevolving the best possible criteria by integrating the assessment and accreditation parameters of all three of them assumes immense importance.
One may ask, after all, what is the need for their integration? Most important stakeholders and aspects of higher education are the students who are taught followed by teachers who teach, curriculum that is taught, teaching pedagogy (how they are taught) and the available infrastructure where they are taught.
While NIRF ranking parameters address most of the aspects concerning students, teaching, teachers, research, evaluation, infrastructure, inclusivity and peer perception, aspects related to the curriculum design, development, planning, implementation, flexibility and enrichment besides institutional best practices and distinctiveness are not considered at all while evaluating the performance and ranking of a higher educational institution whereas these aspects are not only duly considered under NAAC accreditation but are also given sufficient weightage making it the most comprehensive and reliable accreditation for higher education in India.
Though the aim of this write up is not to draw a comparison between NIRF ranking and NAAC accreditation or to show which one is better than the other, the main objective of this piece is to suggest how assessment and accreditation on the whole can be made more comprehensive, inclusive and credible through integration.
Two more important parameters that are conspicuously missing out in the evaluation process used for NIRF Ranking are placement of students and community outreach and extension activities.
While the “Graduate Outcome”(GO) parameter includes metrics for the number of students having passed the university examination and number of scholars having completed their doctorate only, it gives no weightage whatsoever to their placement, continuing professional development and their participation in extra-curricular activities.
Similarly, the parameter for “Outreach and Inclusivity” only includes metrics like regional diversity, women’s diversity, financial assistance to economically, socially and physically challenged students and ignores community outreach and extension activities altogether.
Furthermore, alumni networking and engagement, innovation ecosystem and extension activities are also not covered under NIRF that are otherwise some of the most important aspects of the higher education system.
Leaving behind such significant criteria in the process of scoring and accreditation can have ill-informing consequences on the final ranking of the institutions and can sometimes lead to drawing wrong conclusions too. Therefore, their integration seems to be the best way out.
Upon having a cursory look at the sub-category scores obtained by some of the top-ranking institutions of the country under NIRF-2022, it becomes evident that most of them are not scoring high in terms of parameters like regional diversity, intellectual property rights, online education, footprint of projects and professional practices, financial assistance for economically, socially and physically challenged students, financial resource mobilization and their utilization and therefore need to work harder on these very parameters.
Marginal improvements in the remaining parameters ultimately settles their mutual ranking at the national level.
It is high time that our higher educational institutions start working on those parameters in which they have been consistently scoring low and right away start devising and taking necessary measures to score better in these areas next year.
More emphasis needs to be laid upon registration of patents, mobilization and optimum utilization of financial resources, offering more online courses, attracting foreign students, offering more financial assistance to economically, socially and physically challenged students, creating more opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship including promotion of start-ups, fostering greater collaboration with national and foreign universities and creating a niche for themselves through institutional best practices and distinctiveness like green campus initiative, solar energy utilization, paperless e-governance, workflow automation, village level social work, community adoption, student and staff welfare measures, innovative teaching and evaluation methods, robust mentor-mentee system, alumni networking and engagement, multi-disciplinary education and research. Peer perception carries the highest 100 marks (with a weightage of 0.1) in NIRF ranking and therefore deserves greater attention too.
This mainly includes perception of the institution among academic peers and employers though a good perception among students and common masses is equally important for an educational institution to thrive and that can be enhanced by making our education and research locally and socially relevant and context-specific, thereby increasing their societal impact, acceptance and credibility.
To conclude there is a need to integrate all existing assessment, accreditation and ranking systems like NAAC, NIRF, NBA, AISHE etc into one fool-proof and credible system under NAC that should be in tune with time-tested, well-established, best international practices, norms and standards taking into consideration overall progress and performance of the institution in all spheres of education, evaluation, research, community outreach, extension, consultancy and innovation.
Further the new parameters and criteria for assessment and accreditation must be comprehensive, holistic, all-encompassing, societal impact and learning-outcome oriented that will take into consideration various goals and objectives of the new National Education Policy of 2020 too and will eventually assess the higher education institutions on accomplishment of these very goals because unless the objectives of NEP-2020 are integrated with assessment, accreditation, ranking and subsequent financial support to the higher education institutions, it will be difficult to accomplish those objectives in a time-bound and effective manner, making the implementation of NEP-2020 somewhat sluggish.
Until NAC is put into place by NHEC of India under the aegis of NEP-2020 our higher educational institutions need to strive hard on their NAAC grading and NIRF ranking on a war-footing basis because this will set their stage for re-imaging themselves and emerging as global universities with international standards of education and research.
(Ideas expressed are author’s own and not of the institution that he works for)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.