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Quality education needs academic audits

Many institutions do not meet the quality standards and criteria the accrediting bodies impose. Permission granted to educational institutions without checking their genuine capabilities has only worsened the situation, with schools and colleges mushrooming in all corners without adequate infrastructure.
Last Updated : 01 July 2024, 23:17 IST

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The higher education scenario in India is undergoing a great transformation, with new educational standards and mandatory accreditation processes for institutions to survive. However, many institutions do not meet the quality standards and criteria the accrediting bodies impose. Several affiliating bodies and boards prescribe institutions’ infrastructure, curriculum, and pedagogy standards.

Some known accrediting bodies include the National Board of Accreditation (NBA), which focuses on technical and professional programs, and the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), which assesses higher education institutions. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) approves new technical institutions and courses. The Medical Council of India (MCI), now the National Medical Commission, certifies quality in medical education, while the Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) controls pharmacy education. The Indian Nursing Council (INC) regulates nursing education, and the Bar Council of India (BCI) is for legal education. These bodies play a pivotal role in India’s higher education sector.

Many institutions do not adhere to the norms stipulated by these bodies. Permission granted to educational institutions without checking their genuine capabilities has only worsened the situation, with schools and colleges mushrooming in all corners without adequate infrastructure.

Misleading ranking systems and confusing accreditation and affiliation processes have become travesties. In India, several institutions falsify their data to enhance their rankings and accreditations. Fudging the data in placements, lab, library, and faculty requirements is common.

Accreditations and rankings are intended to serve as a measure of educational quality, yet several issues continue even to this day:

Data manipulation:  Faculty qualifications, faculty strength, salary structure, research output, infrastructure requirements, and student performance in examinations and placements etc are sometimes manipulated to secure better ranking and accreditation standards.

Momentary compliance: Some institutions upgrade or polish themselves just before the visit of accrediting and affiliating bodies, which does not represent the actual day-to-day operations.

Influence: Using influence and corruption to secure favourable results is a common problem.

No follow-ups and monitoring: The accrediting authorities should monitor the institutions regularly to ensure standards are not on books for a day but throughout.

With all these issues in place, ambiguities and shortcomings in the processes help the institutions not following the norms get accredited.

How do we tackle these? The solution lies in the hands of higher education institutions. ‘Perform or perish’ should be the mantra. The institutions wanting to excel should work toward creating a benchmark in their processes and systems.

For this to happen, academic audit is the way forward for institutions if they need to excel in all aspects and stand out in quality and transparency. Academic audits help institutions benchmark their practices in curriculum design, teaching methodologies, research output, and student outcomes against the standards set by accrediting bodies.

Practical solutions

We cannot overlook the practical hitches encountered by some institutions. Smaller institutions have limited infrastructural, financial, and human resources. The cumbersome documentation processes are time-consuming and expensive burdens on such institutions. The quality of hiring and retaining faculty is a challenge for several institutions.

At the same time, accrediting bodies have unreasonable standards and expectations irrespective of institutions’ capacity. Even the best-rated state and central universities do not meet the criteria set by the accrediting bodies.

To address these challenges and loopholes, institutions must ensure a robust accreditation process through implementing academic audits. Academic audits enable institutions to continuously improve quality, transparency, and compliance with the standards of accrediting bodies. The academic audit process has these advantages:

Long-term benefits to institutions: Academic audits stress continuous improvements in quality rather than one-time compliance, which helps the institution sustain itself for a long time.

Transparency and accountability: Academic audits increase the transparency and accountability of all stakeholders involved in the institution. This can eliminate influence and resort to illegal ways to get accreditation.

Feedback and ongoing assessments: Academic audits help provide detailed feedback through consistent review of processes and systems. This feedback assists institutions in understanding their strengths and weaknesses and making the necessary improvements at any time.

Alignment with best practices: When discussing internationalisation, academic audit ensures consistency and fairness by aligning with best practices globally.

Optimise resources: Academic audits help optimise available resources and make improvements through actionable items.

The ripple effect: If the institution prepares for accreditation, it should undergo an academic audit that triggers better infrastructure, research facilities, quality faculty and student engagement. This will genuinely result in an enhanced educational experience for students.

The higher education should adopt systems and practices that promote openness, accountability and development. Academic audit is the solution and is essential in improving the efficiency of India’s accreditation process and the quality of education.

(The author is the director of an engineering college in Bengaluru)

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Published 01 July 2024, 23:17 IST

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