We have problems in the country, lots of them. But we also have solutions in the country. And thanks to successive governments' indulgence, lots of them too, 23 of them at the last count. And there is a promise that if these 23 can not solve all problems of India, we will create more of them.
One of the problems is the poor quality of higher education. It was hoped not too long ago that India will reap the immense benefits of a young population, the demographic dividend, as they said. But without a good quality education, that dividend seems to be becoming a liability. One of the ways of improving quality is to insist on accreditation by a bunch of supposedly quality conscious individuals following some guidelines and checking things in each college. NAAC was born out of this requirement. But NAAC has not been able to grow fast enough. It is said that at the current rate of accreditation, they will take 38 years to accredit only the existing institutions, and in these 38 years there will be many new ones. So in the foreseeable future there is no hope of making accreditation compulsory for all.
The new HRD Minister is quick to figure out that we need multiple accreditation bodies. This is, not a new revelation, of course. A lot of people have been saying that we need accreditation agencies in the private sector. But when it comes to education, private sector is bad, not to be touched with a 10 feet pole, never mind that most of our students are studying in private institutions and that many of these are superior to most government institutions. So the minister has been advised that perhaps IITs could be the accreditation agencies.
Here are the links to some of the news reports regarding this:
Centre plans 10-20 more accreditation agencies besides NAAC, says HRD Minister
Prakash Javadekar for giving IITs and IIMs accreditation body status
Do IITs have the bandwidth. Will this not be a distraction. Remember, compulsory accreditation once in 5 years for 38,000 institutions means 7600 accreditations per year, and if 20 organizations are involved in accreditation, then each of these organizations on an average will have to accredit 380 institutions in a year. That is a huge workload in addition to teaching and research.
I am sure some IITs will see a huge business opportunity in this. We can hire an agency to do this job under some bit of supervision from our side. Charge heavily so that a decent profit is made which can improve the quality of education at IITs further. Basically, a transfer of wealth from poor institutes to richer institutes.
But there is a more fundamental question. Should someone who has scant regard for the accreditation process be doing it. Today, accreditation is no longer based on inputs. You don't just look at the infrastructure, number of faculty, etc. You look at what are the vision, mission statements of the institute. What are the goals of each academic program. What is the outcome of each course in that program, and how it contributes towards the overall goal of that program. Having looked at all of it, one then asks questions regarding, how do we know that these outcomes are being attained. We also look at the whether there is a process for continuous improvement, looking at those outcomes and goals and discussing whether they remain relevant, etc.
I can't say about all IITs, but I can confidently say that IIT Kanpur does not do anything of this sort. We do not have a vision statement even 56 years after we were set up. We don't have goals for our programs, we don't have outcomes for our courses, etc. We are perhaps a unique institution which says that while there will be a feedback of all courses every semester, that feedback can not be used for any administrative decision. If you look at the way proposals are drafted, they invariably would not talk about options and what are the pluses and minuses of those options. The way minutes of the meetings are written, one could be forgiven to think that our language of instruction is not English. Overall, they have complete contempt for this process, which they believe is too bureaucratic, and is designed to generate employment. And that is fine. They still have done wonderfully well in academics. They still teach well, and they still do good research. They may fail the accreditation test, but if they don't want to go through accreditation (as long as it is optional), that is their call. And the market has already decided whether they need accreditation or not.
But while, it is alright if IIT Kanpur does not follow what Washington Accord suggests as best practices, or what NAAC will come and check, but it is not alright for such an institution to inspect other institutions and demand that they follow the same best practices which we have contempt for. And I suspect that it is not just about IIT Kanpur, but a lot of IITs are in the same boat.
So while I appreciate that the Minister has identified a very serious shortcoming of our educational system, but asking IITs and IIMs to solve that problem is not correct. Particularly when it is obvious that IITs can not afford to do this with their own faculty, and can at best provide a very slight supervisory role with an outsourced agency. The better thing to do will be to seek private participation in this.