Proposed Overarching Agency for Accreditation of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs): Recommendations and Challenges

 A committee appointed by the Union government has proposed that the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) come under the jurisdiction of a newly proposed agency responsible for evaluating and grading all higher education institutes and courses across India by the end of this year.

Proposed Overarching Agency for Accreditation of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs): Recommendations and Challenges

According to the committee's report, chaired by K. Radhakrishnan, the standing committee chairperson of the IIT council, the IITs have given "in-principle" approval to this recommendation. It is worth noting that the IITs have not previously been accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), the existing agency responsible for grading colleges and universities in India.

The report states, "Currently, the IITs follow their own internal systems for periodic peer evaluation and assessment of programs. To incorporate all IITs into the unified accreditation process and adopt the National Credit Framework, a presentation on the proposed reforms was made to the Council of IITs during its 55th meeting held at IIT Bhubaneswar on April 18, 2023." The report was made public on Friday.

The committee, led by Radhakrishnan, who also serves as the chairperson of the IIT Kanpur Board of Governors, included Bharat Bhasker, the Director of IIM Ahmedabad, and Mridul Hazarika, the Vice-Chancellor of Assam's Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankaradeva Viswavidyalaya, as members.

Established in November 2022, the panel also held consultations with the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), and other organizations. The committee has stated that the report will now be distributed to all 23 IITs and discussed in the next meeting of the IIT council, the highest consultative body for these esteemed engineering institutes.

Additionally, the committee has put forward several other recommendations, including the implementation of an "adapted Binary Accreditation System." Currently, the NAAC employs an eight-point grading system, with institutes being rated A++, A+, A, B++, B+, B, C, or D based on data provided by the institutes and verified by expert teams during campus visits.

The significance of this lies in a committee formed by former NAAC chairperson Bhushan Patwardhan, which raised concerns about irregularities in the existing system, particularly regarding the expert teams involved.

Before resigning on March 5, Patwardhan wrote a letter to UGC Chairman M Jagadesh Kumar expressing apprehension about the possibility of vested interests, malpractices, and collusion among individuals, leading to the awarding of questionable grades.

Key Recommendations:

The committee suggests that the new system should certify institutes as either "Accredited" or "Not Accredited" (for those falling far below accreditation standards). A separate category of "Awaiting Accreditation" should cover institutes that are close to meeting the threshold for accreditation. The committee also proposes reducing reliance on expert inspections by introducing "crowdsourcing" as a mechanism for the entire accreditation process, acknowledging concerns about subjectivity in the current processes.

The idea is to have inputs submitted by institutes vetted by a carefully selected group of individuals with diverse associations with the institutes. This group may include students (including Ph.D. and postdoctoral scholars), faculty, staff, alumni, and official visitors such as selection committee members, employers of students, internal experts, and agency-appointed experts.

However, the committee acknowledges the need for physical or virtual verification of data by experts on a smaller sample, even with the implementation of rigorous crowdsourcing. In cases of inconsistencies between the claims made by institutes and expert reviews, strict punitive measures should be taken.

Lastly, the Radhakrishnan committee, which held six meetings between November 2022 and April 2023, proposes the establishment of a single overarching agency instead of separate bodies for accrediting institutes and courses. This proposed National Accreditation Council (NAAC), as envisioned by the National Education Policy (NEP), should also incorporate the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), which ranks higher education institutes.

The committee suggests that the education system should transition to the proposed accreditation regime by December 2023. It recommends accepting and implementing the broad recommendations by the end of the year, even if the NAC is established later.

The committee notes the low level of willingness among higher educational institutes to volunteer for this process, which remains a cause for concern. It also highlights the cumbersome and tiresome process involved in collecting information requested by NAAC and other agencies.