Reforming Accreditation in Indian Higher Education: Simplifying, Categorizing, and Strengthening the System

 The Education Ministry's high-level panel, tasked with reforming the accreditation system for higher education institutions in India, has proposed several changes. Firstly, it suggests including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in the accreditation framework. Secondly, it recommends replacing the current eight-point system used by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with a simplified binary accreditation system that has only three outcome categories instead of NAAC grades and scores. Additionally, the panel proposes reducing the accreditation cycle from five years to three and basing accreditation on the type of institution rather than a uniform policy.

The committee's report, titled "Transformative Reforms for Strengthening Periodic Assessment and Accreditation of All Higher Educational Institutions in India," was made public on Friday. The report advocates for a simple, trust-based, credible, objective, and rationalized system for approving, accrediting, and ranking educational institutes. It suggests the implementation of a centralized database and technology-driven systems to replace or minimize manual involvement. The report also emphasizes the importance of mentoring and incentivizing schemes to increase the participation of institutions. The committee, chaired by K Radhakrishnan, chairperson of the board of governors at IIT Kanpur, drafted the report.

The proposed "adapted binary accreditation system" would classify institutions into three categories: "Accredited," "Awaiting Accreditation" for those nearing the threshold level, and "Not Accredited" for those falling significantly below the accreditation standards. This system deviates from the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which suggested only two categories: "accredited" and "non-accredited." The Ministry of Education released the Radhakrishnan committee report three months after Bhushan Patwardhan resigned as the chairperson of the NAAC, citing irregularities in the assessment process. The Radhakrishnan committee was established in November 2022. In response to a Right to Information application in April, the NAAC's public information officer stated that they did not have such a report.

According to the report, a "high-level brainstorming session" held on March 22 resulted in a resolution to prepare for the transition to the new system by December 31, 2023.

Under the new assessment and accreditation system, all higher educational institutes, including the IITs and their programs, will be included. However, the report acknowledges the need to consider statutory requirements. Currently, the IITs follow their internal systems for periodic peer evaluation and program assessment. The IITs have given their initial approval to the proposal, but the committee's report will be shared with all IITs for their input.

The report suggests a new categorization model for NAAC accreditation based on "vision or orientation" and "heritage or legacy." Institutions will provide appropriate information based on their category. The "heritage and legacy" category includes two subcategories: old and established institutions, and new and upcoming institutions. To improve transparency, the report proposes the use of a "Unified Elicitation Tool" to collect comprehensive data from institutions for approval, accreditation, scoring, and ranking. This tool will incorporate mechanisms for cross-checking data authenticity, replacing the existing manual assessment and accreditation process.

The proposed changes include several modifications to the current accreditation system. These include transitioning from score-based, multiple-grade accreditation to a binary accreditation system, shifting from portal self-disclosure to public self-disclosure, replacing approved peer teams with approved accrediting institutions, adopting a university-type-based process instead of a one-size-fits-all model, transitioning from an input-process-limited-outcome approach to an outcome-based approach, and providing empirical policy benefits to motivate accreditation instead of generic policy benefits.

To enhance the credibility of the overall process, the report suggests that "trust institutions" should provide accurate data. However, to ensure accountability, the report recommends implementing significant penalties for institutions that submit incorrect or misleading information, thereby ensuring the public disclosure of relevant data. The report also highlights the need for increased participation from educational institutions, suggesting that survey questions targeting specific data fields should be customized based on the institution's profile.

According to data shared by the University Grants Commission, out of the 1,113 universities and 43,796 colleges in India, only 418 universities and 9,062 colleges have received NAAC accreditation. This leaves approximately 695 universities and over 34,000 colleges operating without accreditation. These statistics were provided by Union Minister of State for Education Subhas Sarkar in response to a written question in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament.

The proposed reforms aim to address these gaps in accreditation and ensure a more robust and transparent system for evaluating and accrediting educational institutions in India. By simplifying the accreditation process, introducing outcome-based categories, and leveraging technology-driven systems, the committee aims to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the accreditation system.

The report's recommendations, including the incorporation of IITs into the accreditation framework, the adoption of a binary accreditation system, and the focus on institution-specific categorization and data collection, will now be considered by the Education Ministry. The input and feedback from various stakeholders, including the IITs and other educational institutions, will be sought to refine and finalize the proposed reforms. Ultimately, the aim is to establish a comprehensive and trusted accreditation system that promotes excellence and quality in higher education across India.