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  1. 1. From Access and Equity to Success and Quality: the Role of NAAC in India □ Asha Gupta University of Delhi ashagupta3452@gmail.comAbstract: With the liberalization of economy in 1991, we find a surge in the demand for higher educationand vocational skills in multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Indian society. Whereas during thefirst four decades of India’s independence, education played a pivotal role in nation-building, the economicgrowth and technological development during the last 20 years has led to an escalation in the consumptionof higher education and professional skills. With massification of higher education in knowledge-based,technology-driven and highly integrated modern economies, we find a shift in paradigm in terms of morefocus on output, performance and relevance than on inputs, equity or access.Though India has a longstanding tradition of equity through reservation, judicial interventions and legalframework, it has yet to go a long way to translate ‘access into success’ and ‘equity into quality’. Only in1994, the UGC established the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) to stimulateacademic environment and quality of teaching and research in India. The very concept of quality coveredthe issues of equity, access and social justice as far as the NAAC was concerned. It was committed to‘quality with equity’ in all higher education institutions in India, including for-profit private.So far equity and quality have been viewed as equal but separate strands in terms of policy targets andimplementation mechanisms worldwide. Only recently attempts are being made vigorously to bring equityand quality on a common platform. For instance, while assessing and accreditating the quality of aninstitution, the NAAC has also started focusing on several equity related issues, such as, access to studentsfrom socially and economically less developed category; recruitment of faculty from disadvantagedsections of society; support provided to weaker section of students in terms of remedial coaching andfinancial assistance; access and support to differently-abled students and gender sensitivity.My paper focuses on how the NAAC reflects equity (including main mechanisms for quality assessment)and highlights the impact of the NAAC on promoting equity in terms of institutional policies and practices.The NAAC has indeed played a pioneer role in evolving gender-sensitive and disabled-friendly qualityindicators in India as it believes in making and sustaining quality as a continuous, holistic and participatoryprocess. An attempt is also made to highlight the limitations faced by the NAAC in ensuring both equityand quality. The methodology adopted is analytical, conceptual and empirical.The ContextPoised at the turn of the third millennium, the universities worldwide are facing bothquantitative and qualitative changes - quantitative in terms of massification of highereducation and vocational skills and qualitative in terms on innovations in teaching andresearch matching with the needs and lifestyles of hi-tech societies. We find paradigmshifts from ‘equity and access’ to ‘quality and success’ as far as the realm of highereducation is concerned. India is no exception to this worldwide trend. With the advent ofknowledge-based and technology-driven modern economies, we find a surge in thedemand for skilled persons, on the one hand and those showing innovative, creative,problem-solving and communicative skills, on the other.
  2. 2. 2For the first time in history, human mind has become the direct source of production andeconomic growth. No wonder, the universities are under pressure to focus more on‘performance and outcome in lieu of inputs and rote learning’, ‘massification in lieu ofelitism’, ‘accountability in lieu of academic freedom’, ‘quality and success in lieu ofaccess and equity’. Since the focus is more on building the skill sets to be boughtinternationally as a commodity, we find an increase in the emphasis on quality assuranceby external and independent bodies like any other product or service to be marketedunder the ISO stamp. In fact, the concept of quality has been taken from management anddevelopment studies (Raghuvanshi, 2011:6-8). It implies customer and/or clientsatisfaction. It also implies compliance with given and/or promised standards orapproximations. However, in the field of education, the notion of quality may signifydifferent meanings from different perspectives from the point of views of students,employers and society. To Cullen (1992: 5): Quality can mean some normative view of excellence, it can mean a lack of dysfunctions in the academic machine, it can mean orderly inputs and processes, it can mean status relative to colleagues in research and publication, it can mean the quality of the best students and their suitability for higher studies, it can mean the maintenance of skills and standards that suit various employers and professional groups, and it can mean teaching excellence in terms of knowledge added to students participating in programmes. It can be generalized from programmes to the overall activities of an institution or to a state or national system.It is both surprising and shocking that despite running the 3rd largest system of highereducation in the world following the USA and China, India has very few highereducation institutions that can be castigated as the ‘centers of excellence’ by internationalstandards. When India got independence in 1947, it had only 19 universities and theliteracy rate was just 12% whereas by June 22, 2011, it had 592 universities including 41central universities, 275 state universities, 130 deemed to be universities, 90 privateuniversities, 55 autonomous universities, 15 centers of open leaning, 150 foreigninstitutions and 26,000 colleges with 74.45% literacy rate (82.14 % among the males and65.46 % among the and females). Quite surprisingly, despite multifold increase in termsof number and funding of HEIs, only 12.5% of the India youth in the cohort of 18-24 hadaccess to higher education in India. But India needs at least 15% access to be categorizedamongst the developed economies. The official target is to reach 30% GER (GrossEnrolment ratio) by 2060 (XI Five Year Plan, 2007-12, Planning Commission Report,India).Along with the massification of higher education arose the need for quality assurance ofthe higher education system, especially when India is emerging as an ‘economic andworld power-in making’ and when it is found aspiring to become an educational hub innear future. We all know that today higher education is not only playing an increasinglyvital role in economic growth and national development but it has also become a trilliondollar enterprise (Gupta, 2008). That’s why we find many English speaking countriesvying for full fee paying foreign students to increase their share in rapidly growing highereducation and research market. Since there is too much competition in higher educationsector worldwide, like many other goods and services, the focus has shifted from equityand access to quality and diversity. Whereas earlier the concept of quality includedefforts towards achieving equity, today the emphasis is on seeking diversity as an
  3. 3. 3inherent condition for quality to serve the interests of global economy. To WilliamBowen and Derek Bok (1998: 426-29): The overall quality of educational program is affected not only by the academic and personal qualities of individual students who are enrolled, but also by the characteristics of the entire group of students who share a common educational experience… In a residential college setting, in particular, a great deal of learning occurs informally… through interactions among students of both sexes; from various states and countries; who have a wide variety of interests, talents, and perspectives; and who are able; directly or indirectly, to learn from differences, and to stimulate one another to re-examine even their most deeply held assumptions about themselves and their world… People do not learn much when they are surrounded only by the likes of themselves.The concept of qualityThe concept of quality acquired new meaning and significance in the wake ofliberalization of the Indian economy since 1991 and emergence of cut-throat competitionin higher education sector worldwide. A need was felt to monitor the quality andstandards of the HEIs in India in a more regular, transparent, innovative and creative wayin order to keep pace with the best practices worldwide. Generally speaking, qualityimplies meeting the needs and expectations of the students as clients, on the one hand andmarket and other stakeholders, on the other (Higher Education India: Issues, Concernsand New Directions, UGC, 2003). Today it has become necessary to assure quality ofhigher education and professional training delivered by the different HEIs in order tojustify ‘value for money’ and/or ‘value for time’. But it remains a big challenge to widenaccess on equitable grounds and yet maintain high standards in terms of quality.In the case of India, the concept of quality cannot be seen in terms of antonyms – ‘equityversus quality’. Rather we have to see it in terms of ‘equity plus quality’. To H. A.Ranganath (2011: 3), the Director of the NAAC, ‘widening access to higher educationdoes not imply producing less qualified students’ but it implies ‘reaching out increasinglyto broad range of learners with different motivations and interests’. It is primarily due torapid expansion and heterogeneous nature of higher education, we find the need fordependable assurance gaining momentum. It has made it imperative to enforce quality ona massive scale in order to improve the credibility, marketing, legitimacy andacceptability of the Indian HEIs nationally and internationally. That’s why assessmentand accreditation by external bodies has acquired a new meaning. Though the actions ofsuch external bodies are guided by the national policies and international benchmarks,many developments, such as, steep rise or decline in the number of students, changes infunding policies, and involvement of for-profit private and foreign institutions can alsoaffect the quality assurance activities in many ways (Harvey, 2006: 288).Since higher education has become a necessary tool for personal upliftment, nationalgrowth, social development and promotion of global ethos, the ‘diagnostic tools’ forchecking the health of our HEIs ,too, have to be evolving and innovative. We need toevaluate the quality and standards on the basis of consistent performance in teaching,research and community development programs. We should not forget that hundredpercent expectations of various stakeholders can never be met as quality remains an‘elusive’ and ‘ever-evolving’ concept. At the most we can see it as a ‘brand building
  4. 4. 4exercise’ with long term perspective to be able to meet the challenges and opportunitiesthrown by highly competitive and integrated global economy. Viewed from theperspective of the academia, quality or world class education may imply inculcating‘inquisitive capacity’, ‘abstract thinking’, ‘logical analysis’, ‘scientific outlook’,’preparedness for life-long learning’, ‘respect for traditional values and culture’, on theone hand, and others’ points of view, on the other (Ranganath, 2011: 15).Judging from the perspective of the industry, quality education may imply ‘seamless pathto work’, ‘acquiring critical, problem-solving and communication skills’, ‘learning tolearn’, ‘ability to work with diverse (multi-cultural and multi-lingual) teams in diversesettings’, ‘having performance based attitude’, ‘trying to be entrepreneurial andcompetitive’, ‘ grasping the latest information and communication technologies’, ‘ tryingto be culturally sensitive and well-versed in global affairs’, etc. As such, the prime job ofthe NAAC has been to ensure quality, accountability, improvement and continuity on thebasis of reliable assessment and accreditation strategies. It is duty bound not only toassure minimum or desirable standards but also to ensure equity by focusing on thespecial needs of women, disabled, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other BackwardClasses or non-English speaking students. It is also responsible towards ensuringavailability of efficient energy systems, water harvesting and conservation, eco-friendlyambience, on the one hand, and civic engagement of the students, staff and faculty, on theother.In the environment of global competition, the products produced by the HEIs in terms ofundergraduates, graduates, post-graduates or research scholars in any country need notbe assessed merely in terms of their ‘scholastic attainments’, but also in terms of ‘thevalue system and richness of their personalities’. Today we need to realize that unlessand until the quality and standards of HEIs are rigorously enhanced through innovation,creativity and regular monitoring, these institutions cannot capture world attention. Itactually demands the very re-examination and re-definition of the aims of highereducation. In the context of India, we should also realize that the notions of ‘equity andaccess’ cannot be separated from those of ‘quality and success’ as over- emphasis on theone set of notion one can be achieved only at the cost of other. As such, we cannotseparate the notions of ‘quality and success’ from those of ‘equity and access’ (Gupta andPatil, 2010: 166).India being a country of one billion plus population with only 12.5% gross enrolment rateto higher education in 2011 in the cohort of 18-24, it has become necessary to enhancethe access rate on a war footing in order to achieve the target of equity in order to‘mitigate disparities across regions, gender and social strata in the field of education’. In acountry having a hierarchical society based upon caste system and wide regional, socio-cultural and economic disparities, education is the only tool that can provide socialmobility and/or economic upliftment to millions of people, especially, the burgeoningmiddle class (about 4.5 billion people) that is ardently willing to invest in the highereducation of their wards. That’s why it has become necessary to assure quality educationthrough external bodies in order to provide consumer protection, especially at a time
  5. 5. 5when we find low quality, for-profit private and fly-by-night foreign institutionsmushrooming ever since the liberalization of Indian economy in July 1991.In fact, we need to address the issue of accessibility to quality education at the primarylevel first to be able to assess the need for quality assessment and accreditation of theHEIs in India. In India, despite making primary education free and compulsory for allchildren from the age of 6 to14 under the Right to Education Act passed in August 2009,approximately 40% of the students, mostly girls, dropout by the time they reach pubertydue to familial problems, lower socio-cultural and economic standards. Moreover, mostof the parents are found dismayed with the poor standards of most of the government orgovernment-aided schools in their vicinity. They prefer sending their children to for-profit English medium schools by paying exorbitant fees without actually knowing thatmost of schools happen to be only ‘teaching shops’. In fact, there are very few schoolswhich can be judged as desirable according to national and international standards interms of infrastructure, teacher-pupil ratio, co-curricular activities, ambience andrelevance. No wonder, we find the dropout rates to be very high at the middle class levelIndia, implying very dismal access rate to the HEIs according to international standards.Moreover, we find wide disparities in gross enrolment rates in the HEIs in terms of caste,class, gender, regional or economic background. For instance, according to a nationalsurvey, the GER varied from 21% in Kerala to mere 6% in Bihar. It was lower in terms ofthe national average of 10.10% in the case of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes andOther Backward Class. In terms of religion, Muslims were found at 5.23% and girls at5% in comparison to boys at 12%. In terms of economic standards, the poorer studentsstood at 2.41% as against the non-poorer students at 12.81%. Similarly urban-rural dividewas found quite glaring. In India only about 10% of the populace pays income tax,whereas the vast majority depends on state support. We find wide gaps in terms ofconstitutional provisions in terms of access and equity and ground realities in actualpractice. Quite ironically, the influxes of for-profit private and foreign universities havefurther widened the gap in terms of quality education and successes (UGC. Thrusts andPriorities during the XI Five Year Plan: 2007-2012).As such, in view of massification of higher education and liberalization of the economy,there is an urgency to focus on ‘access and equity’ and ‘quality and success’simultaneously. Under the rapidly changing world scenario, due to globalization and fastmeans of information and communication, we cannot contain the demand for highereducation and professional training to select few at the cost of large number ofmarginalized sections of society in the name of ‘merit’ or ‘arbitrary selection procedure’.Nor can we compromise on quality in a highly competitive and integrated world system.Rather, we need to distribute the social dividends proportionately and in a transparentmanner among the new aspirants and groups by striking a balance between equity andquality. There are some reports that suggest that even if students from lower socio-economic background are admitted on the basis of mandatory reservation , they areunable to intermingle normally with upper caste/class students and their performance isadversely affected (Sekhri, 2011). Their access cannot be converted into success merely
  6. 6. 6on the basis of affirmative action. Rather such students need to be provided special care,remedial teaching and better communicative and problem-solving skills (Gupta, 2006).The debate about affirmative actionIn fact, the rise in the demand for higher education and technological skills has broughtthe issues of ‘access’, ‘equity’, ‘quality’ and ‘success’ to the forefront. Affirmative actionis deliberately being promoted as an important device for enhancing access as well as andequity in higher education institutions in India. In fact, it not only serves the interests ofthe underprivileged but also those of the elite as well. It provides legitimacy andjustification to them in a democratic polity. We hardly find any example of ‘affirmativeaction’, ‘positive discrimination’, ‘reverse discrimination’, ‘reservation’ or ‘quota’ inany non-democratic system either in the present or in the past (Yang, D’souza, Bapat andColarelli, 2006).Affirmative action is usually deployed to win over the support of the marginalized orunder-represented sections of society in the upper strata. The public policies in support ofaffirmative action are generally justified in the name of ‘equity’, ‘justice’ or ‘democracy’.The underlying goals served by the affirmative action policies in higher educationgenerally are ‘compensation towards the victims of the past discrimination andmaltreatment’, ‘redistribution of resources and opportunities from the better off sectionsof society to the poorer offs’, ‘motivating the students from lower socio-economic andbackward classes to aspire for better positions in society’, ‘better appraisal of students’assessment in terms of potentiality and productivity’, ‘better quality education andlearning due to prevailing diversity on campuses’, ‘better access to social capital in termsof useful contacts and networks improving one’s career opportunities’, ‘better chances ofintegrating societal elite in terms of race and ethnicity’, ‘fostering of a more legitimateand vital democratic order’, etc. (Weisskopf, 2006).Affirmative action can be seen as a peculiar outcome of the socio-cultural, ethnic,geographical, historical, political and/or demographical circumstances rather thancommon ‘psychological predispositions’. But in India, we find the caste and gender-based discriminations quite deeply entrenched into our socio-cultural, political andpsychological upbringing. That’s why the policy of affirmative action has been adoptedwith the desire to provide justice to all those who have been discriminated in the past oncaste basis. In the case of India, the policy of reservation’ or ‘quota’ may be seen as oneof the devices towards affirmative action but certainly not as affirmative action per se. ToGerhard Casper, President of the Stanford University (Quoted by Gupta, 2006): Affirmative action is based on the judgment that a policy of true equal opportunity needs to create opportunities for members of historically underrepresented groups to be drawn into various walks of life from which they might otherwise be shut out. Barriers continue to exist in society, and therefore affirmative action asks us to cast our network widely to broaden the competition and to engage in more active efforts for locating and recruiting applicants.It means extending the ‘concept of merit’ from stringent ‘academic grades and testscores’ to ‘unquantifiable human qualities and capacities’ including ‘artistic or musical
  7. 7. 7talent’, ‘athletic ability’, ‘fine arts’, ‘strength of character’, ‘depicted leadershipqualities’, ‘extracurricular activities’, ‘community service’, ‘geographical diversity’, etc(Association of American Universities in a statement on Importance of Diversity inUniversity Admissions in The New York Times, April 1997). Revisiting the notion ofmerit, the Department for Education and Skills in London, too, in its report on WideningAccess in Higher Education in January 2003, had emphasized on the need for ‘raising theacademic attainment of underserved student population’, ‘increasing the aspiration ofstudents from these groups’ and ‘influencing and broadening university admissions toinclude an expanded notion of merit’ (Douglass, 2005: 108).As such, the policy of reservation in higher education in India cannot be seen in isolation.It has to be seen in the context of overall socio-cultural, historical and politicalbackground. The caste system still playing a dominant role in Indian politics and societyis estimated to be 2500 year old. Since 90% of the populace still does not pay any incometax, caste is still counted in ascertaining the socio-economic status of an individual. Inearlier times, generally speaking, the ‘caste’ coincided with the ‘class’. Gradually thecaste degenerated into jati system (Srinivas, 1996). Since jati implying caste, has beenpervading Indian socio-economic and political system since ages, constitutionalprovisions had to be made to deal with it. The idea was to reserve a few places ineducational institutions and government jobs for socially backward classes who had beenhistorically, economically and socially depressed in order to improve their general well-being (The Economist, December 19, 2005).It was believed that if we could provide access to education to vast majorities, it wouldhelp in bridging social divide in terms of caste, creed, language, gender, region, economicand social prosperity. It was also believed that affirmative action would lead to social andupward mobility by converting lower caste students into professionally-trained class. Assuch, enhancing access, equity and diversity in higher education does not mean that allmust be treated as ‘equal’ or ‘exactly the same’. Nor does it imply equal or proportionalrepresentation in all areas of higher education and institutional operations. It simplyimplies being systematically fair. It means that consideration for all on an equal footingshould be justified only if it is in the public interest. Such an approach encouragesdevising some alternatives to affirmative action in order to be able to strike a balancebetween ‘equity’ and ‘equality’, on the one hand, and ‘individual gain’ and ‘publicaccountability’, on the other. It requires ‘greater accuracy’, ‘creativity’ and ‘autonomy’ inthe appraisal of the qualifications of the prospective students to be able to serve the‘individual’, ‘institutional’, ‘national’ and ‘international’ interests.Whereas the debate on the merits and demerits of affirmative action still continuesunabated, nobody can deny the harsh reality that affirmative action will continue in oneform or other as long as inequities prevail in any society. In fact, there cannot be anysingle, complete or permanent solution to deal with the prevailing inequities in a givenset up (Crosby, 2004). The ‘demographic changes’, ‘hyper-mobility’, ‘entrance of non-traditional or working students,’ ‘need for lifelong learning’, ‘facility for online anddistributed learning’, ‘entrance of private and corporate world into the realm of highereducation sector’, ‘demand driven higher education policy’, ‘more focus on competencies
  8. 8. 8and output than inputs or supply-driven education’ and other similar trends call for newand innovative measures to enhance equity and access in higher education worldwide. Itcan be quite challenging to strike a balance between ‘access and success’, on the onehand, and ‘equity and quality’, on the other.Moreover, we should not forget that that it is one thing to provide access on the basis ofaffirmative action, but it is quite another thing to convert this access into success (Gidley,Hampson, Wheeler and Elleni, 2010: 1-12). It is possible only when access is convertedinto meaningful participation or civic engagement with grace and dignity, amounting topeoples’ empowerment in the true sense of the term. To Anver Saloojee (2001): Social inclusion is about social cohesion plus, it is about citizenship plus, it is about accommodation plus, it is anti-essentialist plus, it is about rights and responsibilities plus, it is about accommodation of differences plus, it is democracy plus, it is about a new way of thinking about problems of injustice, inequalities and exclusivity plus. It is the combination of various pluses that make the discourse on social inclusion so incredibly exciting.It implies striving for equity not in the sense of equality but in the sense of justice andfairness. No wonder, we find the focus of external quality assurance bodies, too, shiftingfrom ‘access and equity’ to ‘success and quality’. Whereas equity needs conscious effortstowards diminishing discriminations based upon socially constructed boundaries aroundgender, caste or creed, language or region, the notion of quality aims at celebrating thedifference. The shift from access and equity to success and quality should be seen as anattempt towards blending of ethnicities, cultures, races, religions and genders possible inan enabling and inclusive environment of civility, collegiality and mutual respect. Itshould be seen as new culture of ‘human behavior that honors peoples, where they are,with what they know, how they acquire their knowledge, and how they apply it’ (Luhabe2001: 75).The NAAC’s approachIn order to systematize the need towards enhancing access, equity, quality and success ofhigher education institutions in India to meet the national and global challenges, theNational Assessment and Accreditation Council was established in 1994 as anautonomous body under the UGC Act. The idea was not only to establish a few centers ofexcellence, but also to bridge the gap in terms of standards among various HEIs at thecenter and state level by making assessment and accreditation of HEIs mandatory,including the private ones. Only recently, it was realized that it is not enough to have afew HEIs as centers of excellence, such as, The Indian Institutes of Technology(IITs) orthe Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), but it is imperative to have ‘uniformly goodperformance across the world’ in terms of ‘global competitiveness’, ‘relevance’, ‘meetingthe demand for skilled human resource’, ‘equitable quality’, ‘professional management’,‘prioritization of goals’ and ‘sustainable funding towards future growth and development’(Prasad, 2006).The NAAC was established with the prime motto of making quality the defining elementof higher education in India. The main functions of the NAAC have been:
  9. 9. 9 • to arrange for periodic assessment and accreditation of institutions of higher education or units thereof, or specific academic programmes or projects, • to stimulate the academic environment for promotion of quality in teaching- learning and research in higher education institutions, • to encourage self-evaluation, accountability, autonomy and innovations in higher education, • to undertake quality-related research studies, consultancy and training programmes, and • to collaborate with other stakeholders of higher education for quality education, promotion and sustenance.The NAAC adopted new methodology of assessment and accreditation since April 2007in view of its new missions pertaining to equity and access, on the one hand, and qualityand success, on the other. For instance, with the ‘expansion of higher education’,‘emergence of private sector and foreign stakeholders’, ‘use of technology in the deliveryof higher education and vocational skills through open learning’ and ‘emergence of cross-border higher education’, the NAAC has to play a pivotal role in enhancing accessknowing fully well how important the HEIs have become in harnessing human resourceneeded for knowledge-based and technology-driven modern economies at the nationaland international levels but it is equally important for it to ensure social justice byfocusing on equity. It is also responsible for ensuring that the students acquire globalcompetencies through quality education in order to meet global requirements forcompetent and skilled workforce. It has also to ensure that beside the universal values oftruth and righteousness, students imbibe appropriate values in commensuration with theirsocio-cultural, economic and environmental realities. It has also to ensure that students,staff and faculty are able to use electronic media effectively.The NAAC uses seven point criteria for assessment and accreditation in quest forexcellence - (1) curricular, (2) teaching, learning and evaluation, (3) research andconsultancy, (4) quality of infrastructure, (5) student support, (6) leadership andgovernance and (7) innovative practices (NAAC, 2007: 14). The seven point criteria isused to help the institution develop its capabilities in order to be able to focus on‘quality initiatives’, ‘quality sustenance’ and ‘quality enhancement’. For instance, thefocus on academic flexibility and diversity can help an institution serve better the needsof its learners with diverse needs, interests and capabilities. By focusing on interactiveteaching methods, it can encourage higher order of thinking among the students. It sees toit that while framing the admission policy, due weightage is given to diverse backgroundof the students, including females and students from backward communities or regions.The same criterion applies for the selection of the faculty. The NAAC also encouragescommunity service by the students, staff and academia alike through its evaluation
  10. 10. 10processes or making disabled-friendly suggestions. It also encourages the formation ofgrievance redressal mechanisms, on the one hand and effective resource mobilization andjudicious allocation of budget, on the other. It can also include inclusive practices as apart of quality education, implying vast gaps in terms of quality and standards, on the onehand and facilities and infrastructure, on the other. It has been confirmed by some studiesmade about the effects of affirmative action on quality and merit in the HEIs. Forinstance, in a shocking incident quoted by the former UGC chairman, Sukhdev Thorat(2006), it was revealed that the occupants belonging to the SC/ST students’ hostel weredenied to play carom board in the recreation room of the All India Institute of MedicalSciences in New Delhi – one of the most prestigious medical institutions in India.Similarly, in a yet another shocking incident, it was reported that a student belonging toSC category was discouraged to study astrology as one of the subjects offered by theSanskrit Department of the University of Delhi (The Times of India, New Delhi,September 13, 2011).As such, in the Indian context, the question of accessibility to quality education needs tobe addressed on the basis of vast socio-economic, cultural, linguistic, regional and genderbased inequities. A large number of non-English speaking students also find it verydifficult to cope up with the latest western syllabi despite access to the best of theinstitutions. They need special remedial classes, financial and emotional support. Theyare unable to assimilate with the mainstream because of poor schooling, lower socio-economic and regional background. Some of them happen to be the first generationstudents and lack the necessary advice, guidance and support from their families likeother high caste/class students coming from private English medium schools. As such,the concept of quality has to be seen in relative terms. The quality component may differfrom institution to institution and from region to region.In fact, institutions like the NAAC can play a crucial role in making the higher educationinstitutions sensitive to the need of the hour in terms of educational, social, economic andinternational needs and expectations of the market and industry. It can encourage variousHEIs to follow not only equity and access but also to concentrate on outputs by assuringquality and success in terms of holistic development and not just rote learning. To beinnovative and creative, the students, staff and faculty need proper opportunities,academic freedom and ambience. Therefore, the focus of the NAAC, too, has beenshifting from ‘inputs to outputs’, ‘equity to quality’, ‘access to success’, ‘autonomy toaccountability’, ‘homogeneity to diversification’, ‘ decentralization to decentralization’,‘from mere dissemination to creation of new knowledge’, ‘ from elitism to massification’,‘from knowledge for the sake of knowledge to knowledge in application’, ‘ from thepromotion being model of development to having model of development’, etc. (Gupta,2008: 18).Role of the NAACIn fact, the NAAC in India has come a long way in embedding the quality culture amongvarious stockholders through various innovative practices and initiatives. In fact, theproactive initiatives of the NAAC go beyond the accreditation processes. The initiatives
  11. 11. 11taken by it include steps towards promoting gender sensitive quality indicators, one theone hand and innovative and healthy practices for the differently-abled persons, on theother. The assessors from the NAAC have been regularly giving considerations to suchissues while judging the parameters of quality in a given institution. For instance, theNAAC teams have raised explicit questions about enrolment of students from weaker anddisadvantaged sections of Indian society as is evident from the re-accreditation reports ofvarious universities. Such efforts have encouraged various HEIs to improve students’support system by providing more scholarships, better facilities and latest technology.NAAC”S efforts have also helped in making these institutions more disabled-friendly.For instance, the J D University provided 50 Braille books and 5000 audio books fordisabled students in its library on the basis of inputs received from the NAAC (Gupta andPatil, 2010: 169).Similarly, the NAAC has raised queries about faculty being recruited from thedisadvantaged communities, thereby encouraging various HEIs to focus on these issuesand follow the ‘roster system on the basis of reservation’ for faculty from the SCs, STsand OBCs category. In India 22.5% seats are reserved for faculty from these categoriesbased upon social backwardness instead of lower economic standards. In fact, the NAAChas played a proactive role in enhancing ‘gender based equity’, ‘women’sempowerment’, ‘legal literacy for women’, etc. It has used many innovative methods toensure gender parity in HEIs at the students, staff and faculty level by insisting on ‘sex-disaggregated data’, ‘number of women getting financial support’, ‘availability of womencouncillors’, ‘cells dealing with sexual harassment’, ‘availability of women doctors whenrequired’, ‘number of women faculty’, ‘number of women in selection boards andgoverning bodies’, ‘number of gender sensitization programmes’, ‘number of seminarsorganized on women related issues’, ‘number of leadership camps organized for women’,etc. (ibid, 171-72).Quite surprisingly, the prime concern of the NAAC has not been just to forceaccountability or ensure conformity to rules and regulations laid down by the UGC but toencourage quality improvement in terms of ‘access’, ‘equity’, ‘competitiveness’, ‘jobpreparedness’, ‘quality’, ‘success’ and ‘relevance’. It has definitely helped in creating adata base of the accreditated higher education institutions in India for the use ofpolicymakers, funding agencies and future employers (Gupta & Patil, 2010: 171).Moreover, it has played a crucial role in establishing some sort of a balance among theapparently contradictory goals of enhancing access, equity and quality in various HEIssimultaneously.The NAAC has certainly played a pivotal role in stopping the ‘brain drain’ and the‘capital flight’ to some extent by stopping millions of students seeking higher andprofessional education abroad due to lack of quality education in the homeland. Insteadof spending millions of dollars on students pursuing higher education abroad, qualityeducation assurance can make India an educational hub in itself. India has the necessaryresources, both in terms of quantity and quality, to convert itself into a provider ofmarket-friendly, diverse and cost-effective higher education and professional training.Already one of the five giants in information and communication technology worldwide
  12. 12. 12despite very poor GER, India can definitely rope in the private and foreign providers byenacting proper legislation and creating the necessary regulatory environment, on the onehand, and by keeping due scope for creativity and innovation, on the other.It should be noted that in those countries, where we find well-defined policies towardsequal opportunities in higher education, the External Quality Agencies (EQAs) need notplay a proactive role, such as, Australia, but in those countries, where we find suchpolicies lacking, underdeveloped or not so highlighted, the EQAs may have to play aproactive role, such as, South Africa. In India, we find well-defined public policies as faras equity in higher education is concerned but we need more ‘well-defined’, ‘well-planned’ and ‘well-financed’ public policies in order to spread the culture of quality tothousands of higher education institutions spread all over the country. As a matter of fact,demographic, regional and gender-based disparities simply cannot be dealt at the level ofthe HEIs but they have to be dealt with more rigorously by improving the quality ofeducation at the lower levels. Moreover, quality education has to be seen as a key toeconomic development, political stability and inclusive growth. Nor should we forget thatonly quality education can lead to holistic development.Further, we should realize that in the ‘knowledge-based’ and ‘technology-driven’ moderneconomies, there is an urgent need to lay more stress on ‘soft skills based on emotionalintelligence’ than ‘intellectual prowess based upon academic pursuits, standardizedcurriculum and rote learning’. Hence the focus of the EQAs is to ensure that instead ofepistemological and organizational forms of knowledge production and dissemination,the higher education institutions play a more protagonist role by training productive,creative and innovative human resource that could be valuable both to the individual andsociety beyond the jurisdiction of nation state. In most probability, the future will belongto those countries who are rich in human resource both in terms of quantity and qualityand those who have the capacity and the courage to ‘chase their dreams’ and ‘creatework’ instead of chasing the set jobs in public, private or transnational settings. It seemsthat in future, more and more students will have to rely on ‘self-studies’, ‘learning fromthe peer group’ and ‘on-job training’. Since the sources of learning are likely to bediverse, the criteria for quality assessment by external bodies, too, will have to be diverseand, in other words, ‘relative’.Quite surprisingly, no systematic studies have been made so far on the impact of externalquality assurance processes on higher education in India. Nor is it easy to quantify suchimpact but it is generally assumed that they have played quite a positive role inembedding the ‘culture of quality’ in higher education institutions in India. Though somepositive interventions by such bodies have certainly helped in pedagogic developments,widening of access, enhancing of equity and promotion of information technology yet theimpact has not been the same on all the institutions. By March 2011, the NAAC hadassessed and accredited 159 universities and 4171 colleges. It was found to be morepopular in the southern parts of India than the northern ones.As an outcome of the NAAC’s efforts, whereas some universities have used the gradesgiven by it for ‘self-boosting’ and ‘image-building’, many universities in India, especially
  13. 13. 13in the northern parts, are still reluctant to get themselves assessed and accredited by theNAAC as they consider it an encroachment on their autonomy and academic freedom.Though the government is in the process of making assessment and accredited mandatoryfor all higher education institutions in India, so far, it has been carried out only onvoluntary basis. Moreover, there has been no direct link between quality assurance byexternal bodies and the institutional funding. Nor can there be any consensus about theuniform standards to be imposed on various HEIs spread all over India due to mutuallyconflicting expectations of various stakeholders. Nor can the universities maintain theirelitist form and academic integrity in the wake of massification and commodification ofhigher education (Gupta, 2011).But nobody can deny that the efforts made by the NAAC have certainly helped inbuilding internal quality processes, on the one hand, and bringing hostile groups togetherin order to face the external quality assurance bodies, on the other. It has boosted thequality of those institutions already doing well and it has certainly motivated the others todo better. It has also motivated the academia to publish in leading journals in India andabroad. In fact, the visits by the peer teams have some catalytic impact on the institutionsunder review by increasing participation, transparency and accountability in teaching,research and administration, on the one hand and providing a bird’s eye view about theoutside world’s expectations, on the other. Such visits and reviews by the peer teamshave made the stakeholders realise how important it is to maintain quality and enhancepedagogical standards and academic integrity.Whereas some institutions have used accreditation by the NAAC as a marketing strategy,others have used it for making themselves more relevant and up to date. Even some of theneighbouring countries have consulted the NAAC as the focal point and it hasencouraged various institutions to look beyond the routine teaching and research anddifferentiate between the ‘gloss from reality’ (Stella, 2002: 197).Learning from the bestpractices adopted by the external quality assurance bodies abroad, we find a paradigmshift in the core values of the NAAC as far as the concept of quality is concerned. ToAntony Stella (2002: 202-03): (1) the concept of quality remains ever evolving. It is a holistic concept and never be achieved fully once for all, (2) assessment and accreditation should be seen as means to quality concerns and certainly not an end, (3) assessment can be useful only if it is acceptable to the institutions concerned, not otherwise, (4) quality assessment depends to a large extent on the judgment of peer group rather than quantitative indicators, (5) the units of assessment chosen should be viable, feasible and practical in local context, (6) quality assessment should be seen as a complex issue and not just an application of the pre-determined criteria, (7) it is an extravagant way of assuring minimum standards as it involves huge costs in terms of fiscal resources and administrative prowness.
  14. 14. 14 (8) it is important to avoid overloading the EQAs with multiple or conflicting roles in order to achieve better results, (9) even the EQAs need to evaluate their criteria and processes regularly in order to keep pace with the changing needs and circumstances,(10) it is important to keep scope for variance. The EQAs should serve as agents of change rather than bodies seeking conformity in toto.
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