Harivansh Chaturevedi: 'Some people are asking for advertisements and money to give awards and rank institutions. It is a marketing gimmick.'
'The higher education market has gone wild'
Civil Society News, New Delhi
Is the proliferation of privately run colleges and universities in India a good thing or is it leading to a decline in the standards of higher education? More institutions are needed, but how exactly are they being managed? With a rising number of young people with degrees finding it difficult to get jobs, there is reason to be concerned about what is being taught and how.
Simultaneously, government-run institutions, which were at one time important centres of learning and research, are in decline. They are inadequately funded and their faculties have been depleted. In contrast, China has forged ahead in the quality of its tertiary education and research facilities to the extent that it now rivals the developed economies.
What India urgently needs is a transparent and authentic accreditation system, which relentlessly aspires to global standards. The current agencies have only recently emerged from direct government control and have much to achieve by way of rigour and independence.
Dr Harivansh Chaturvedi, who is the alternate president of the Education Promotion Society of India (EPSI), has frank views on the situation and the ways forward. He is also the director of the Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH) for whose courses and facilities he has sought out impartial accreditation.
He has recently edited a collection of papers titled “Quality, Accreditation & Ranking”, which has been published by Bloomsbury. A public-spirited educationist, he has given a pronounced social orientation to BIMTECH even as he has ensured that it ranks among the successful business schools in India. Extracts from an interview with Civil Society:
Is lack of accreditation a major reason India’s huge higher education sector doesn’t provide quality learning, apart from a few centres of excellence?
Yes, I think so. From the data on accreditation, we know that out of 900 plus universities and 50,000 colleges hardly 20 percent have been accredited so far. The NBA (National Board of Accreditation) and NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) started working around 1994 and, even after 25 years, their progress is not very impressive.
Of course, the government has now thought of creating more accreditation agencies. The Education Promotion Society of India (EPSI), which I represent at the national level, has been asking the Human Resource Development (HRD)Ministry for the past 10 years for multiple agencies and for the government to withdraw from accreditation.
Globally, it is third party agencies and not government agencies that give accreditation. The government’s involvement does not lend credibility.
So, I think the accreditation data tells us that a large number of institutions are providing average or poor quality higher education.
How empowered are the two government agencies?
Till recently, both were under direct government control. The NAAC was controlled by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the NBA was under the control of the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). They were given complete autonomy two or three years ago by the HRD ministry. Of course they have to first unlearn working under government control and they should demonstrate their ability to work independently.
Accreditation by NBA and NAAC was fundamentally wrong because the UGC and the AICTE were issuing licences to institutions and an agency under them was assessing the quality of
the same institutions. There was a conflict of interest there.
Are ratings by Indian agencies accepted worldwide?
Yes. According to the Washington Accord, to which India is a signatory, all countries will recognise the degrees of the participating countries. It was based on the premise that they will recognise only accredited degrees. So Indian degrees accredited by the two agencies are accepted worldwide.
But informally what weightage does it carry?
I think international agencies are hardly aware of what we have been doing. In the US there is the Council of Higher Education, a non-government body that carries out accreditation. I find that there is no proper awareness among Indian policymakers as well as foreign accreditation agencies about the process being followed in India. There is no forum. They are not meeting each other. We have requested interaction because the government has ordered UGC and AICTE to give autonomy on the basis of accreditation scores.
UGC has given autonomy to 60 institutions, including colleges and universities. Similarly, AICTE has also decided to give autonomy to PGDMA (Post Graduate Diploma in Management) institutions because they are not affiliated, like our institute, to a university.
When we met AICTE two years ago, there was reluctance to accept international accreditation because of political reasons. The current NDA government was not in favour of allowing foreign universities to set up campuses here.
Would you say there is a case for rating the rating agencies?
Yes, I think the government, policymakers and the academic community should be given this opportunity. Accreditation agencies should be given comprehensive targets and assessed by a jury of independent people so that they are benchmarked with the best in the world.
For example, how institution-friendly are the accreditation agencies? This is not like a police inspector’s job. You cannot ill-treat educational institutions. Your role is to be a catalyst for improving quality. Earlier, these agencies were behaving like UGC and AICTE. Do this otherwise we will punish you! There were also complaints about corruption. But now apparently there is no corruption. Guidelines have been issued and the giving of gifts has been disallowed.
But rating their processes could be a good thing to do to make sure of benchmarking with global standards?
Yes, I think there should be a national jury and they should evaluate all the accreditation agencies. Some more are likely to come up in the next two or three years. If we have to compete internationally we should benchmark our regulatory bodies like AICTE and UGC and our accreditation bodies.
So far I have not found any process for rating the rating agencies. But, I think the challenges of the future will require every autonomous body dealing with education to be benchmarked with the best agencies globally.
Some small countries, like Singapore and the UAE, have done very well in developing higher education and making their countries hubs for higher education. China has also done very well. They have their own rating and accreditation agencies.
I think India could benchmark its regulatory bodies and accreditation agencies with China’s. The size of China’s higher education sector and ours is almost the same. The issues and challenges are almost common. We have around 40 million students and China has perhaps around 50 million. Both countries are between developed and developing nations.
But in China the quality of higher education and the nature of basic research have reached the level of developed countries.
Yes. I agree. In China, it was the government that invested in improving the quality of education and research. There is no private investment as such. There are, of course, private institutions, but their number is not as high as in India. China is investing a lot of money in creating world-class universities and institutions.
Professors in China are publishing more research papers than in India. In 1952 both countries were almost at the same level. In 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was established India was a little ahead in education. But after Deng Xiaoping, China surged ahead.
And simultaneously you see a decline in India’s old centres of learning?
During the 30-year post-Deng Xiaoping period, when China began surging ahead, Indian higher education, which was doing good till the 1960s and ’70s, went down because of the exponential growth of institutions in the private sector. After 1991, and this is very important, the centre and the states accepted the fact that they have no funds to provide for education. And here I would like to quote that quality in education is not without cost. In 1966, the Kothari Commission said India would have to spend 6 percent of GDP on education. We have reached only 3.9 percent of GDP though 52 years have passed since this recommendation was made.
It’s the older universities like BHU, Calcutta University etc. that have declined.
These were eminent institutions, which have lost their glory in teaching and research. A large number of students from African nations used to come to India because it was politically convenient for them. But because of the erosion in quality and campuses, they don’t come.
So would you say unregulated liberalisation has affected the quality of Indian competitiveness?
Yes. Although there has been regulation it hasn’t looked into the core of education — of how the teaching-learning process is being done. It has mostly looked at physical infrastructure.
Also, with the shift to privatisation eminent institutions in the state sector start fading because of lack of funds.
In the post-liberalisation period the government adopted a policy that it would spend mostly on central government-run institutions which are the IIMs, IITs and central universities. There are about 100 such institutions. They are being given more money in the Budget. But you will be surprised to know that the total number of students being admitted every year to these institutions is only 200,000.
Simultaneously you have magazines and newspapers coming up with ratings that capture the public imagination much more than the actual rating agencies do. Isn’t there a need for some restraint in what is going on?
I think there should be some sort of regulation. Some people are asking for advertisements and money to give awards and rank institutions. It is a marketing gimmick.
I should share with you that a leading newspaper that has been ranking business schools does not ask for data. When they ranked my institute without asking me for any data I asked them why. They said, we do not do this ourselves. We have outsourced it to another agency. You speak to them. When I contacted this small firm they said they had collected the data from secondary sources.
My institute is widely considered to be among the top 10 B- schools in India. But (in this newspaper) they were giving us a rank of 45 and lesser-known schools were ranked higher. What was the reason? It was to create a false credibility.
When they did this the second time I complained to the chairman of the Press Council, Justice P.B. Sawant. He asked them to stop it.
So the market has gone wild.
Yes, the market has gone wild because there is a lot of money in education. The size of the Indian market is in billions of dollars. Huge sums are collected as fees each year.
Institutes are producing engineers you can’t employ and management graduates who don’t serve a purpose. How will all this play out?
A lot of churning is happening in higher education. Poor quality institutions are closing down. You are sitting here in the Knowledge Park area of Greater Noida where there are 60 colleges and half a dozen universities. You will be surprised to know that hardly 15 to 16 colleges are operational. The rest are struggling or closed. Several are offering their land and buildings to us. And this is happening across the country. AICTE has accepted that more than 1,000 engineering colleges and business schools have closed. Since the meltdown of 2008-07 there has been a severe crisis in higher education.
One would imagine it is in the interest of institutions to seek accreditation so as to be better positioned in this market.
The benefits of accreditation are long-term. Former businessmen and unsuccessful entrepreneurs who set up institutions look for short-term gains. Not all institutions are being run by educationists.
At BIMTECH we have invested as much as Rs 20 crore in the last 10 years to improve the quality of education. We started approaching accreditation agencies in 2007. In 2008, we got our first accreditation from NBA. We accredited all our programmes because NBA, which was under AICTE, does programme-wise accreditation.
We first completed the accreditation of four of our programmes by NBA. Then we approached NAAC to accredit our institution in 2014. They accredited us in 2015 with an A+. The highest is A++, which isn’t generally given in the first cycle. Our grade was more than 3.5 on a scale of 4. Similarly, NBA has given us its highest score for six years.
We have invested money in improving our facilities from the perspective of the accreditation agencies. They examine the research output, the teaching-learning process, and the infrastructure available, including both software and hardware. They define how many marks will be given to you on the status of your infrastructure, hardware and software.
More than money, a gigantic human effort was invested in getting accreditation. We had to work hard to be ready for the visiting teams from the rating agencies. Sometimes we did not have the requisite documents to back our claims. We learnt from our mistakes.
Since 2014 we have been working with the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), an international agency of repute in America. Accreditation from AACSB is considered the golden standard in management education and takes two to four years to get. It took TAPMI, Manipal, 10 years to get AACSB accreditation.