By, Sri B.V. Raghunandan, SVS College, Bantwal
Ever since the development of higher education in India, there was never the establishment of a single institution which has changed the very landscape of attitudes of educationists as the setting up of NAAC. It has brought about in its wake a cascade of benefits and degradation to such an extent that all the people connected with educational institutions are overwhelmed with a kaleidoscope of feelings and opinions. Right from great appreciation to outright hatred, the spectrum of opinion is varied. With all that, what is lacking is the understanding of the very purpose of accreditation and following the dictum of NAAC criterion as if following a rule book. The opinions to make the institution of accreditation to be strong and bereft of its existing lacuna are seldom heard. The compulsions of compliance like a primary school student are evident in majority of cases rather than having an intellectual understanding and a critical discussion of relevance and rejection of some of the criteria suggested by NAAC. This article is an attempt to take stock of the beneficial impact and the academic degradation as a result of NAAC visits and accreditation.
Infrastructure in the Colleges: It is great visionaries who established colleges in the various parts of the country. But, the inheritors turned out to be simple mercenaries not having a dedicated approach in developing the colleges so much that most of the colleges had to run with the infrastructure created at the time of establishment of the colleges. Not even a window or door was added over decades. After Government stopped recruitment of teachers in aided colleges in 1984, the situation became from bad to worse. The need to pay for the unaided or unfilled vacancies became the standard answer not for adding infrastructure, but even for spending on repairs and maintenance of the existing infrastructure. Most of the colleges in Dakshina Kannada stagnated. Even though, there was demand for more batches, no attempt was made to start new batches because of the lack of availability of rooms.
The UGC was ready to give grants for the development of the colleges by providing finance for constructing hostels, library buildings, purchase of books and laboratory equipments. While the finance for buying library books and laboratory equipments were used by every college, building grants were seldom used. UGC wanted the colleges to come up with 50% funding while it was sanctioning only the remaining 50%. That was not acceptable for most of the colleges. The Affiliation Committees sent by the University every year could have attempted to correct the situation. But, their visits remained only annual rituals. The universities failed in developing the infrastructure in the affiliated colleges. They became mere agents for conducting examinations. It is in this backdrop, UGC set up NAAC. Once it got acceptability from the state governments, a rein of magical spell is cast on most of the colleges regarding infrastructure. Buildings are added, more batches of students are started, basic facilities like canteen, hostel, sports and toilets (tiled toilets imagine) are being provided. Once in five years, before the visit of NAAC team, whitewashing or distempering the walls is being done. The walls are letting out a sigh of relief after having been suffocated by the torrential rains for decades. Money somehow seems to be rolling in from all directions to most of the colleges. One wonders, where this money was sleeping in the Jurassic period of education in the pre-NAAC period.
Courses and Combinations Offered: The courses offered in most of the colleges were like Mac Donald hamburgers. Go to any college in the same city or in other cities or towns, the courses offered were same and the combinations offered were also same. There were noble exceptions to this, but they were only what they were: exceptions. Even in a small town, when a new college came up, it was with the same course and combination offered by the other colleges already in existence. The students had a very limited choice. Here again, the universities as affiliating entities could have avoided this by insisting upon an alternative combination, subject to its viability. But, the universities danced to the tune of applications rather than correcting it. Added to this, the universities wanted to keep post-graduate education as their own prerogative rather than allowing the under-graduate colleges to share the responsibility. The acute shortage of faculty in Karnataka is also a result of this attitude. In all the neighbouring states, private colleges and government colleges were allowed to offer post graduation even three decades ago. But, it did not happen in Karnataka until universities were also required to get accreditation. The courses offered in the private colleges not only have different combinations, more batches of students for well established courses and new courses but also they have post graduate courses. Thanks to NAAC.
Techno-Aliens: Though India emerged long ago as the software park of the world, a sizeable population remained IT illiterates. It is regrettable that it was inclusive of academicians and administrators. Colleges offering computer courses used the computers for teaching computer courses. ICT was not used either for secretarial work or for administration or in teaching and learning of non-computer courses. Both the managements, principals and teachers had the least inclination for the ICT initiative. Even though the ICT initiative has been taken by the agriculturists and semi-literates in the rural areas, the same was not happening in colleges of general education. Usage of LCD projectors remained a symbol of five star colleges. Like the rich-poor divide, the divide between techno-aliens and techno-natives continued with a vengeance. The insistence of NAAC team in the ICT initiative has made the colleges to invest in the equipment. The support system, the maintenance, the wide-spread usage, and all encompassing training are missing even now. At least, the NAAC effect brought the equipments to the doorsteps of the colleges. If it has to benefit substantially, the managements should get the principals to become techno-savvy, and the principals must get the faculty techno-savvy. Usage of the internet for preparation and class room teaching must be taken up with a road map. Technical assistants must be appointed for setting up the equipment, the maintenance and updating.
Change of Curriculum: Updating curriculum has not been taking place to the required level. Here again, it was the failure of the universities to assume the role of an academic leader. Boards of Studies met once or twice in a year to appoint the Boards of Examiners, dutifully fulfilling the role of the universities as agents for conducting examinations rather than the agents of academic change. The very fact that NAAC is questioning about the frequency of change of curriculum has
brought in a better alertness in the system. However, the change and transformation are not enough as the lethargy continues without any keen interest on the academic bodies in the universities. There is the need to train the faculty in the private colleges regarding changing the curriculum. It should also go with an initiative taken by the Chairmen of BOS in initiating the change of curriculum.
Granting Autonomy to Colleges: The procedure involved in the change of curriculum in the university system is too long. In certain subjects, by the time the syllabus is approved, it might have been outdated. To get over this defect, UGC mooted the idea of granting autonomy to the colleges. While the whole country was trying the experiment, the universities in Karnataka adamantly refused to grant autonomy in an effort to retain their control on the affiliated colleges.
But for AICTE giving affiliation to engineering colleges the permission to start MBA courses, the universities grip on the colleges would have continued by denying autonomy, post graduate education and research facilities to the private colleges. Coming on the scene, NAAC has vaporized the reluctance of the universities in granting autonomy to affiliated colleges. It is another matter that the universities continue to dominate the autonomous colleges in every respect thus taking away most of the benefits of autonomy. It is necessary for NAAC to see the manner of implementation of autonomy while accrediting the universities. If the regulations of the universities are making the expression ‘autonomy’ a farce, NAAC can do a lot to ensure that the autonomous colleges can enjoy the benefits fully.
Organisation & Management: NAAC also tries to bring about a qualitative change in the governance of the college. Even though, Universities Acts and Education Acts attempt to get representation in the governing bodies of the colleges, the provisions were defeated through short-cut methods. The governing bodies rarely met and the management-friendly faculty was appointed as the faculty representative. The faculty was kept in the dark regarding the finances of the colleges. Only day-to-day serious problems were solved. There was no long-term planning nor was the faculty involved in the deliberations. The quality of governance was very poor. By keeping O&M a criterion, NAAC paved the way for the faculty in charge of preparation of the NAAC report to have better access to the records of the management. It is also interesting to note that colleges are receiving very less points in the criterion of O&M. NAAC, at the time of
reaccreditation must ensure that the quality of governance has really gone up. The system of Grievance Redressal for both the students and the faculty must be made more functional rather than a document to report the compliance. Majority of the colleges do not have a proper Redressal mechanism in operation. This is one area where, NAAC can devote a lot more time not only for assessing, but also setting a deadline for compliance.
National and State Level Conferences: The weightage assigned by the accreditation process for the conduct of national and state level conferences have made the colleges to make every effort in conducting as many conferences as possible. It is also carried to the extreme by some colleges. In one year, a college in Undivided Dakshina Kannada conducted 16 national and state level conferences. In the semester system, one can imagine the number of actual teaching days in the college and the manner of syllabus coverage. Though NAAC has succeeded in the number of conferences conducted, there is a lot to be done in the quality and the outcome of the conferences. Many topics are not serious academic exercises. Sufficient number of faculty does not participate leading to filling up the auditorium with students of the college. The malice lies with the principals of the colleges and their self-centeredness. When a college is conducting a Conference, it is very important one for the Principal of the College and he expects every other college to send delegates. When other colleges are conducting the conference, he does not even show the communication to the faculty, leave alone allowing them to participate. If a faculty comes to know by other means, the same Principal questions the utility of the conference and its relevance to the faculty. The shameless double standard developed for administrative convenience is a disgrace to academic development.
NAAC can as well devise the ways to address this problem. The academic performance index introduced in the revision of UGC scales may address the problem in the future. So much for the positive aspects of NAAC. There are very many dark aspects, which the UGC and NAAC should contemplate for making suitable changes.
Firstly, announcing the date of the visit of the NAAC team is the biggest folly. This enables decoration of the college as a bride for the marriage ceremony of a couple of days. After indicating a cut-off date for visiting the college, the peer team should pay a surprise visit any time after the date. However, this may not be acceptable as the peer team expects a royal welcome offered to them during their visit including their stay in a posh hotel and a very expensive food which may not be their normal diet.
Secondly, the time spent by the faculty and the co-ordinator in the preparation of the report is counterproductive and will affect the quality of teaching. The peer team can avoid a sizeable amount of reporting and also can rely upon non-documentable achievements of the colleges. They can see for themselves the organised way the work is carried on in the college. Again, they can also ascertain how professional the faculty is simply by observation.
Thirdly, they should be very careful in what they encourage and what they discourage. In one of the colleges, a prayer of a particular religion is compulsorily sung by all the students in the College, which received the appreciation of NAAC. Instead of making the College understand that it is indoctrination and there is the need to maintain secularism in the College, the team has sent a wrong message by appreciating it.
Fourthly, the standards prescribed should be in tune with the standards followed by the parents and students. Colleges that are very popular and attracting the best students getting a lower grade and the colleges that are the preferred destination of worst academic performer getting a higher grade merely leads to contempt and non-acceptability of the grade. Fifthly, the uniform standards prescribed are likely to convert the colleges into chain stores like Bata Show Rooms. Most of the colleges resemble each other in their attempt to get the best grade by complying with the guidelines provided. The whole focus is to please the NAAC committee. The students and the teaching become the victim and the casualty. A uniform ignorance of negligence of the students will eat away the attempts of the teaching fraternity. This will also result in each college losing its identity and distinctness. No better effort is needed to kill the creativity and distinctness of the College.
Finally, the members of the visiting team are called Peer Team for a reason. It is to make them understand that they are the equals to the faculty in the college. It is in an effort to prevent them from being arrogant in their dealings with people in the colleges. However, instances are not rare, when they were outright rude and indulged in showering insults on the principals and faculty. Some go the extent of acting like feudal lords. They also go out of the way in proving that whatever the college is doing is nothing. Again, their adamant attitude in rejecting the claims of the colleges baselessly only results in the resentment at the college level. It is time that the feedback from the principal and the faculty about the conduct of the members of the peer team obtained by NAAC. The same must be analysed and the counterproductive members are avoided so as to build the institution of accreditation on sound and healthy lines.