NAAC ACCREDITATION IN THE LIGHT OF ACADEMIC INEQUALITY AND MINDLESS DOCUMENTATION


  • June 24, 2024
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Increased institutions’ fees coupled with diminishing Government investment in Higher Education are further alienating and marginalizing poorer students. Federalism at large is under tremendous onslaught in recent times. The powers and purview of State Governments are getting trampled upon from the Centre and the NAAC process is only another such weapon (along with weapons like NITI Aayog, GST and others) of onslaught designed by the high and mighty sitting at the Centre.

 

By Debaditya Raychaudhuri (Rana)

24 June, 2024

 

During the last decade and half, the Central Government has vehemently tried to push forward the privatization (self-sponsored courses) and “Autonomous Institutes” policy in Higher Education through various methods like accreditation processes, funding schemes and ranking frameworks.

 

If we analyze the NAAC accreditation process – its objectives and outcomes, it becomes evident that NAAC is a State-sponsored and institutionalized process designed to incentivize the privileged, victimize and further alienate the underprivileged. The NAAC accreditation process basically collects quantitative and qualitative data regarding the existing privileges (human resources and infrastructure related) possessed by institutions. Based on these aforementioned and pre-defined set of parameters (segregated into seven criteria), a gradation process is employed to generate NAAC scores and grades of these participating institutes. Along with some other parameters, quantum of public funds to be provided to Higher Education Institutes for infrastructure development are determined based on these achieved NAAC grades, i.e. higher the grade, larger is the amount of public funds received and vice-versa. This methodology is highly skewed against the underprivileged and infrastructure-wise weaker institutes. For instance, the institutes with higher number of Faculty members possess a better Teacher-Student Ratio and thus they would achieve better grades than underprivileged, marginalized institutes functioning with a meager number of teachers. Colleges with better IT and classroom infrastructure would fetch higher grades in comparison to weaker and underprivileged institutes. Colleges using exorbitantly priced LMS (Learning Management System) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Softwares are automatically getting healthier grades due to the better quality of their data management. Thus the outcome would culminate in well-established , privileged, resourceful institutes fetching better grades and thus receiving larger amounts of public funds (from tax-payers money) and the underprivileged institutes with already weaker existing infrastructure receiving a lesser share of public funds. This in turn would basically result in creating a further divide between the privileged class of institutes and the underprivileged, thus promoting Academic Injustice.

 

One of the founding pillars of India was Justice for the backward and underprivileged. This NAAC accreditation process is basically promoting just the reverse of that by incentivizing the developed and victimizing the under-developed. Academic Injustice is being meted out to weaker institutes and their stakeholders, i.e. students. A healthy competition can only take place among equals. But in a system, historically riddled with inequalities, NAAC is only furthering the quantum of inequality. Dr. Ambedkar taught us the importance of social justice in public life by trying to incentivize the historically weaker and backward sections of the society through reservations and trying to uplift those sections so that healthy competition can occur among equals. In the same way, public funds need to be prioritized for distribution among the weaker and underprivileged institutes so that the students can enjoy better facilities and infrastructure in those colleges. In its present form, NAAC is contributing to academic inequality by widening the gap between the Privileged and the Underprivileged (the Haves and the Have-nots).

 

The Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) is a centrally designed funding scheme for State-level higher education Institutes. It was initiated in 2013 and the subsequent 2nd cycle came in 2018. Through this scheme, creation of Autonomous Institutes was rampantly encouraged by the Government. It is well-known that along with academic autonomy came financial autonomy, which led to the introduction of higher quantum of “Self-sponsored” courses in colleges. The academic fees for these Self-sponsored courses were inevitably much higher in comparison to normal degree courses in Higher education institutes. This resulted in reduction of the State’s investment in Public Sector Higher Education and subsequent increase in financial burden on students. The worst affected were the financially marginalized sections of the society who were least equipped to deal with increased education costs. In a Nation, which envisages itself as a Social Welfare State in the Constitution, this aforementioned consequence is directly antagonistic to the very ideals of the same Constitution.

 

Federalism is ingrained in the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution in accordance with the Hon’ble Supreme Court verdict in Kesavananda Bharati case (1973). The recent amendments to the NAAC documentation process attempts to undermine the Federal structure and segregation of purviews as listed in the Constitution (in the form of Union, Concurrent and State Lists of divisions). As we all know, Education is listed in the Concurrent List, thus policy and decision making cannot be unilaterally implemented by the Central Government. The Central Government came out with its National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020 and has been aggressively trying to pursue its implementation across States. States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra (before change of guard in the Western state) and West Bengal have repeatedly opposed a pan-India mandatory and forceful implementation of NEP. West Bengal and Tamil Nadu had set up expert committees to formulate their State Education policies in response to the Centre’s aggressive promotion of NEP. In Section 2(a) of the “Updated NAAC Manual”, the Colleges applying for NAAC have been instructed to enlist in detail regarding their “Institutional preparedness for NEP”. Colleges applying for NAAC (including the ones under the administrative purview of respective State Governments) have been asked to provide concrete data and information regarding the steps they have taken to implement integral features of the NEP like Academic Bank of Credits and others. Hundreds of these State Govt. and Aided colleges belong to states which are ideologically and/or policy-wise opposed to NEP (as mentioned before). Thus, this is a gross violation of the Federal structure of governance in the Nation. In light of this, it is to be noted that the Government of Karnataka (which saw a change in 2023) has resolved to remove the 4-Year Undergraduate Programme (mandated by NEP 2020) from the upcoming Academic year. It is a bold, brave and people-friendly step decided by the Karnataka Government.

 

An important aspect which comes to mind while discussing NAAC is the endless working hours lost in Colleges and Universities for the sake of mindless documentation. In the years and months leading up to the NAAC SSR (Self Study Report) submission, the faculty members are compulsorily kept engrossed in preparation of a plethora of reports, sheets and files. Most of these reports are basically self-boasting, self-celebratory in nature and have no role to play in academic improvement of the students of these institutions. The umpteen hours that the faculty members spend in planning, designing and creation of these fictitious reports are directly proportional to the teaching hours lost and in turn this process in itself becomes an enemy of the students and the teaching-learning process at large.

 

Another problematic part of this NAAC Reports’ documentation is the quantification of students getting Jobs (that is placements). At a time when the youth of this country are reeling from massive unemployment and underemployment, which has resulted in the current ruling party faring quite poorly in the recently concluded General Lok Sabha elections, these quantified employment figures given by Colleges appear to be nothing more than a farce. The quantification of students getting placements (jobs) is an important metric in the NAAC assessment system. Thus, Colleges in order to achieve higher NAAC grades resort to all kinds of data fudging and manipulation to show higher quantum of students achieving placements and thus getting employed. But as result of this not-so-credible data publishing process the Government gets an opportunity to portray a rosy picture in the employment sector, whereas the actual ground level condition is extremely different and dire indeed. The government has stopped publishing credible unemployment figures for the last 5-6 years. Thus in the absence of nationally robust and holistic employment figures, these motivated self-celebratory employment figures generated by the colleges are actually hurting the youth of this country in a much larger way than we can even imagine.

 

In a nutshell, the aforementioned neoliberal policies in the Higher Education sector are only leading to further widening of the gap between the privileged and underprivileged. Increased institutions’ fees coupled with diminishing Government investment in Higher Education are further alienating and marginalizing poorer students. Federalism at large is under tremendous onslaught in recent times. The powers and purview of State Governments are getting trampled upon from the Centre and the NAAC process is only another such weapon (along with weapons like NITI Aayog, GST and others) of onslaught designed by the high and mighty sitting at the Centre. Large amounts of productive working hours are getting lost in Colleges owing to the vast documentation processes mandated by NAAC, resulting in reduced teaching-learning hours affecting the students adversely. Self-boasting, self-celebratory and farcical employment figures published by Colleges are assisting the Government in hiding the actual dire unemployment and under-employment situation existing in the country. Most private and public-sector educational institutions are fiercely competing in the rat-race to achieve higher NAAC grades to increase fees and greater income generation from admissions (in case of private colleges) and to get their otherwise rightful funds from the Centre (in case of Government colleges). This NAAC process has also become a tool for many College administrators to prove their loyalty towards ruling regimes and also satisfy their hill sized self egotism. But none of these concern the actual up gradation of teaching-learning systems or inclusion of students from the marginalized and weaker sections into our system in an egalitarian manner. Thus this corporate-friendly, pro-rich assessment procedure of NAAC needs to get overhauled at the earliest. Instead of using processes like NAAC, the Government should prioritize distribution of funds to institutes which are already challenged in terms of capabilities, location, infrastructure and resources. Only then, we can have equitable and egalitarian development benefitting all spectrums of the society.

 

 

The author is working as Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, Chandernagore College

 

Photo source: http://naac.gov.in/index.php/en/menu/gallery

 

 

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