Last month (Mar 2023), the chairman of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) of India, Bhushan Patwardhan, publicly alleged that Indian institutes and colleges were obtaining ‘questionable’ accreditation grades through malpractice and resigned in disgust.

In a letter to the University Grants Commission (UGC), Patwardhan said he had resigned “to safeguard self-respect and the sanctity of the post of Chairman EC and the NAAC”.

His resignation comes days after he called for an independent inquiry into the UGC’s decision to appoint an “additional chairman without any legal authority”.

Patwardhan also wrote a letter to the UGC in February alleging that educational institutions in India were obtaining “questionable grades” through malpractice.

There was no comment from UGC on the subject.

NAAC is India’s national accreditation body

In India, the UGC, is a federal statutory body of the Indian government established for the coordination, determination, and maintenance of standards of university education in the country. And in turn, the NAAC was established under UGC for the purpose of assessing and accrediting all higher education institutions in India.

NAAC was established in 1994 in response to “address the issues of deterioration in quality of education”, and to an education policy decision in 1992 to establish an independent national accreditation body.

Hence, it’s the job of NAAC to evaluate colleges, universities, and other recognised institutions throughout the country and determine to if they conform to quality standards related to “educational processes and outcomes, curriculum coverage, teaching-learning processes, faculty, research, infrastructure, learning resources, organisation, governance, financial well-being and student services”.

Since 2013, the NAAC accreditation has become a mandatory requirement for all higher education institutions in India. However, the assessment and accreditation process is highly complex with most institutions in India not even meeting the required threshold to undergo the evaluation process.

To even apply for assessment and accreditation by NAAC, the institution must have a record of at least two student batches graduated or been in existence for six years, whichever is earlier.

According to UGC data, out of over 1,100 universities and nearly 45,000 colleges in India, only 418 universities (38%) and over 9,000 colleges (20%) are accredited by the NAAC.

Accusations of corruption and inefficiency have bogged down the agency for a long time, and Patwardhan’s resignation has rekindled the controversy surrounding NAAC. Patwardhan himself was appointed as Chairman of NAAC for only about one year since Feb 2022.

Questionable accreditation grades awarded to India’s higher education institutions

Patwardhan had first raised questions over NAAC’s accreditation processes in February. He alleged that vested interests were manipulating the laid down norms governing the accreditation procedures.

“Based on my experience, various complaints from the stakeholders, and review committee reports, I had expressed my apprehensions earlier about the possibility of vested interests, malpractices, and nexus among the persons concerned, offering thereby a green corridor by presumably manipulating… processes leading to the awarding of questionable grades to some HEIs. Mainly due to this, I had also suggested the need for an independent inquiry by appropriate high-level national agencies,” he wrote to UGC in February.

Then not long after he wrote to UGC, the UGC chairman suddenly appointed an additional co-chairman to NAAC. This eventually led to Patwardhan’s decision to resign. In his resignation letter, Patwardhan wrote that he had “nothing personal in this matter” and was aiming to “safeguard the sanctity” of the chairmanship of NAAC.

“After careful reconsideration of the entire subject, I hereby resign from the position of Chairman of the Executive Committee, NAAC, Bengaluru in the larger interest of the UGC, NAAC, and Indian higher education system with immediate effect i.e. on Monday, March 6, 2023 forenoon. I wish to reiterate that I had nothing personal in this matter but it was an act to safeguard self-respect and the sanctity of the post of Chairman EC and the NAAC,” Patwardhan wrote.

Checking authenticity of degrees from institutions with ‘questionable’ accreditation grades?

On Wednesday (19 April), Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that HR firms that want to screen Employment Pass (EP) applications must meet certain requirements from 1 September, including having at least three years of experience in carrying out authenticity checks on educational qualifications as well as accreditation checks on educational institutions.

This is because, from 1 September, all employers are required to verify their EP applicants’ qualifications to guard against fraudulent qualifications being submitted.

Aside from verification from selected background screening companies, the ministry will also accept verification proof obtained from online portals of countries’ governments or educational institutions.

“The verification requirement for renewal of existing EPs will be implemented from Sept 1, 2024,” MOM added.

In its press statement, MOM also said that the eventual list of selected background screening companies would be put up on its website.

Nevertheless, in the case of India, it begs the question that when the chairman of its national accreditation body is alleging ‘questionable’ accreditation grades being awarded to its educational institutions, what’s the point of getting HR companies to check on the authenticity.

It’s not known if MOM has thought about this.

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