India finally became the 17th member of the exclusive Washington Accord – the international accreditation agreement for engineering degrees among prominent nations of the world. Dr Surendra Prasad, Chairman of the National Board of Accreditation in an interview to KS Narayanan of Elets News Network explains the significance of the Washington Accord for Indian engineering graduates and engineering institutions
India became the 17th member of the Washington Accord. What is its significance?
Recognition of degrees from Tier 1 programs, as equivalent to those of WA signatory countries will boost mobility of our engineers internationally. More importantly, it is a shot in the arm for quality assurance efforts in technical education in the country. The signatory status provides NBA with a platform for keeping itself truly aligned with international practices in accreditation systems and practices, as these evolve over time. The International Engineering Alliance, which serves as the Secretariat for the various accords and agreements pertaining to the engineering profession, has a system of continuous review of its constituent bodies (on a 6-yearly basis), which will require NBA to continually improve its systems and bring up an era of high credibility in accreditation. I must add, however, that with or without the Washington Accord, NBA was, and will remain committed to the quality assurance movement for technical education in the country.
Even as it enhances the mobility of many Indian engineering graduates, will India become the destination for engineering education?
This certainly creates the potential for bringing more international students into such accredited programs.
Who do you credit the most for making India a member of WA?
Unlike suggestions in a section of the press, I would like to say that the real credit goes to a large number of invisible volunteers, who have worked hard over the years (especially over the last one year) in the background, in making our systems and processes well aligned to international practices. They represent the true army of soldiers as well as the generals of the new accreditation movement. As the Chairman of the NBA for the last year or so, I had the opportunity to do my bit. The present member secretary, Dr, Anil K. Nassa and I have worked hard to improve the systems over the last few months. NBA organised a very successful WOSA (World Summit on Accreditation) in March 2014, which had international participation from 14 countries. We are happy that together both of us could effectively plead our case in the June 13 meeting of the WA member countries, despite some difficulties. The two mentors appointed by WA also helped in smoothing over many kinks in our systems and processes. The leadership in MHRD was truly supportive in bringing in the required autonomy required for such reforms. All in all, it is the collective work of many, and it is an achievement for the country, and not of a few individuals alone.
India got to become a member seven years after it was made a provisional member in 2007. The International Engineering Alliance, secretariat of the Washington Accord, sent a review team in December 2013 and January 2014 to carry out a comprehensive review and audit of NBA’s accreditation systems and practices. The team submitted its report in March 2014, the ministry said.
Yes, that appears to be an awfully long time. But over the last year or so, we really focused our efforts to ensure that our processes and systems undergo the necessary changes to become acceptable internationally. The WA Review team was not only happy with what they saw in the field, but also with the vigorous efforts being made by us to truly reform our system towards greater credibility. Accreditation with credibility is our true motto.
How far has making NBA an autonomous organisation separating it from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the apex technical education regulator-boosted the permanent membership for India?
This certainly was an important step, which effectively separates the regulatory functions (represented by AICTE) from the largely academic “audit” of a program, carried out by the accrediting body. It has added to the credibility of our efforts. It must be mentioned that NBA has not severed its umbilical cord with AICTE, whose Chairman is an important member of the General Council.
“With or without the Washington Accord, NBA was, and will remain committed to the quality assurance movement for technical education in the country”
WA also places a lot of responsibility on several stakeholders. A massive redesigning of courses will take place with emphasis on outcomes and letting students explore and innovate.
Accreditation is more than a certification of quality for the accredited pro- gram. A good process of accreditation enables the program administrators and the faculty to have a deep look at the program objectives, and measure the effectiveness of program delivery through an assessment of the program outcomes in relation to these objectives. This is the essence of the relatively new paradigm of outcome‐based accreditation. Its effective implementation will take a significant effort on the part of the institutions as well as the program evaluators. These tasks require a non ‐ trivial understanding of the accreditation process, both on the part of the faculty as well as the evaluator. Creating a pool of competent volunteers through appropriate training and orientation, who understand this process well, is the essence of effective and credible accreditation. In India, of course, there is the additional factor of maintaining the “integrity” of the process, which requires that the people associated with it have the high- est ethical standards.
NBA has shortlisted 220-odd engineering colleges as Tier-I institutes whose undergraduate engineering programs are in tune with what is required under the Accord. Will they have to apply afresh? What is the roadmap for others in the Tier II category?
Let me clarify on these matters. Because of the size, complexity and diversity of engineering institutions in India, it be- came necessary for us to look at these institutions through different lenses, with a view to empower them all to improve according to their potential. NBA decided that the accreditation effort be organised at two levels, which, for want of better terms, were called Tier 1 and Tier 2.
Tier 1 programs are those, which are offered at institutions enjoying full autonomy and thus, having the capacity to undertake continuous improvements of their curriculum, teaching and learning processes and infrastructure attributes, which empower them to benefit more directly from the feedback from the accreditation process. Others, which are affiliated with a university, and do not have complete flexibility in modifying their curriculum or conducting their own examinations, are considered for the so-called Tier-2 accreditation. Clearly, institutions, which perform well, have the potential to become autonomous, and move to a Tier- 1 status.
The WA equivalence accrual, after becoming a signatory in June this year, is for the accredited Tier 1 programs, which are housed in roughly 300 institutions in the country. For the nearly 3500 other colleges, the accreditation of programs is considered at the Tier 2 level.
Those pursuing STEM always look down upon subjects relating to Humanities. Washington Accord lays emphasis on teaching social sciences along with engineering.
All good engineering institutions have a significant component of Humanities and Social Sciences in their curriculum. These are important to enable the students to learn life‐skills, and to be able to appreciate issues of importance to society, and to bring about transformative changes through engineering sciences and technology. Issues of ethical practices, leadership and teamwork are common traits required for all segments of society, and especially the engineers. NBA graduate attributes lay due emphasis to meeting these objectives well in an accreditation framework. These efforts should bear fruit over time.
Now that India has signed WA, what about India signing the Sydney Accord for Engineering Technologists and the Dublin Accord for Engineering Technicians?
Our focus so far was on Washington Accord. We have started to study the relevance and usefulness of the other accords now, and will be able to take a position after some work.
Will India have to sign the Seoul Accord to create similar equivalence of programs for IT engineers? What is the progress on that?
We are also presently studying the Seoul Accord, and will take a suitable view soon.