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Ushering Quality Improvement Through Accreditation

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Surendra Prasad,
Chairman, National Board of Accreditation (NBA)

Surendra Prasad, Chairman, National Board of Accreditation (NBA) in conversation with digitalLearning’s Ankush Kumar about NBA’s accreditation as an instrument of quality assurance

What were some of the key initiatives you took during your tenure as Director, IIT Delhi?
It is rather late in the day to talk about the initiatives taken 3–9 years ago; IIT Delhi is always on the move. While leadership does matter, the commitment of the people is the key to progress in all aspects of academic life, and I am proud of my colleagues at IIT Delhi, who are always striving to make it better than it was yesterday. It would be sufficient to say at this stage that our focus was on creating and improving infrastructure, empowering the faculty and students to give their best in teaching, learning and research, and continuous attention on curriculum matters. The period saw an increase in student strength, for which we initiated several large infrastructure projects (including a large hostel, a large academic complex and significant addition to faculty housing), all of which have taken shape now. An initiative for starting a School of Biological Sciences was taken to give an impetus to Biology in the institute. Another initiative for nano-science and technology has led to an inter?disciplinary activity in an emerging area.
A `50 crore research fund was created from institute’s earnings from sponsored research and consultancy. A significant sum was raised from alumni and wellwishers to support these initiatives during the Golden Jubilee year. We paid attention to recruitment of the best faculty and created incentives for them, and empowered weaker sections of students by organising special confidence?building workshops for them. We also made efforts to get additional land for campus extension, which fructified recently.

How do you see the scope of Electrical Engineering as a career for students as compared to some of the other rising streams?
I always tell anyone who approaches me for career advice that he/she should choose a career which is easy to relate to and for which there is passion in the heart. Unlike earlier days, when young people had limited options, today’s world offers a lot of choices. So, a comparison is not the right way of looking at career options! It is more important to choose to do what you enjoy doing most!
Having said that, Electrical Engineering continues to be a great career option. Content-wise, it is an engineering discipline very closely related to basic sciences (Physical, Mathematical, Chemical, Biological and Medical), and offers the excitement of working at the frontiers of science and engineering simultaneously.
It has a large domain of interest and has been the mother field from which many other disciplines have been born: computer science, information sciences, bio?medical engineering, control and automation, modern high?speed communications, and large scale power generation and distribution systems. It continues to evolve at its frontiers and has much to offer in terms of nano?devices, and concepts, which can transform technologies of tomorrow. It has been a happening field for a long time, and continues to be so today!

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Is there anything unique about the teaching methodology at IIT Delhi as compared to some of the other institutes?
The uniqueness of IIT-D’s teaching methodology lies in its diversity! Every faculty member has the freedom to try his or her own unique style for engaging with the students, and they use this freedom well. Some continue to use traditional methods, others deploy latest technologies for effective communication, and many engage students in participative learning. The focus is on teaching and understanding concepts and using them to solve complex problems in different domains. With the diversity of background and expertise that our faculty members bring, the teaching?process has become a very vibrant one.

“Outcome-based accreditation system examines all the aspects of education very rigorously”

What is your vision for NBA in the coming years? How important is accreditation for Indian Universities/ Institutes?
Accreditation is an instrument for quality assurance and continued improvement. Preparing for a career in Engineering, Technology or Management profession requires attending a college with engaged faculty, impactful research, relevant and challenging curricula, and the highest standards of quality. My vision is that NBA accreditation will provide an assurance that all stakeholders, viz., students, parents and employers will get what they expected from an institution.
In India, we have a two-fold objective. On the one hand, we have aligned our processes with international practices so that graduates of all tier?I institutions (all autonomous colleges and institutions) become eligible for employment and higher studies internationally, with a seamless mobility. On the other hand, the rapid expansion in the higher education scenario in the last decade and a half has given birth to a large number of engineering and management institutions to address the needs and aspirations of our young population. The issue of quality, however, remains. NBA is committed to be a facilitator for quality improvement and assurance in such a large and diverse system, through the instrument of accreditation.

The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, which aims to regulate the entry of foreign universities in India, is still pending in the Parliament. How are foreign universities going to help the Indian education system?
I have not studied this Bill in sufficient depth. However, I am clear that if there is a way to set up quality education centers which are genuine and from the best universities in the world, it will bring in a new dimension to higher education in the country and help the higher education sector rise to the next level. But it must be done very cautiously, to avoid it’s obvious misuse and exploitative potential.

Students complain that most engineering institutes pay more attention towards imparting theoretical knowledge rather than giving practical assignments. Has this trend changed in the last few years?
As I mentioned earlier, the Indian engineering education scene has expanded rapidly and well beyond the natural capacity of any system to expand. This has given rise to many problems; lack of adequate or well?qualified faculty and infrastructure are the biggest of these. This has naturally led to such situations. Outcome based accreditation system, the current internationally accepted model, examines all these aspects of education very rigorously. As more institutions go for accreditation, these issues will necessarily have to be addressed. I am sure that the corrective trend is already in place

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