NAAC Grading Transition: Will the New Accreditation System Reshape Higher Education in India?

The cornerstone of this revamped framework is the introduction of a binary categorization - accredited or non-accredited - aimed at simplifying the accreditation process and enhancing accessibility for all HEIs.
Under the new system, NAAC will categorize educational institutions into only two categories – accredited and non-accredited.
Under the new system, NAAC will categorize educational institutions into only two categories – accredited and non-accredited.

Jaipur- In a landmark move aimed at revitalizing the landscape of higher education accreditation, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) has announced a significant transition from the old grading system to a new and robust framework. This transformative step, set to redefine the evaluation and recognition of higher educational institutions (HEIs), marks a pivotal moment in ensuring quality and excellence in the Indian education system.

While NAAC has released a draft of the new method, the date of its implementation under the New Education Policy-2020 is yet to be announced. Academics note that NAAC previously updated its grading methodology on July 1, 2017, which remains in effect. Consequently, the new grading system is anticipated to take effect from July 1, 2024.

Prof. Karunesh Saxena, former in-charge of the IQAC (Internal Quality Assurance Cell) at Udaipur's Mohanlal Sukhadia University and Vice Chancellor of Sangam University, Bhilwara, along with others, suggests that with the implementation of NAAC's new grading system, the previous system of grading universities and colleges will cease to exist.

Under the new system, NAAC will categorize educational institutions into only two categories – accredited and non-accredited.

Previously, NAAC utilized categories such as A++, A+, A, B++, B+, B, C, and D, with D denoting no recognition. However, in the new grading system, institutions that receive recognition will fall under the accredited category, while those in the D category will be considered non-accredited.

Udaipur's Mohanlal Sukhadia University in November 2023, received an A grade from NAAC, which corresponds to the third grade, whereas the A grade awarded to MLSU in 2017 was the second grade.

Based on this, the university should have attained an A+ grade, which it did not receive. Consequently, the university administration has lodged a revision appeal with NAAC to obtain an A+ grade. However, with the impending implementation of the new rules, universities may face challenges in achieving accredited status, as the new criteria are expected to be more stringent.

Presently, 30 private and government universities in Rajasthan, including MLSU University Udaipur, JNVU Jodhpur, and MGS Bikaner, are recognized by NAAC. However, there are a total of 89 universities in the state, including 27 government institutions.

Institutions that have submitted applications within the past four months are provided with flexibility, offering them the choice between the old and new grading systems. NAAC will continue to implement the old system until July 2024. However, for institutions that have applied within the last six months or intend to apply within the next two months, the option to select either the traditional grading system or the new one is available.

However, institutions applying after the specified two-month window will be required to opt for the new grading system exclusively. This transition poses a significant decision for institutions, as the evaluation process under the new system may present challenges. Consequently, it remains plausible that many institutions may opt for the familiarity of the old grading system rather than embracing the complexities of the new framework.

Old Grading System

Under the previous grading system, HEIs were evaluated based on a multi-tiered grading scale encompassing categories such as A++, A+, A, B++, B+, B, C, and D. While these grades aimed to assess the quality and performance of institutions, concerns regarding transparency, fairness, and susceptibility to irregularities plagued the system.

Institutions often faced challenges navigating the complexities of the grading criteria, leading to disparities in assessment outcomes and eroding trust in the accreditation process.

The Mooknayak spoke to Prof RC Tiwari, Former V-C of Mewar University who said the credibility of NAAC has been tarnished by allegations of irregularities, favoritism, and corruption.

Committee investigations uncovered compromised IT systems, discrepancies in site visits conducted by assessors, and unauthorized access to internal systems. Following these revelations, former executive council chairman Bhushan Patwardhan resigned, citing concerns over the organization's indifference to corruption issues. Moreover, the Auditor General of India's report criticized NAAC for irregularities in scoring and a lack of justification for awarding high grades.

New Accreditation System

NAAC's objective with the binary accreditation system is to motivate all higher educational institutions to pursue accreditation, thereby fostering quality and transparency.

Many institutions previously refrained from seeking accreditation due to concerns about potential poor results, highlighting underlying issues of quality and trust in the previous system. The move to onboard all institutions is commendable as it enhances visibility domestically and internationally.

Maturity-Based Graded Accreditation (MBGA)

NAAC has introduced the Maturity-Based Graded Accreditation (MBGA) system to encourage institutions to elevate their standards. Under this system, institutions meeting the expected requirements are categorized into levels 1 to 4 as "Institutions of National Excellence".

Those surpassing these standards are recognized as "Institutions of Global Excellence for Multi-Disciplinary Research and Education" at level 5. The implementation of the binary accreditation system is scheduled for the next four months, with MBGA anticipated to be fully operational by December 2024.

There are concerns regarding the fairness and transparency of the accreditation process. The emphasis is now placed on process, outcomes, and impact across various attributes of Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs), rather than relying solely on input-centric metrics. Past issues such as the absence of a centralized data center and doubts about altering information after submission raise questions about the integrity of the process.

While the transition to the new grading system represents a significant leap forward in higher education accreditation, it is not without its challenges.

Concerns regarding the fairness and transparency of the accreditation process, the risk of heightened competition leading to corruption, and the need for stringent evaluation mechanisms must be addressed to ensure the integrity and efficacy of the new framework. Moreover, the successful implementation of the new system hinges on comprehensive stakeholder engagement, capacity-building initiatives, and continuous monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

According to Prof Sanjay Lodha, Former Dean- Arts college , MLSU , " the new NAAC assessment and accrditation system, like the one before it, underlies evaluation of unequals on equal grounds. There is a need to devise different assessment systems for different kinds of institutions. A college located in remote tribal south Rajasthan cannot and should not be assessed on the same yardsticks as St Stephens College in Delhi. The sooner it is realized, the better it will be."

Under the new system, NAAC will categorize educational institutions into only two categories – accredited and non-accredited.
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