Role of Quality, Assurance, Accreditation & Ranking

-Dr H Chaturvedi, Alternate President, EPSI & Director, BIMTECH

Section I

The Current Crises

Last decade has witnessed an exponential growth of engineering education which has reversed the demand supply gap of 80’s, 90’s and 2000.  In all parts of the country, hundreds of engineering colleges were set up with poor infrastructure, weak faculty and almost no industry linkages.  Following table speaks about the exponential growth which was mostly unplanned and haphazard:-               

Table – 1

Growth of Engineering Institutions (2007-15)

Year No. of Colleges (UG) Intake (UG) in lakh




























[Source: Technical Education – A Futuristic Scenario Report of the AICTE Review Committee – 2015,   Page 26-27]

From the above table, it is clearly evident that during the last decade (2006-15), there has been more than 100% growth in the numbers of the engineering colleges and also to undertake in its under-graduate programmes.

It is explicit that post-global melt-down era (2007-12), policy makers at the AICTE have allowed the mindless growth of engineering education when the recession has gripped global as well as Indian industries and the demand for engineers slowed down drastically.

Restructuring is imminent in Indian Engineering Education

Engineering Education is going through a multipronged crisis. After AICTE released its decision to close 800 engineering colleges over lower admissions and low quality media reports suggest that AICTE is now planning to take the route of mergers to salvage a few colleges. As per the reports, The AICTE has been approached by many of the 800 colleges to defer the decision to shut down by 2 years. Some have also suggested that the colleges may be allowed to take the route of mergers to salvage the situation. The AICTE has sought legal advice on the viability and implications of such mergers and buyouts.

As per the information available, as many as 4,633 courses and 527 institutions have already closed in the past 5 years due to the rapidly declining admissions. The situation is grievous in the state of Maharashtra which accounts for 921 of these courses and a total of 69 colleges. The list includes engineering colleges as well as institutions of management, architecture, polytechnics, hotel management, etc. AICTE has a strict regulation in regards the minimum admissions in the colleges as well as basic quality of education. The steady dip in both has already lead to many engineering institutions in the country opting for voluntary closure. As many as 150 engineering colleges closed last year.

Recently, AICTE decided to shut down 800 engineering colleges which have failed to procure the minimum of 30 percent enrolment in the last 5 years. Unable to improve the numbers consecutively, AICTE along with the government has decided to shut down non performing institutes and give better provisions and resources to the good colleges and universities. The decision of AICTE instantly garnered a plea from the colleges.  These institutions now have put forth two suggestions – one is to give them a time of 2 years and base their decision on the enrolment data of these institutions at the end of the two years. The other alternative suggested is to allow mergers or buyouts of these institutes by other trusts.

AICTE is currently considering the plan. There are many things that ought to be considered and the first goal of AICTE is to ensure the employability of the students who are graduating from the colleges. The AICTE chairman has confirmed that while these 800 institutes would be provided a hearing to present their case, the colleges have to present the evidence to maintain a basic quality of education and show enough sources of revenue to ensure a basic student faculty ratio.  The AICATE has reiterated that if these private colleges are not able to ensure that the students graduating are employable, then there is no point of letting these institutes run.

Quality Assurance in Engineering Education

Concept of Quality

There are many stakeholders in engineering education, including students, employers, teaching and non-teaching employees, government, funding agencies, regulatory bodies, professional bodies and the accreditation agencies.  Each of these stakeholders in higher education.  Their views represent their expectations from higher education and its quality.

In 2006, the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) Secretariat evaluated various benefits from accreditation process for different stakeholder groups by using a Delphi study (a social research method designed to identify future trends in complex subjects by using expert opinion).  These groups were higher education institutions, students, society, governments and employers.  Table 2 shows the three statements that were given the highest scores for each group and statements that were given the lowest score.  Actual scores on a scale of one to five are in brackets after the statements (GUNI Secretariat, 2007).

Table 2 : Benefits of Accreditation to Institutions, Students, Society, Government & Employers

                                   Benefits for


Benefits for students Benefits for Society, Government and Employers
Highest level





















Lowest level

Accreditation grants legitimacy and public recognition to an institution (4.22).




Accreditation facilities the international recognitions of national and cross-border degrees (4.13)


Accreditation is a tool for decision-making in institutional strategic planning as it identifies strengths and weaknesses (3.95)



Accreditation increases teaching staff mobility (2.85)

Accreditations protects students from fraudulent programmes and institutions (4.26)




Accreditation assists students in choosing higher education institutions (4.02)






Accreditation ensures appropriate education in terms of programme content, facilities and services (3.68)




Accreditation facilitates greater students mobility at all levels (3.43)

Accreditation enhances transparency, provides information and makes institutions accountable to society and stakeholders (4.15)


Accreditation provides to a certain extent, protection against low-quality education and fraud (4.02)




Accreditation creates quality culture in HE worldwide and enhances the educational system as a whole (3.96)


Government ensures that the education provided is in line with government policy (3.30)

Therefore, what counts as quality is often contested.  Quality may mean different things to different people who would demand different quality outcomes and methods of assessing quality.  In the context of quality in higher education, three terms, accreditation assessment and academic audit are often used interchangeably used.   

Definitions of Accreditation, Assessment & Academic Audit

  • Accreditation is an evaluation of whether an institution (or programme) qualifies for a certain status. Accreditation provides the outcome in a binary scale-yes/no or accredited/not accredited.
  • Assessment gives an idea of the quality of the outputs. Typical outcome of assessment result in multi-point grade – numeric or literal or descriptive.
  • Academic Audit is focused on those processes by which an institution monitors its own academic standards and acts to ensure and enhance the quality of its offerings. The objectives of the institution or programme are taken as the starting point for the audit.  The audit is usually done by a small group of generalists and it results in an audit report.

Worldwide Emergence of Quality Assurance Agencies

In many countries, the responsibility to see that the academic quality and standards are assured lies with specialised agencies and the process is referred to as quality assurance.  The term quality assurance is used in different ways in different countries and contexts.  In the United Kingdom, the ‘quality assurance’ is defined as the totality of systems, resources and information devoted to maintaining and improving the quality and standards of teaching, scholarship and research, and of students’ learning experience.

Over the past couple of decades, under the pressure of greater demand for accountability, many countries have established quality assurance agencies.  On the basis of information collected from 146 countries, 88 were practicing a formal accreditation system of some sort, 40 countries were in the process of adopting formal accreditation mechanisms and another 18 practiced some sort of an evaluation mechanism.  With the increased mobility of professionals and skilled workers and the greater need for recognition of qualifications across borders, these bodies are now required to coordinate their work and create a mechanism for quality assurance in a transnational context.

Internal Quality Monitoring Vs External Quality Assessment

Since the establishment of the early modern universities in the medieval period the assurance of quality has been an important issue.  Two models have emerged – an English Model that placed the responsibility of monitoring standards on internal mechanisms, and a French Model that, on the other hand, vested control in an external governmental agency.  A fact that has often been stressed is that the great universities, like Stanford and Harvard and Oxford and Cambridge, maintained quality throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century without any external monitoring.

The need for external monitoring was strongly expressed only in the closing decades of the twentieth century after the massification of education resulted in the emergence of a large number of new institutions, including many that were started without adequate planning.  The diversification in the types of institutions and programmes only highlighted the need for external scrutiny.  And with market forces taking over higher education, external review became almost a necessity as quality had to be certified.  Today it is accepted that for quality assurance both internal and external mechanisms are necessary.  The central issue is how to balance internal monitoring (self-assessment) with external assessment (peer review) in the whole procedure of quality assurance.

Internal Quality Monitoring

As long as education was elitist, the numbers involved not large and the stakeholders in an institution seriously concerned about its reputation, the maintenance of quality was taken to be an essential but routine matter.  Moreover, the teachers, who zealously guarded their autonomy and academic freedom, were loath to allow ‘external interference’.  For them quality was an internal responsibility.

However, with the increase in number, of both students and institutions, and the diversification of programmes, most institutions have readily accepted the idea of establishing an internal quality assurance mechanism.

In many institutions formal Internal Quality Monitoring (IQM) is manifested in the form of an Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC).  It is usually headed by a senior faculty member of the rank of Dean or Professor and includes representatives of different disciplines.  In the case of large institutions there may be diffident IQAC’s for different faculties/departments.  The principal functions of the Cell are to:

  • Draw up institutional (or departmental) profiles that give a clear picture of the strength of faculty, support staff and students; the infrastructure available in terms of building space, laboratories, computer facilities, library etc; and activities (in teaching, research and community service), inputs (essentially funds, interaction with industry and community) and output (research publications, examination results).
  • Undertake a SWOT analysis, involving all academic staff in the process. This should specifically help in identifying areas of performance shortfalls.  In case of major deficiencies, the IQAC can initiate immediate action such as the organizing of orientation/refresher programmes.
  • Undertake internal benchmarking in relation to similar academic units in the same organisation to identify common strengths and weaknesses, which could then be looked into by the management.
  • Monitor academic activities, like teaching, tutoring and counselling, internal evaluation, examinations, curricula development, co-curricular events and ensure regularity and transparency.
  • Promote harmonious interaction between students and faculty, students and administrative/support staff, and faculty and management.
  • Disseminate information related to quality assurance and quality enhancement measures, including best-practices.
  • Channelize and process, during the post-accreditation period, the efforts and measures of an institution towards academic excellence.

The significance of self-evaluation lies in the fact that it promotes introspection, and allows the individual/department/institution to initiate quality improvement measures.  It can change the attitude of faculty member and foster genuine quality enhancement.  The pendulum can, however, swing the other way as self-evaluation may become a nominal operation to be undertaken because it is a must.  An advantage of the system is that it provides flexibility as each institute can devise a quality assurance system suitable to its own needs.  Above all, it has to be kept in mind that self-assessment forms the core of the external review system.

External Quality Assessment

A survey literature on External Quality Assessment Agencies (EQAA) shows that the reasons for their establishment are diverse.  Woodhouse (2001), points out that the United States established an EQA primarily to affirm to students that all American institutions were of adequate quality.  On the other hand, in the UK a need was felt to ensure that some newly established non-university institutions adhered to the same standards as the traditional universities.

In India it is the concern for quality, generated because of a loss of confidence in many newly established institutions.  It would not be wrong to say that External Quality Assessment (EQA) or External Quality Monitoring (EQM) has its roots in the concept of accountability – the feeling in government and society that, in view of the public money involved in higher education, academic institutions need be both efficient and productive.  Experience has shown that accountability becomes meaningful only if accompanied by external scrutiny by agents independent of the institution concerned, who are themselves clearly accountable to somebody, and who produce a public report that can have important and clear consequences, positive or negative, for the institution or academic unit concerned.

EQA has now become an integral part of most higher education systems and its importance is reflected in the steady growth in the number of Quality Assurance Agencies (QAAo).  EQM covers a number of quality monitoring activities.  These include:

  • Accreditation of courses and institutions, as in the United States of America.
  • External evaluation of institutional performance as undertaken by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council in India, and by the Comite’ National d’ Evaluation in France.
  • Validation and accreditation of programmes of study, especially in professional disciplines, as undertaken by the National Board of Accreditation in India, and by other professional and regulatory/statutory bodies in India and abroad.
  • External quality audit including internal quality assurance procedures as undertaken by the Quality Audit Agency in the United Kingdom.
  • External evaluation of teaching and learning at subject level as formerly undertaken by the Quality Assessment Davison of the Higher Education Funding Council of England.
  • Evaluation of Students by external examiners as undertaken in the universities of India and other countries of the Commonwealth.
  • External evaluation of potential teachers and potential researchers, as undertaken by the University Grants Commission and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, in India, in the form of a National Evaluation Test (NET).
  • External evaluation of community interaction as undertaken in the Third Round of the Australian Quality Assessment Programme.

A major concern regarding EQA is that it is extremely time-consuming.  The faculty and the administrative personnel of the academic institutions being reviewed are usually required to put in long hours collecting and collating information that may, or may not, be required.  The process can prove to be costly in terms of actual expenses and time-hours lost.

An argument often put forward by academics is that the establishment of a number of statutory (controlling) bodies and of monitoring/controlling agencies has brought in a culture of compliance.  Institutions, and the academic units within them, earlier worked towards showing what was expected of them, rather than working towards pre-ordinated objectives.  Today, formalizing rather than working towards pre-ordained objectives.  Today, formalizing rather than innovating has become the norm of most institutions.  As Meade (2001), has succinctly put it, “(some) wonder whether external quality monitoring bodies have engendered a culture of compliance rather than (of) continuous (quality) enhancement”.

The Middle path

IQM and EQA both have their strengths and weaknesses.  While IQM encourages introspection and promotes quality enhancement, it can become a routine exercise and give a protective cover to existing, unproductive activities.  EQA provides an initial impetus to quality assurance activities but, according to some, it promotes a culture of compliance and it’s a disincentive for innovative activities relevant to special objectives of an institution.  There must, therefore, be a harmonious blending of EQA and IQM.  In the case of quality conscious and established institutions the objective should be to move towards total internal monitoring.  External audit systems … may provide the initial impetus for self-review (but) to consolidate enhancement there needs to be a shift to internal, intrinsic motivation within institutions to improve what they do.

Section II

The 4th Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) & its implications for Engineering Education

The 4th industrial Revolution is unlike anything humankind has previously experienced.  New technologies are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril.  The speed, breadth and depth of this Revolution is forcing us to rethink how countries develop, how organizations create value and even what it means to be human.

Klaus Schwab, Founder & Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum (WEF) has been a proponent of the 4th Industrial Revolution or the Industry 4.0.  In his famous book The 4th Industrial Revolution (2016), Schwab describes the key features of the new technological Revolution and highlights the opportunities and dilemmas it poses.  More importantly, he explores the ways in which the 4th industrial Revolution is of our making and within our control.

Schwab outlines the ways in which new forms of collaboration and governance, accompanied by a positive, shared narrative, can shape the 4th industrial Revolution to the benefit of all.  If we take collective responsibility for creating a future in which innovation and technology serve people, we can lift humanity to new levels of moral consciousness.

India’s job market is also under the impact of The Industry 4th Industrial Revolution and there is a need for a fresh thinking in higher education to address the current and emerging challenges.  The school and higher education that many students receive today in India are not adequate for a world that is being transformed by scientific and technological advances.  These changes are also impacting education systems and processes.  They are altering the learning infrastructure.  Faculty’s comfort with technologies today is as important as that of the student community.  The preparation of students to live in a volatile world is today an important task that universities have to perform.

Opportunities brought by the 4th Industrial Revolution

Industry 4.0 can play a vital role in raising the global income levels and take our current stand of living to a next orbit. Technology has made it possible to make products and services that enable us to lead a better life. This will drive gains within the efficiency and productivity of our current lifestyle, leading to:

  1. Increase in global income levels
  2. Enhanced quality of life with higher order technologies
  3. Reduction in transportation and communication costs
  4. Creation of new products and markets
  5. Safer workplace as hazardous work is taken over by robots
  6. Enhanced health services leading to longevity

 Challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution

On the contrary, one of the biggest challenges is that it could lead to even higher inequality, as emerging technologies take over labour intensive jobs. But, then Economist Eric Brynjolfsson has famously said, “Technology has always been destroying jobs, and it has always been creating jobs.” Apart from this, the other challenges could be:

  1. Security issues of data and maintaining privacy
  2. Risk of greater inequality in labour markets
  3. Decrease in real income of workers as machines take over
  4. Displacement of workers by machines and artificial intelligence
  5. Creation of higher order human jobs is always a concern when automated technologies takeover day to day jobs

The Six Drivers of Change in workplace brought by the 4th Industrial Revolution

The 4th Industrial Revolution with its opportunities and challenges will bring to the forth the new drivers of change in workplace and organizations. These are summarized in the info-graphic below:











The Skills of Tomorrow needed in the 4th world

With the drivers of change as enumerated above, the skill-set that would be required by the “jobs- of –the- future” would change rapidly. Some of these skills are specified in the following info-graph.















Section III

Outcome Based Accreditation – New Accreditation Norms of NBA

Every educational institute must function with an objective of providing quality education. Assessing the quality of education is difficult, delicate and fruitful exercise. Ranking and Accreditation are two ways of assessing the quality assurance and/or measurement. National level accreditation agencies namely, NAAC and NBA (national accreditation bodies) play very important role in monitoring quality of higher education in India.  International accreditation bodies namely ABET, AACSB, AMBA and EFMD monitor quality of higher education programmes across the globe and focus on quality improvement in education through engagement, innovation and impact.

The Indian higher education sector though understands the value of quality education but couldn’t enhance the quality of education as is evident from the Times Higher Education World Rankings 2017, where no Indian university made it to the top-100 list, which Harvard University topped. Asian universities, however, improved their performance, with 28 of them on the list. Some Chinese institutions went ahead of several prestigious European counterparts. This clearly indicates that quality needs to be enhanced further and the quality assurance is crucial.

For assuring quality, accreditation bodies and ranking agencies use many criteria/parameters. These bodies need to ensure that the parameters are in line with changes in the business environment, emerging technologies, demographic shifts and global economic forces. The parameters considered and weightages accorded must lead to excellence in quality and help institutions/universities to meet the requirement of society, economy and industry. These standards must be consistent with international accreditation principles.

The recent changes in accreditation norms by NBA apart from many other things is directed towards quality assurance in learning and teaching through Outcome based accreditation, this is a step in the right direction. Institutions, which are high in quality should have relevant and appropriate learning goals for each programme, and should have updated curriculum to maximise the potential for achieving expected outcomes. These institutions have processes to ensure that the learning goals for their programme are being met, and if not then they have processes to improve it. These programme learning goals need to be drawn from the mission/vision of the university/institution.  Accreditation is not mere certification, it is a process which encourages continuous look at programme delivery, its impact and how to achieve the set objectives better; it must lead to a continuous improvement system

 Mission to Programme Goals/Programme Learning Outcomes——Course Learning Outcomes

 Definitions given by AACSB are as follows:-

  • Learning goals state the educational expectations for each degree program. They specify the intellectual and behavioral competencies a program is intended to instil. In defining these goals, the faculty members clarify how they intend for graduates to be competent and effective as a result of completing the program.
  • A curriculum maps out how the school facilitates achievement of program learning goals. It is defined by content (theories, concepts, skills, etc.), pedagogies (teaching methods, delivery modes), and structures (how the content is organized and sequenced to create a systematic, integrated program of teaching and learning). A curriculum is also influenced by the mission, values, and culture of the school.
  • Assurance of learning refers to processes for demonstrating that students achieve learning expectations for the programs in which they participate. Schools use assurance of learning to demonstrate accountability and assure external constituents such as potential students, trustees, public officials, supporters, and accrediting organizations that the school meets its goals. Assurance of learning also assists the school and faculty members to improve programs and courses. By measuring learning, the school can evaluate its students’ success at achieving learning goals, use the measures to plan improvement efforts, and (depending on the type of measures) provide feedback and guidance for individual students. For assurance of learning purposes, AACSB accreditation is concerned with broad, program-level focused learning goals for each degree program, rather than detailed learning goals by course or topic, which must be the responsibility of individual faculty members.
  • Curricula management refers to the school’s processes and organization for development, design, and implementation of each degree program’s structure, organization, content, assessment of outcomes, pedagogy, etc. Curricula management captures input from key business school stakeholders and is influenced by assurance of learning results, new developments in business practices and issues, revision of mission and strategy that relate to new areas of instruction, etc.

Outcomes-centered course design guarantees a high level of student engagement because the process steers you toward student-active teaching strategies. It also conforms to the accountability requirements of an increasing number of accrediting agencies. These agencies hold a unit accountable for its students’ achieving certain learning outcomes, as well as for formally assessing its students’ progress toward that goal. In other words, they require departments and schools to determine what they want their students to be able to do, at least on graduation, and to produce materials that show what the students can do. Some agencies even take it on themselves to specify exactly what abilities and skills the graduates of a certain area should demonstrate.

The recent changes in the norms of accreditation by NBA clearly highlights that the accreditation is a process which encourages continuous look at how you teach, what is its impact, and how to achieve the set objectives better. It should lead to a Continuous Improvement on all levels in the system.

Section IV

Creating Start-Up Ecosystem in Engineering Colleges by Setting Incubation Centres

The future journey for India will get more and more difficult as the young and enthusiastic graduates join the workforce only to know that jobs are no longer so easily available or accessible as it was a decade ago. According to the latest census, as much as 1 billion Indian people will be in the working population category in 2027. The solution to the impending crisis is by creating alternatives to jobs through entrepreneurship. In the last five years, we have seen start-ups such as Uber and AirBnB becoming global giants through innovation and early identification of the problems of customer and market fitment.

With a valuation above 25bn USD, AirBnB came out from an incubator- the US based “Y combinator”, which is a perfect example of the impact an incubator can have in the world.  Dropbox with a valuation of 6 billion USD and Reddit   are other examples from the same incubator. In the Indian perspective, incubators and accelerators continue to play an important role in the growth of the Indian start-up ecosystem. Witnessing a 40% year-on-year growth in the number of incubators and accelerators in India, more opportunities are now available to start-ups. Tier 2/Tier 3 cities are also seeing traction with 66% new incubators established in 2016, thus impacting the roots of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

With 15 lakh engineering graduates coming out the colleges every year, instead of looking at this as a potential problem, we can flip this and look at this as a resource creator. Many of the engineering projects created by the final year students are possible solutions to the sundry problems besieging rural and urban India. The gap comes when the students and faculty are not able to turn this prototype solution into a commercially viable and scalable venture.  This is where incubators can be the crucial pivot.

An incubator provides funding, mentorship and networking opportunities, in addition to business support. Academia plays the most crucial role in the growth of incubators with 30 new academic incubations established in 2016. In addition to this, initiatives like entrepreneurship courses, student start-up clubs, investor summits & deferred placements offered by colleges and universities is driving the growth of student start-ups in the country. In sync with the “Make in India” initiative, many academic incubators are focussing on manufacturing start-ups as well. Energy, health-care and manufacturing are some of the key focus areas of most of the academic incubators.


Students now have started innovating conventional business models and have started involving technology to drive their businesses, which shows a positive sign towards making India a truly startup ‘Nation’. Not only the attitude of students and youth have changed ever since the start-up burst in India, but also the faculties of colleges/universities have started showing a positive attitude towards students starting their own business ventures. Few years ago, when students sought help from their faculties to start their business ventures, not many would support these dreams.  But, today the scene has changed, teachers not only help students in their start-ups but also motivate them to take it further and make it a success.

On the other hand, corporate and independent accelerators enable mature start-ups to get access to local as well as global customers, validate ideas, scale operations and get networking and funding opportunities. Start-ups are usually the centers of innovation, and larger companies are very good at scaling up proof of concept; this symbiotic potential can be tapped by partnering with incubators/accelerators

The key global best practices in incubator are as follows:

  • Flexible Duration to Accelerate Start-ups
  • Product Development Support
  • Global Exposure
  • In-house Venture Fund

The two most important trends in the Indian incubator and accelerator ecosystem are partnership-driven and sector-specific incubators and accelerators. Academia, Industries and Government are coming together to set up sector specific accelerators and incubators, for example, GE’s global healthcare accelerator, Pfizer and IIT-D’s incubation accelerator for healthcare start-ups, SBI and IIT-B’s incubator for Fin-tech start-ups, etc.. Such partnerships will provide a mature mentorship to start-ups which could further drive the growth of quality products.

Given the impetus by academia, government, and corporates, the Indian incubator and accelerator ecosystem is expected to grow manifold over the next few years. Initiatives by the central and state governments will trigger the growth of incubators and accelerators in tier II/III cities and with corporates eyeing start-ups for innovation, more and more sector-specific incubators and accelerators are continue to emerge in future.

But there are still some challenges for an incubator like:

  • Lack of mentors
  • Stress on faculty members
  • Lack of infrastructure
  • Limited contact with the Industry
  • Limited access to funding, etc.

But with the impetus given in this space by the Central as well as the State governments, incubators can truly be the change agents in creating an entrepreneurial movement in Indian Engineering Colleges.