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Higher Education Reform: Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Regulations

Dr. Sushma Berlia
Founder President, EPSI
President, Apeejay Education Society, New Delhi

Current Education Scenario is to be seen in the background of the classical well accepted definition of what true education should lead to –the four pillars of learning are fundamental principles for reshaping education– learning to know; learning to learn; learning to do; and learning to live together.

  • Imparting knowledge is considered as the most important purpose of education.Education concentrates on teaching students how to learn.
  • Skill development is another important function of education.
  • The overriding purpose of education is learning to live together in a multicultural society, harmonious co-existence with all sections of thesociety. Here is the learning to live together aspect of education.
  • We may even add another purpose-learning to unlearn.
    1. This process of unlearning will be a much more difficult task than learning.
    2. It means – Education should make us more open-minded and receptive to new ideas and challenges.

These four pillars of education are as relevant today as at any point of time. The Higher Education as we believe today is – (all education after class 12 (+2). academic & vocational streams).

If we look at the current status of Higher education in India we are in a flux, whereby the Positive is that for the first time in the history of India there has been so much focus on Higher education. The Negative is that there is very little consensus and clarity on how the higher education space is going to look like. Partially this clarity is never going to go away completely, because the Higher Education space is a reflection of the society and the world in which we live in today. We are living in a world which is fast changing, and the way in which knowledge is changing in terms of invention, innovation and the whole knowledge bank that is available. So the only constant in this world is change.

However in this background, there has to be some clarity certainly on the direction that will lead to not only inclusive education but also quality education. If we look at some of the key parameters and imperatives that face higher education today – Access, Quality, Equity and Relevance.These are the issues which are relevant in all parts of the world and many countries.

Even in countries like Canada which have higher access of 72% in the relevant age group (18-23yrs) in an inclusive and equitable manner, they are also struggling with not only issues of costing of higher education but also how to make them affordable and yet self-sustaining. (For example- Years of underfunding have also threatened the quality of university education and research and large increases in student tuition levels have threatened access to a university education in Canada)

Today knowledge is not about teaching but learning, and if we see it from that space we find that – the most importantly – Faculty is at the shortage (we hardly have enough numbers of Ph.D’s coming out of our institutions); Quality of Research is decimal; there is no sink between the industry, research laboratories and the universities; we are facing a situation wherein on the one side we have the population dividend to sustain the rate of growth of our own economy (leave aside that of the world-which we have the opportunity to do so), but at the same time the Industry is crying out for skilled manpower almost at every level-where so much so that a recent study of some of the HR networks etc. have gone so far as to predict a (67% shortfall in the skills). Apart from that, GER ratio in Higher education is only 24.5.4%.

Education is a recognised foremost national priority of the Government. Education and skill formation are amongst the principal focus areas of the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision for a New India. With unwavering focus and sustained investment in education, training and skill formation alone in the critical decades ahead, India will be able to reap the full benefits of the demographic dividend peaking by 2030 when working age population of India is expected to exceed China’s.

It is quite clear that it is not going to be achievable without innovation, both in the manner which knowledge is been imparted and the institutions which are in place to impart those knowledge.

Also important is the role of private sector etc. i.e. everyone is struggling in a larger or smaller way with the same questions, and which has in fact led to the emergence of lot of innovations, new initiatives and new providers. These new providers may take a lead to constantly innovate their programs and curriculum, keeping the demand of the market in view.

However country like India has the additional challenge of providing and taking care of all these issues but on a much-much larger scale.Lot of things which is been discussed in this report is relevant not only to India but also for various countries abroad.

It’s true that the special problem which India has is its sheer numbers. Apart from this sheer number is the fact that given the type of economic development – even with the past slow down which has just passed and many countries are still trying to recover, we are still growing at a reasonable growth rate, but this is definitely going to bounce back in the years to come which really means that we don’t have the luxury of the time either, because in order to sustain our economic growth, we need a pool of talented workforce.

This is a concern not only in India. Considering that the rest of the world is suffering from a shrinking population, this ideally and should have become a concern for rest of the world. Therefore the issue of the mass quantum, and in order to sustain this economic development, it’s critical for India and also for the rest of the world, because for them India would be a critical source of skilled manpower in the years to come.

So it is in this backdrop the issue of reforms, innovations, and new provisions become very important. This report attempts to highlight the issues, trends, initiatives and the kind of new provisions required, the type of landscape that is required to provide a favourableand conducive environment, (to encourage who are coming to lead to greater supply with higher level of quality) and at the same time to encourage (new type of providers which may not be coming in at all- need to come in a much larger quantum provided they are given a right type of environment.)


The University Education Report had set goals for development of higher education inthe country. While articulating these goals Radakrishnan Commission on University Education, 1948-49 put it in following words:

“The most important and urgent reform needed in education is to transform it, to endeavor to relate it to the life, needs and aspirations of the people and thereby make it the powerful instrument of social, economic and cultural transformation necessary for the realization of the national goals. For this purpose, education should be developed so as to increase productivity, achieve social and national integration, accelerate the process of modernization and cultivate social, moral and spiritual values”.

The National Policy on higher education of 1986 translate this vision of Radhakrishnan and Kothari Commission in five principles goals for higher education which include Greater Access, Equal access (or equity), Quality and excellence, Relevance andpromotion of social Values.

Problem of Access

India has the third largest higher education system in the world – after China and the US. There has been an impressive growth in the last five decades -Universities (from 25 to 864), Colleges(from 700 to 40026), and Students (from 1 lakh to 3.57crore).

University and college enrolments accounted for only 24.5 per centof the eligible age group of (18-23) population, which is grossly inadequate to meet the huge magnitude of apparent and latent demand in any meaningful way and also compares very unfavorably with 54.6 per cent enrolments in the developed countries, 36.5 per cent in the countries in transition and the world average of 30 per cent for the corresponding age groups.

Further India’s growth prospects will, inter alia, depend on its ability to make available the latest and most useful knowledge and skills to its young population. For this to happen, there has to be rapid expansion, setting up new institutions, and augmenting additional capacity in the existing institutions. Enrolments in universities/colleges need to be substantially raised at an annual rate of eight to nine per cent so as to achieve the XIIth Plan GER target of 30 per cent by 2020.The minister of Human resource development has set the target of 30% GRE by the year 2020 and for that “we require additional 600 universities and 30000 colleges” within a short span of 3-4 years. This would translate to an enrollment of 40 million which is an incremental increase of 21 million from the current enrollment. Further the number of institutions required would “entail aninvestment of about Rs. 1,000,000 crores by taking into account the prescribed infrastructure for educational institutes” . This is a daunting task.

Regulatory Reforms

Many Reform Bills are there in line in the agenda. But what we are looking at. In the higher education Space we are looking at Autonomy (though substantial autonomy is there now).

“The roles of the Regulatory bodies need to be reviewed in order to act as a true facilitator, and an enabler. There has been only one-way communication by government to the education providers for any kind of regulations,governance, finances, etc. The functioning of the regulatory bodies should be participatory with all the stake holders. There has been an unplanned expansion in the higher education system in India. The system as a whole is over-regulated but under governed. Hence:

  • The role of regulatory bodies should be to ensure fair-play, transparency and accountability
  • A clear policy for inviting private sector investment in higher education should be formulated.
  • It should be non-intrusive and Institution-friendly which allows great room for innovation
  • It should reduce instability in rapid expansion
  • It should ensure quality assurance and credibility of academic programmes and
  • Protect the interests of all the stakeholders in education.

Any regulatory system should be transparent and ensure accountability REGULATION – to ensure Good Governance – based on transparency, disclosure & self-certification norms.

  • Lower entry barriers through a transparent system of norms.
  • What is needed is a simple clear base regulation –
    1. Disclosures and information to be made available to the authoritiesand to the public and
    2. Fulfillment of requirements such as capital adequacy, prior educational experience etc.

INDEPENDENT, AUTONOMOUS ACCREDITATION AGENCY with participation of all stake holders to ensure Quality. Minimum accreditation base to be compulsory and Higher levels to be voluntary.

FINANCING AGENCIES – should fund public sector institutions (Revenue & Capital) and provide grants for research/scholarship/aids etc.

  • Financing of Institution through:
    1. Direct Subsidy; Well established Loan Mechanism; Education Development Bank on line of NABARD; and Subsidy to be redistributed (rather than giving to all, only to those who really need it based on merit) – need to be proved.
  • Determine Cost of Education in Private education
    1. Loans to be extended to all with proper recovery mechanism
    2. Subsidy – through PPP- those on merit cum means
    3. Private sector, asked to reserve 15-25% of the seats on Cost + basis; and
    4. Govt. to incentivize such private institutions

Independent Testing Agencies with the kind of format that does not require coaching and hence reduce the burden on students (post class X) and create a better level playing field.


Existing higher education system is an outcome of sustained development since independence with more of patchwork done on the potholes, resurfacing the worn out of old crust.

The real issue facing this country is a situation where we have a plethora institutions churning out a large number of Graduates, many of whom are necessarily not getting employed or if they are, not as they aspired to; and on the same side you have Industry which is crying out for trained man power, as well as great opportunities available in the growing economy for different kinds of entrepreneurships.

So this is a very interesting situation in which we find ourselves and here if you connect this to the current international economic situations, and what we have passed through in terms of the financial crises –still a lot of struggle taking place in many countries of the world as we know – and around that also therefore a healthy skepticism if you will as to what are these Institutions actually delivering, what is the relevance and what is the usefulness.

This has translated in a way in the Indian Community a kind of disconnect if you will with the Business Community and the community at large in terms of both the relevance and the usefulness of the Education imparted.

If we take it further it translates into Three Critical Questions:

  • Ethics
  • Relevance – (Does the type of education imparted really helps in the business area)
  • Does it help to develop the type of Skills, Knowledge and Attributes that is required in terms of employment or for entrepreneurship

The reason I am mentioning this because the questions is being raised as to What is Quality & How do we measure Quality and it will continue to be a question which will be debated.

The fundamental point about quality is the pursuant of excellence which I would describe as – Realizing ones highest potential, as fulfilling ones deepest purpose.

And therefore the starting point is if one is setting up an Institute – What is the Vision and what is the Mission. This is the starting point from where all Accreditation Agencies should start from.

The way to achieving it would be different, Aspirations could be different. Different Accreditation Agencies make different value judgments as to which of those particular attributes and purposes , or vision and mission is perhaps more important.

But at end of the day they are all moving towards the same path i.e. trying to raise or make the institutions raise the bar of quality.

Accreditation cannot be the only way to achieve the quality as it requires commitment of purpose, that requires the clear vision and mission, and it also requires in a sense Capacity Building. But accreditation certainly is a wonderful tool in helping one to achieve one, and we need to find out for each of our institutions what fits us best in terms of our own Mission.

The other things to re-collect, I think, Accreditation at three levels as I said earlier (i) Value Judgment about what’s Important; (ii) in terms of a Business Education and the outcomes that we hope to deliver; (iii) It’s a process and it is not a process that starts and ends, but it’s a continuous process of working towards something (objectives/goals), measuring it, build it on further inputs – it’s a pursuant of Excellence in other words.

But it is also a condition, because in a way it helps to be able to inform and educate the public at large just to say that –look some credible authority has said that what we are doing here is relevant and that to in a sense is important, particularly in a country as India where (there has been a huge amount of confusion not only in minds of the students and parents, I find even in the minds of the Academia and the education administrators that what really constitute quality and who is actually delivering quality education.

NBA is also trying to build up towards evolving standards. This process of evolution is taking place not just within the institutions that should be taking place, but also within the Accreditations Agencies themselves. And NBA itself is aspiring to have those kinds of tie ups with International Accreditation Agencies which would enable the institutions in India to advance their quality process, and I hope in the process many more accreditation agencies within the country come up to help in the process.

It is not a question of so much of competition between the Accreditation Agencies, there are so many educational institutions and their quality standards, their vision and missions, the aspirations are also so very different that there is space and room for each all of them.

And most important I think is the issue of Capacity Building. Because capacity building within the institutions and capacity Building of the sheer numbers of the mentors, peer Institutions , even within India that would be needed to help in the process, but I think the wonderful thing is that the Internationalization of the Institutions. Globalization is the process being aligned and to what is happening in the world/globe and being connected to the global community, but while talking about Internationalization than I think it as a two way process – that you imbibe things from the global community and hopefully you contribute towards the global community in raising of quality standards across the world and not just India.

At the end with respect of Regulation I want to reiterate that It calls for expansion to facilitate inclusive education, and to accommodate all who need higher education.

It requires demolition at places to ensure quality in existing institutions in addition to opening up of many more quality institutions.

It needs to look into its global and international policies to ensure that the system that we are introducing is best suited for taking the load for many years to come without sacrificing the indigenous richness.

  • Hence there is a need for an alternative model especially to have scalability.
  • The solution can only come in a complete reform of the regulatory framework that
    1. Governs the education system in our country, and
    2. a rapid and urgent move away from the license and quota raj attitude and practices not have hobbled the sector.

We owe it to the future generations of our nation, and we owe to ourselves, without quality education our country will not have the foundation to reach the aspirations of its citizens.

And of course, when it comes to regulation, “If in doubt regulate less and not more.”