When Shital Joseph, 20, chose Jai Hind College to pursue an arts degree at, the fact that it was accredited an ‘A’ grade by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) did not factor in the decision.
“Several city colleges hold an A grade, some without a particularly high academic reputation,” she says. “Instead, I took the college’s popularity, course electives and on-campus placement records into account.”
As several students have the same complaint, the NAAC has overhauled its grading system for the first time since 2007. Starting last month, instead of the four-point (A, B, C or D) system, colleges will now be graded on a seven-point scale. These seven grades — A++, A+, A, B++, B+, B, C and D — will correspond to a cumulative grade point average (CGPA), with 4.0 being the highest. Institutes that are graded less than or equal to 1.50 will be marked ‘D’, which means the NAAC has deemed them not accredited.
In the original system, the four letter-grades corresponded to ‘very good’, ‘good’, ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’. Now, the college’s CGPA will be on the NAAC website, so students can compare two colleges within the same grade too.
“The new pattern will show the institute’s standing more distinctively,” says DP Singh, director of NAAC. “We have also simplified the assessment procedure to make it more effective and relevant.”
An on-site visit by a peer team of 15 experts has been mandatory until now, a time-consuming process. Now, institutes that have scored high in two consecutive cycles will go through e-assessment instead.
“These colleges will have to upload videos of their facilities online,” adds Singh. “Institutes applying for the third cycle of assessment, colleges with potential for excellence (CPE) and those that have been established for more than 25 years will be considered for e-assessment.”
Moreover, site visits will be videotaped for transparency.
St Andrew’s College, Bandra, and Jai Hind College, Churchgate, are among the first few to undergo the new process.
“These changes were crucial for institutes that have excelled and deserve to stand out,” says Marie Fernandes, principal of St Andrew’s College, which has been graded ‘A’ in the past two cycles. “We have submitted a video of the facilities and completed the process.”
“The previous grading system did not clearly indicate the performance level of an institute,” says Ashok Wadia, principal of Jai Hind College, also awarded ‘A’ in the previous cycles. “An institute with a 3.01 score was graded A, and so was one with a 3.99 score. There is a vast difference in performance levels of the two. “The new system will motivate the institutes to perform better and the distinction will help enhance the quality of institutions.”
If institutes excel in two consecutive cycles of the NAAC assessment, the will be offered autonomy.
“This autonomy, however, is not guaranteed, because the status depends on several other factors, including the institute’s capacity, faculty preparedness and willingness of the college to become autonomous,” says Jayshree Phadnis, principal of Vivekananda College of Arts, Science and Commerce in Chembur.
The procedure of NAAC accreditation has become more contemporary with introduction of online assessment and distinctive grades, but it has limitations, say experts.
The methodology to calculate the CGPA, for instance, remains the same.
“The parameters measure infrastructure, learning resources and curricular aspects, and these remain as they are even after the second cycle — they may therefore become redundant,” says Wadia of Jai Hind College. “The NAAC should introduce different parameters, such as academic excellence, industry-oriented learning, supplementary courses and so on in each cycle. This may ensure better examination of the institute, and a more effective quality check.”
Several state colleges do not apply for the NAAC accreditation despite mandatory accreditation. “To get assessed by the NAAC requires a lot of documentation and is a lengthy and detailed exercise,” says MA Khan, registrar at the University of Mumbai and a member of the peer team that conducts site visits for NAAC. “Several colleges do not have the resources or leadership to participate in the exercise and do not apply for it at all. NAAC, however, suggests that an institute should apply for accreditation because getting a low grade is better than not getting a grade at all.”
Not all institutes that excel in NAAC scores will be offered autonomy.
“There are a lot of steps involved in receiving autonomy and it is a long process,” adds Wadia. “Autonomy is desirable, since it helps an institute design and re-frame a course to make it contemporary. We have introduced industry-relevant supplementary courses in addition to the Mumbai university syllabus to keep the curriculum updated.”
Additionally, few students are aware about NAAC accreditation, and don’t place much importance on it. The grades are meant to help students select a college, but very few of them consider it a factor in their final decision.
“We do not know how the NAAC functions, or whether it is relevant,” says Simran Kaur, second-year science student at RD National College, Bandra. “We usually choose a college depending on whether it offers the course of our choice, and how its reputation is among our peers.”