Academic Quality?

A couple of weeks ago, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in Bangalore called a few of us from the UoH for a meeting. I decided to attend, mainly since we are rated 3.89 out of a maximum of 4 by the NAAC, and are therefore the leading ranked University in the country.

The reason I retain the adjective ranked in the sentence above is that it is perhaps meaningless to say we are the leading University in the country- since that can convey different things to different people. I know we are good in many ways, but I think- and I know that this feeling is shared by many of you- that we have a way to go before we can say we are “No. 1“.

The NAAC does a great job, given the rather variable landscape of higher education in the country. Of the 571 Universities in the country, there are many categories: Central, State, Deemed, Private… And these vary in size, from behemoths like Delhi University with 4,00,000 students, to the Central University of Tamil Nadu with something like 200… Not to mention that there are huge differences in quality, from the Homi Bhabha National University (TIFR in another guise) to Universities that exist in desk drawers if nowhere else….

Like many of us, I don’t take the No. 1 tag that seriously. Our strengths are obvious, as are our weaknesses. I therefore requested some colleagues who did attend the same meeting to put down on paper what we can learn from the NAAC exercise. And, more importantly, what we can do to make our University better.

I would greatly appreciate feedback and discussion on this topic. Please do write in, either in response to the post, or via email to rr @ uohyd. ernet. in. Thanks.

Here is their note:

Internal Quality Assurance: What the University of Hyderabad Can Do?

While national level organisations such as the NAAC carry out their role in upholding academic standards in the domain of higher education in the country, it is imperative that we at the University of Hyderabad come up with our own set of goals, standards and benchmarks. Quality Assurance is ideally tested by a set of internally verifiable mechanism as well as an evaluation expertly [and transparently] carried out by the peer group outside the University.

An effective quality assurance must fulfil, among others, the following requisites. It must be:

  • Comprehensive
  • Integrated
  • Purposeful, and
  • Ongoing.

Similarly, the assessment indicators would include, among others, the following:

  • Curriculum aspects
  • Teaching / Learning, Research Supervision
  • Research, Consultancy and Extension
  • Infrastructure and learning resources
  • Student Support
  • Innovative [administrative and management] practices.

The four components at our University comprise the Administration, Teachers, Students and the Non-Teaching Staff. While due attention is paid (or ought to be paid) to the quality of the Faculty in terms of their teaching and research capabilities, our University community regrettably does not articulate with sufficient firmness and clarity [perhaps due to a lack of political will] the role and responsibilities of the Student body, the Non-Teaching Staff and the University Administration. It should be our collective resolve therefore to see that along with rights, we should also have in place a protocol of duties and responsibilities fashioned by the Students, Administration and the Non-Teaching Staff themselves entirely by their own volition.

It may be added in this context that student centred education in our University and elsewhere has largely remained a concept rather than a practice, since we do not sufficiently insist that learning ought to be primarily done by the students themselves. What passes as seminars and class presentation, it must be admitted, have become largely a ritual rather than creative pedagogic tools. Further more, over the years; there has been a gradual decline in student performance. Indiscriminate monetary support regardless of performance or economic needs of the taught, relaxed standards and grade inflation due to face to face teaching and allied factors have been some of the features that might help explain the decline in the academic standard here. Periodical tests and term papers / class presentations have gone hand in hand increasingly with academic plagiarism and easy access to computers and audio-visual media. The latter have often become a substitute for true learning that believes in the acquisition of insights rather than a mere reproduction of information based on rote learning of a mechanical kind. Application of insights in an imaginative and creative manner in real life situations is what education ought to truly envisage. Is the education that we are imparting at the University of Hyderabad, at a premier institution of learning, serving this fundamental goal , we may ask.

Our search for excellence must also take into account the diversity of the student body, their composition in terms of class, caste, ethnicity and regional affiliations. While identities politics could be empowering, powerful interest groups on campus could also act at times against excellence by demanding separate turfs and exclusive terrains that militate against a truly integrated and inclusive approach that seeks to harmonize group interests. In other words, the question we must answer is : how do we reconcile the search for excellence with the equally important need for social equity? What kind of politics would motivate and empower the entire community here rather than serve sectional interests?

There are a few other aspects that merit our urgent attention. These may contribute to our thinking with regard to quality assurance in this university

  1. The pursuit of quality and excellence, as has been stated earlier, must be internally driven, especially in a relatively well-endowed central university like ours. [This need not prejudice assessment by an external agency like NAAC whose methodologies are yet tentative and evolving.] The internal goal-setting for the purpose, however, must be faculty-specific. This is because the needs, aspirations and constraints differ systematically across humanities, social sciences and sciences. While the idea of common guidelines across disciplines may have considerable appeal, we need not be bound by a straitjacket of uniform yardsticks or a set of procedures against which all the faculties would be judged.
  2. Each faculty/department may evolve and place in the public domain its own vision statement that informs its teaching/training programmes, research interests of faculty and demands for infrastructure. Globalisation of the kind we are going through seems to challenge our curricular designs in many disciplines and offers the potential for Indian universities to be leaders, rather than meek followers, of the Anglo-American centres.
  3. Courseware must be in the public domain. Very often, one colleague does not know or care about what others are teaching. While the individual teacher may be doing justice to his/her own course, his/her commitment to the philosophy and objectives of the teaching programme as a whole seems to be missing. Vision statements of this kind would vastly improve the way the University’s Annual Report would read.
  4. There is an urgent need to integrate all the stakeholder groups of the university. Such a vision of synergy and integration would help make students, teachers, staff and the alumni active partners in ushering in the kind of campus life we want. The new approach would privilege healthy conventions over paper laws in campus life and day-to-day running of the university.

Finally we should be able to come up with a check list for the four wings here:

  • For the teachers: Are they regularly taking classes? Are the lectures prepared well? Do the lectures have publicly verifiable contents? [Traditionally teachers used to have a lesson plan! Seems to be given up increasingly]
  • Do the teachers give adequate time for student consultation? Is there regular monitoring of the students’ progress, or lack of it?
  • How many teachers supervise the research work of weak students?
  • Are the teachers available for administrative work? Or do they disappear after their class?
  • Are they present in the department for a specified number of hours or do they come to the department on the days of the class?

We need to ask similar questions regarding the, Administration, the Students and the Non Teaching Staff without fear or favour. There are other important aspects that we need to consider. These include the importance of impact study, selection and training of staff and complaint handling mechanism.

Clearly, the questions that we need to ask regarding internal quality assurance are many. It is time we made a small beginning.

_______

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16 thoughts on “Academic Quality?

  1. I agree with you when you say Courseware must be in the public domain. I’m doing an integrated M.Sc. course in Systems Biology and when asked for the topics that we are going to do in the following years no one had the answer….. How am I supposed choose my course, not knowing what I’m going to study. Courseware is very far dream.

    Also about the lesson plan. Three out of six teachers who teach follow them, I’m not sure about the rest. We sometimes feel that instead of attending the class we can stay back in the library and do a better job.

  2. RESPECTED SIR,
    i totally agree with your vision and i am really delighted to know that we are no.1 indeed but sir i though to make it an even better university in all other aspect i think i should bring some issues to your notice- i am a resident of ladies hostel and i can say starting from the infrastructure to the food is below quality. we do not have proper water supply, pure water and even to the worse we share our hostel with the dog. do you think this is really hygienic condition for us? even if we talk about food that we get is far below consumption, i would really like if you look into these matter and i think it will make our university a more batter place.

  3. Sir,
    I do agree to an earlier comment stating that only half of the teachers come to the class with a proper lesson plan, though there are a few excellent teachers in each and every department. Though the non- teaching staff at the department offices are very efficient and helpful in most cases, things are at their worst once you step into the university ad-block. Atleast a few staff members deliberately try to make the procedures less transparent.

    Reeja

  4. Academic internal audit can begin with each university teacher asking herself what has been her most significant contribution to the domain of her research and then trying to answer the question briefly in public, in a manner accessible to all. This would also go a long way towards making it possible for the members of the fraternity to get to know each other in a way that has not been possible so far. Hopefully it will open up many new opportunities of interdisciplinary collaboration.

  5. How to ensure quality work among university teachers? The minimum task expected are: to teach, do research and be accessible to the students. Beyond this minimum, one has the obligation to one’s own institution and to the society. One ought to be evaluated on all the above parameters, not simply by the number of hours one spends in the office or lab. There are examples of those who spend most part of their waking hours in the office/lab without any productive output. Unfortunately, we have never generated any tools to evaluate the work of the teachers. A corollary of this is that we have never tried to recognise and reward the achievers, nor to create disincentives for those who shirk responsibilities. There are some national level awards for ‘science’ teachers; but there is none for the rest. Let me suggest that we institute annual ‘best teacher’ and ‘best researcher’ awards at the university level. Similar awards could be instituted for the non-teaching staff as well.

  6. “Courseware must be in the public domain” is the key but we can make a small start. Just put the syllabi on the web for all the university courses. All course modifications must be openly debated. All course participants should be invited to comment on the details of course contents.

    All teachers should be invited to put their courseware on the web- it does not matter if it does not look great but once started it will provide inspiration for the whole nation. Many american universities already does publish the course details as well as the daily class material.

    What we need is a small start. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

  7. IQAC is not only about academics. Student services – hostels, other facilities and admin/student interface must also be of high quality. Students should not be spending their time running the mess. The Uni (itself or through contractors) should run the student messes in an efficient and transparent manner. Long ques in a crowded mess is not a good sign. Often the students are unable reach their classes on time after lunch. There should be no need for students to go to the admin building . Everything should be done at the department/school office.

    Academic quality will improve if care is taken during recruitment. Simple rules: Don’t appoint our own Ph.D.’s as teachers. Appoint teachers at the lowest rank and nurture them so that they may advance in their career. Don’t prescribe area of research in advertisements – keep it open and look only for quality during appointments – with some care it should be possible to find potentially good researcher-teachers in all sub-disciplines of a subject.

  8. I think the University administration is very poor. The excuse that “govt office hai, aisa hi hota hai” does not work. Getting a simple thing done, takes days and many rounds of corresponding offices. The administration needs to come up with a better system. With so much technology available, a lot can be done over the internet and lot of running around can be avoided.

    Coming to the living conditions, University should well rank below the top 50 based on it. There is no hygiene, no safetly. There is no proper drinking water in places. Small repairs are never tended to, furniture is very poor. To some extent students are also to blame, but if nobody checks on these things, the are bound to get damaged. None of the hostel wardens report regularly to their hostels. None of the office staff comes for a routine checkup.

    Mess facility is equally poor. Mostly due to demands of many students about keeping the basic low. One may argue that good quality food cannot be expected in Rs 40 per day, but why not make items available on payment to those who can afford to buy them and want better food. Bette, why not have a central mess, with higher daily basic for those who are willing to pay? Close to 30% ( maybe Higher) of students eat for the bare minimum of ten days on their mess cards due quality of food.

    As for the academics, which appears to be the sole basis of ranking. The faculty maybe doing a great job with research, but a simple job like, a faculty not being able to take a particular class also is never conveyed. Students come and wait in the class and finally leave, realizing there isn’t a class. With so much technology available, one single sms or a call from the concerned faculty or the dept, can easily be passed on. Yet most of the time, it never happens.

    Delhi University Ranks behind us. But with 4 lakh students, they are doing an amazing job. The quality of food, the living conditions are much much better. One really wonders, why such a system cannot be implemented for a much smaller section of students and staff. It is not a problem, of the system, but the mindset, and everybody needs to change it, right from students.

    This needs initiative. This needs a plan and proper action. And this can only be started from the top. I do hope you take some sturdy measures, sir, to improve the living conditions in campus. After all, what will a student contribute to research and academics if he cannot have the proper basic amnesties!!

    • Thanks Kinjal,

      I don’t take the No. 1 tag seriously, and neither should you. One of these days I will post on “Greed”- sometimes I think that is a major cause of all the rot. Much of the corruption is just petty greed- people stealing food, housing illegal guests, getting something while not paying for it, or better still, getting paid and not doing anything for it. Even better, getting paid and not even having to do something for it!

      While the actual numbers of people involved is small- but they are a cancer- they affect the functioning of the entire system. And the problem is endemic- all sections of the UoH community are involved as you noted in your comment…

      • Kinjal,

        We noted your point. Our VC’s support for improving technology especially building IT support site, brand new website, building campus network resiliency so that the internet never fails irrespective of fiber cuts, integrated central timetable (with sms/email alerts), providing access to library resources to students working outside etc, has been tremendous.

        We (the recent core IT team) have been working hard to take the entire legacy IT infrastructure that fell on our heads in the right direction with our VC’s vision and constant push. You must understand that it will take sometime (may not be years but definitely 1-2 months maximum) as we are just a team of 5.

        We are trying to slowly address all the hostel network issues, afterall that is where all the major complaints come from.

        We hope you will be suprised and happy with the new enhancements.

        Just a teaser below. We are testing the help desk and centralized learning management system here (that will soon help you listen to video/audio lectures, keep track of cancelled classes, take online tests).

        http://cnfhelp.uohyd.edu.in
        http://moodle.uohyd.edu.in

        Lot more to come
        Hoping to finish soon
        🙂

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  10. Challenging the Attendance-Raj

    People here don’t seem to have grown up to the facts of academic pursuit: adult citizens of a democratic country who have to be forced to attend classes after enrolling in a university?! Isn’t it ridiculous?

    Students have to understand that they need to attend classes for themselves, not the lecturer’s or administrator’s sake! And lecturers should strongly consider the idea that a full class is not always the best class. And if students seem to be dropping out or not choosing the course one offers, then a rethinking of one’s offerings might be needed. (Or convincing INTELLECTUAL reasons must be put forth to persuade students, not ADMINISTRATIVE threats!)

    However, in our university, students are forced to attend more than three-quarters of classes, however boring or bad or good or useless they may be. The problem is compounded by departmental restrictions on choosing courses outside the department or school.

    I believe students must be tested well on their courses to develop indicators of performance. It shouldn’t matter which lecture hall you are sitting in and when, as long as you are performing well in your area.

    In fact the attendance-raj facilitates sloppy and frequent and pointless testing – first by sustaining the illusion of academics by the mere appearance of well-attended lecture halls, and then, by written tests demanding thoughtless reproduction of the lecture notes.

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