“I think it is a gift”. “No, I think it is a graft”. “I’m bound by the NAAC not to accept either”. “But I think, I shouldn’t mind a genuine gift”. “No, they don’t love me, why would they give me a gift”? “It is a naked graft under a veil of gift, don’t I understand” ? A fight within ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ intensifies in a NAAC assessor as she/he checks in a hotel. Often, the devil prevails over the ‘weak’ that conveniently finds it a ‘gift’ and then sheepishly accepts it, bearing half a smile at the gift and half at her/his conscious. Isn’t it quite an ironic that even after explicit instructions by the NAAC, not to indulge into acceptance of a gift, a significant number of unrelenting assessors still get drawn to an unethical gratification ?
The next big question is the size of the gift. The bigger the gift, the bigger is a conceding ground for a ‘bought out’ assessor to meet institute’s undeserving ‘grade’ demand. An honest assessor is often slighted by the rest of the team as if she/he stood an alien, a misfit and a spoke in the wheel-one, washed in pure raw milk ! Not every assessor is corrupt, and not every institute ventures into this unethical practice but it is also no more a secret that such kinds of graft practices are simply not stopping. Thanks to small mercies by the NAAC that a significant weightage of onsite assessment of peer team was reduced, but even 25% to 35% weightage in the hands of visiting peer team makes a lot of difference. It would be worthwhile carrying out a research of % assessment in marks received by the HEIs in Quantitative metrics (assessed online) and Qualitative metrics (peer team assessment). It would surely throw up alarming rating given by the subjective peer teams to various HEIs. Well, members of peer team are aware that even if a graft comes to the notice of the NAAC, at worst, assessor/s would only be questioned and perhaps de-listed. No one has ever been convicted and landed up in jail and no one would go there ever.
It is intriguing that the gifts-laced graft is ever-evolving in formats. An institute, particularly one that otherwise is a low grade, but aspires no less than A++ might not be running an innovation centre or incubator in its campus for students, but when it comes to bribing, it could excel by miles with truly amazing innovative ideas. Possibly, some rich private institute’s ‘think-tank’ would find an Apple MacBook or MacBook Pro, a suitable gift and invent some wayward pretext like, the entire visiting team had somehow forgotten to carry their own laptops, and thus obviously required one MacBook each member to record assessment. After all, if institute wont’t give, who would give to them? On the face of it, looks a fantastic innovative gesture, so difficult for any assessor to refuse. But do such institutes later take back that stuff ? A yet another innovation has long been doing a circle. A gold coin, idol of lord Ganesha, Ma Saraswati has long been conceived by some as perhaps a most preferred and pious gift choice. These reckless people involve even God into it 🙂 It is also a very common practice that some institutes arrange a grand party or a free trip to temples and historic places. Well, that sounds a bit less conscious-pricking and perhaps, a mild guilty. I keep my fingers crossed and pray that I don’t live the day to hear that some institute had offered a free helicopter ride to some religious places or given an apartment in gift. Well that would be like an education holocaust. Well, there could well be far too many more innovative offerings and freebies in practice than just described. Someone can even ask me, what’s my problem when freebies are being distributed all over India ? Yep, that’s hard for me to answer.
Wonder, why HEIs don’t go the right way of capacity-building? Why can’t they practice and propagate honesty. Education is ought to purest of all. Who is ultimately a big causality of such horrible practices ? The answer is – the end-user of institutes-‘students’. A poor quality institute might easily walk away with an undeserving high grade, leading to trapping of students into it and milking away a fatty fee. On joining, how sad if the student trusting in an institute for its quality based on grade, experiences an utter absence of superior quality faculty and contemporary labs. Such top graded but poor quality institutes would go on to open more poor quality campuses and also run online/distance courses. Not just that, it would eat up admissions of a genuinely good institutes as well.
It sounds weird and unjustifiable, if only a few rely on honesty and others have a field day in bribing and succeeding. It should be a level playing field for all, completely free from graft, subjectivity and bias. Perhaps, the only way is to turn NAAC “binary” and delink it with graded autonomy or alternatively, quickly bring-in tight reforms leveraging technology for capturing real-time assessment and validation. India under the government in power is doing so well digitally and scientifically. Why can’t a solution be found to keep the corrupt monster off. A yet another loophole of nexus between political leaders and private HEIs’ founders/promotors also needs to be plugged. No one should be able to influence an outcome of a NAAC grade.
It is heartening to note that NMC is launching an initiative wherein the TCS software will pick up digitally an inspection team for medical universities and colleges. It would do at least, some good. Similarly, more tech-led assessment solutions should be developed to rein-in assessment distortion in fake data and peer team assessment.
-the views expressed are personal and in the national interest for cleaning up the assessment system.