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  • Writer's pictureThothathri Raman

Gaming Quality in campuses

Education is all about quality in learning which is decided by the curriculum in question and the Pedagogy that is employed by the competent teachers. Regulatory systems in higher education especially is all about ensuring the outcomes are clear by the education processes employed by the institutions.

In the race for compliance of Regulatory standards, Ranking and Rating and also acquiring accreditation endorsement whether domestic or international the temptation to game the system seems to be quite the way quality is achieved which is not necessarily inherent or sustainable over a period.

In my nearly quarter century of higher education quality advocacy which includes 14 years of Ranking and Rating the Business Schools of India, which is arguably the second largest in terms of institutions and the student cohort studying for their MBAs as the Executive Editor of the pioneering fortnightly glossy of the country, I had come across quite a lot of ways in which the system was being gamed by leadership bent upon improving their brand equity and not necessarily equipping their wards with quality education.

Even in the international accreditation system that we advocated at SEAA Trust, New Delhi we have come across such crafty and not altogether out of line responses to the standards prescribed by the accrediting system so that in the final outcome, the institutions get the quality stamp but the students per se may or may not get the advantage of the accreditation that the institutions may eventually receive.

The reason for such gaming happens is obvious as the bottom-line financial advantages that stems from such brand equity underpinned by the institution's position in the pecking order of the B-schools ranked is quite substantial as also the ease of acquiring new talent to teach at the campus. The same goes for acquiring accreditation, not necessarily for improving the all-round quality but for showcasing the label of being an accredited school from one or the other top accreditation systems, thus gaining the advantage of the brand equity of the accreditation agency itself.

Basically the scope of embellishing the institutions with perceived quality lies in the way the campuses are showcased with their brand equity, the faculty numbers that are listed and the jobs the graduate students may be bagging.

Let us briefly analyze as to how these can be gamed.

Brand equity of an institute: One of the easiest and most volatile area for any educational institution and also it is easy to be gamed. Brand equity is a function of high visibility, top jobs the students bag, average salary received and the faculty numbers both permanent and adjunct. Brand equity could be increased merely by floating high visibility conferences or seminars at considerable expenses inviting top speakers. Also by signing International MoUs which may or may not be activated at all. As to faculty, the primary aim is to acquire enough faculty numbers as per prevailing norms so that the regulator is satisfied and the classes are not missed for want of faculty to teach a course. No one seriously worries about the quality of pedagogy, research or publishing of their faculty.

Student admission: While just a few schools in relative terms is able to acquire highly accomplished students from CAT, GMAT or GRE, the top admission tests, the rest are also able manage their cohort strength by sheer youth numbers present and the variety of jobs that are on offer. There is no concrete research to know how many schools out of around 4000 in India could not fulfil their sanctioned admission numbers nor is there any reliable research data as to what happened to these students, say five years down the line once the acquired their first job after passing out. The coaching class, the independent student acquisition consultants and agencies ensure that the students are acquired, purely based on their qualifications and not their ability.

Faculty: The number and not necessarily the quality is important to game the system of regulation, ranking and accreditation. Never mind their ability to teach, do research or develop new cases that are of great value to the students or useful to the business community or government in their decision making.

Media Ranking & Rating: Globally ranking is seen as a best endorsement of quality and equally accreditation is also taken as a way of showcasing quality. First ranking which is the easiest to manipulate as many of the media ranking institutions have been more than willing to recognise the schools and listing them under ever creative lists that are customized to help the schools to showcase themselves as "No one" in the area of say, jobs in information technology area, while their actual ranking in the listing of 100 would be somewhere in the range of 40 or 45. Likewise no 20 among Business schools of one or the other of the states, No 1 the city for faculty retention, student admissions, female students percentage etc.,

Accreditation: Indian accreditation for instance is based on quantitative assessment and there are no mentors involved. As such it can be gamed for numbers. In the case of international accreditation, it is not uncommon for schools to showcase themselves as belonging to the much larger institution of the same group, say a technology college, an arts college and so on which has more robust numbers to exhibit in terms of faculty, financial strength, brand equity and so on. If there is more than one campus there is also the temptation to show the accreditation covers all while each of the campuses or courses are to evaluated separately.

The Game continues.

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