Saturday, June 14, 2014

India joins select nations in Washington Accord

Ending a seven-year wait, India on Friday, June 13, became a permanent member of the Washington Accord, an elite international treaty on engineering studies that promotes the movement of engineers across signatory countries that include the US, the UK and Australia.

Permanent membership reflects a country’s stature in the technical education space — despite trying for years, India has been a provisional member since 2007.

“In a major boost to technical education and engineering programmes, India on today (Friday) joined a select group of 17 countries who are permanent signatories of the Washington Accord (WA). The meeting of the International Engineering Alliance of WA member countries met in Wellington, New Zealand, this morning and gave India the signatory status with effect from today,” the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) said in a statement.

“India gets permanent membership of the Washington Accord. Congratulations to the team in MHRD,” minister for HRD Smriti Irani said in a Twitter post. The ministry said the accord has the charter of promoting mobility and quality assurance of engineers across international boundaries. The charter requires that nations set up suitable accreditation standards, which would ensure a minimum quality of attainment for their engineering graduates.

The Washington Accord was signed by the National Board of Accreditation (NBA), an autonomous accrediting body under the MHRD, “with the mandate for accreditation of engineering and other technical programs at all levels in the country and making technical education outcome based”.

“This will ensure highest quality assurance standards to be implemented in our technical and engineering programmes and provide global mobility to our engineering graduates,” Irani said. “This will substantially enhance their employment opportunities around the world.”

The Washington Accord came into force in 1989 with six developed countries as initial members.

Rekha Sethi, Director General of All India Management Association (AIMA), said permanent membership of the accord is a recognition of India as an education destination. “Study in India will now be an acceptable norm worldwide and Indian certification will not be looked down upon by developed countries,” said Sethi, who is also a member of NBA.

She said greater mobility for engineering talent across the 17 signatory-countries will see better job opportunities opening for engineers. India has over 4,500 engineering colleges admitting over half a million students every year. “Now, we have joined the elite league and it would also lead to brain gain from a broader India point of view. And from students’ point of view, Indian institutions would now like to be part of the accreditation process as it will ensure quality and credibility,” Sethi said. “A lot of effort has gone to achieve this and now efforts must be made for continuous improvement of our system.”

The move follows concerted efforts by the last two HRD ministers, Kapil Sibal and M.M. Pallam Raju, to get India permanent membership. Raju made NBA an autonomous organization, separating it from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the apex technical education regulator. The accord authorities had sent mentors on at least four occasions since 2009 to assess and help India achieve the status, said a senior MHRD official.

On the first visit, the mentors questioned the system of reservation of seats for various sections of society. “The practice of continuous improvement appears to be ad-hoc than systemic... Bureaucratic system ingrained in the system make changes impossible to achieve,” said the mentors in a report to the government. Mint has reviewed a copy of it.

It also questioned the level of resources available with NBA and asked AICTE to clearly articulate the need for quality. “India has a legacy of leadership in technical education and preparing highly qualified engineers to assume leadership positions throughout the world. The lowering of quality by quota system poses a serious threat to credibility of the quality of engineers for even those who graduate from the prestigious IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology),” it had said.

But the mentors were pleased with progress made by Sibal and his senior officials in the ministry in 2012 and the fourth report praised them for their clearer direction and understanding of requirements. The International Engineering Alliance, secretariat of the Washington Accord, sent a review team in December 2013 and January 2014 to carry out a comprehensive review and audit of NBA’s accreditation systems and practices. The team submitted its report in March 2014, the ministry said. And getting membership was based on this final assessment.

Source: Mint, June 14, 2014

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