Even as India's efforts to become a full member of The Washington Accord are in full swing, the trial accreditation process presents an opportunity for colleges to assess the education standards they offer.

With the earlier bids of India to become a full member of The Washington Accord 1989 going kaput, and with already two renewals on the provisional status almost coming to an end, a last ditch effort to get a full membership is in full swing.

The Washington Accord “is an agreement between the bodies responsible for accrediting professional engineering degree programmes in each of the signatory countries. It recognises the substantial equivalency of programmes accredited by those bodies, and recommends that graduates of accredited programmes in any of the signatory countries be recognised by the other countries as having met the academic requirements for entry to the practice of engineering.”

Some of the permanent signatories to the Accord are Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Africa. Those holding provisional status are Germany, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, besides India.

The National Board of Accreditation (NBA), an autonomous body functioning under the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), has chalked out a roadmap to push this proposal forward on a fast track.

Correspondent of Coimbatore Institute of Technology S.R.K. Prasad is one of the six committee members of the NBA. He is the board's representative of the four southern States: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh.

Explaining the points the board discussed at a recent meeting, he said the members of the board would identify engineering colleges from the States they represent. “A trial accreditation process will be held in those institutions by members nominated by the AICTE to check whether the courses of the colleges met the norms and objectives of The Washington Accord. The report of the trial accreditation will be sent to the AICTE. The same process will be extended to many other select colleges. The AICTE will then present a comprehensive report to the members of the Accord as to what extent the colleges in the country satisfied the norms in order to enable India become a permanent member of the Accord,” Mr. Prasad said.

The selection of colleges and the accreditation process will be done in phases to cover many eligible colleges in the four States. The NBA gives accreditation to the courses and not to the colleges. Hence, the trial accreditation will focus on individual programmes offered by the institutions.

In instances where the colleges fall short of the norms laid out by The Washington Accord, the AICTE will advise the colleges on ways to improve the satisfaction level.

All this, according to Mr. Prasad, will be fast-paced as there is very little time. The provisional status of India expires in 2011. “Provisional membership has already been extended twice and there is an apprehension that another extension might not come through. Hence, it is essential to draw up a roadmap at the earliest,” he added.

According to engineering experts, by making India a permanent signatory to the Accord, Indian degrees will be accepted in all respects as equivalent to that of other signatories, and the institutions will be recognised on a par with those in the signatory countries. Also, Indian engineers with Indian degrees need not have to undertake special qualifying tests for recognition of their degrees by other countries. It will also enable credit transfers and mobility.

“But, for that we have to ensure that higher education in our country is as good as that being offered by the other signatory countries. Foreign countries differentiate between an engineering degree obtained in an Indian university vis-a-vis that in an institution abroad. We have to address this gap,” Mr. Prasad said.

According to the vice-chancellor of Anna University of Technology, Coimbatore, K. Karunakaran, Tamil Nadu is one of the leading States with almost 55 colleges getting their programmes accredited by the NBA. With more number of colleges joining the bandwagon, he hopes there will be more courses that will be accredited what with the world-class infrastructure and faculty the colleges had to offer.

Whether the trial accreditation process will facilitate India in becoming a full member of The Washington Accord or not, it will be an eye-opener for the colleges as to where they stood in terms of world class education as per the norms of the Accord.