Academic Accountability In Our Higher Education Institutions: How It Can Be Evaluated?
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Academic Accountability In Our Higher Education Institutions: How It Can Be Evaluated?

In higher education, as Jiang Kai (2009) states, accountable behaviours are manifested as the proper and judicious utilisation of the allocated resources to achieve the enlisted objectives. Efficiency effectiveness, performance evaluation, providing evidence to showcase the achievements of the targeted outcomes are all part of accountability.

Globalisation and the resultant massification of higher education emphasise the imperative requirement of fostering accountability of and for all the stakeholders. In higher education, as Jiang Kai (2009) states, accountable behaviours are manifested as the proper and judicious utilisation of the allocated resources to achieve the enlisted objectives. Efficiency effectiveness, performance evaluation, providing evidence to showcase the achievements of the targeted outcomes are all part of accountability.

There are several governing bodies at the higher level to scrutinise the functioning of a Higher Education Institution (HEI) and to evaluate the performance index of the institute, which includes the analysis of research and teaching contributions made by the faculty and students. There are internal mechanisms within the HEIs to ensure the effectiveness of teaching, learning and research, placements and collaborations across disciplines.

However, HEIs are not enterprises that could assess accountability by gauging the output that is tangible and countable. Measuring accountability becomes complex when the offshoots of higher education are a set of interlinked features (many of them abstract and uncountable) like effective teaching, learning, researching, publishing, ensuring employability skills and developing global competency of the learners to name a few. And yet, assessing the effectiveness of performance of various stakeholders within the HEIs is mandatory as it can illuminate the impetus to work. There will be reports on the voids of the system which will in turn assist stakeholders in fixing the issues.

If we look at the local context, we have UGC, NAAC and similar governing bodies that prescribe guidelines for evaluation. Periodical evaluation of the performance indices of the HEIs in India manifests in the form of institutional ranking. So, when the institute manages to produce documents supporting its impeccable academic performances showcased by the faculty and students, how do we understand the notion of academic accountability? Can we argue that the institutional ranking vouches for the outstanding academic contributions by all faculty? In many cases, are these rankings not surviving on the work done by a minority of high performers?

To answer these questions, it is important to decode academic accountability. The overarching perspective, when it comes to accountability, highlights the responsibility of the institutions and ignores the other stakeholders' roles in being academically accountable and transparent.

The role of the faculty, who are expected to inculcate competent teaching and researching practices within and across their disciplines must not be neglected. They are accountable for the salary they receive, and the emoluments they enjoy including holidays, occasional salary increments and honorariums for various academic tasks.

If we apply the framework of accountability expounded by Macheridiss and Paulson (2021) the teachers/faculty are agents and the forum is constituted by the students and other stakeholders including the higher education institution itself. Agents have to be accountable for their performances to the forum. Therefore, the teachers are accountable for their academic integrity and credible performance especially in the context of entrepreneurial universities. What constitutes their obligations to the forum? How are the teachers maintaining their academic accountability?

Timely revisions in the pay scale of teachers are actually means to ensure qualitative changes in the educational sector and a great deal of attention is paid in warranting all aspects of the teachers' rights to be entitled to these revised pay scales. However, as Ramabrahmam rightly pointed out, the quality assurance which is the sole purpose of pay scale enhancement is not guaranteed. He argues that

…teaching is considered a noble profession and is unique in self-accountability. But a combination of over romanticisation of the profession and self- accountability as a sole measure of evaluation may sometimes give rise to delusions of grandeur among teaching community.The head of the department or the higher academic authority monitoring the classes of a teacher has almost become the relic of the past as teachers and their associations jointly reject it as a curtailment of academic freedom.

As Pramod K. Nayar asks, should there not be accountability when the teachers claim academic freedom? Peer evaluation is unthinkable within our HEIs as the psychological fear of being "judged" or "evaluated" by a colleague looms as large as the fear of the small numbers of the high performers. This fear emanates from the customary practice of the teachers being the ones who usually judge, and a role reversal is vetoed because it submits them to evaluations by peers or academic head, which becomes a matter of hurting their 'academic' ego. In some cases, as Tripathi maintains, for there is "suspicion that such procedures would become instruments of exploitation and harassment of teachers".

Then the only democratic assessment of teachers' performance is through the semester wise or annual feedback taken from the students. Instead of being professional in their teaching, as one teacher mentioned in a personal conversation, to ensure "good student feedback" there are teachers who believe in being "the one among them empathising, not being particular about attendance and assessments".

The objectivity of the student feedback too becomes questionable at times. However, students increasingly conscious about their "consumer rights", are more meticulous in providing the feedback. Therefore, it is important to work on this feedback and figure out areas for improvement as a teacher to be academically accountable. The fear of the feedback being monitored by the higher authority encourages some teachers to be more responsible in terms of their professional responsibilities. In both cases, self-accountability is required.

Rather than challenging themselves to cultivate self-accountability, teachers usually shrink to their comfort zones with the syllabus that dates back to some primitive times, probably since the inception of the institution. Syllabus revision, updating the teaching materials, novel evaluation policies are all difficult to be implemented once the faculty firmly place themselves in their comfortable, non- performance zones. In a world that spotlights global citizenship and academic mobility across borders, depending exclusively on a syllabus that in all probability is obsolete is nothing less than a farce.

This can damage the entire process of education and can beget a generation of students who are deprived of any upskilling that is demanded by the global level competition to which they are exposed immediately after they step out of their institutions. T

When Bloom's Taxonomy and its revised version are very much familiar to the teachers regardless of their disciplines of expertise, do we really as educators help our students to move from the factual knowledge and concrete domain to the metacognitive knowledge and the abstract domain? When teachers discuss programme outcomes (POs) and map them with the course objectives (COs) it is important to undertake it as a professional task not as a clerical work.

This means the teachers need to understand that by mapping POs and COs they are actually ensuring the outcomes the students have been advertised to. Just like consumers have rights for getting flawless product for the money they invest or pay for the product, the students too have the rights to acquire the advertised 'product', that is quality education, sanctioned by the various ranking agencies. Unfortunately, unlike in business, here there is no possibility of a refund for any ill-designed products!

Transparency in teaching is a matter of concern too. Yes, the teachers prepare course files and share them with the students. There are faculty-students' meetings where students can represent their views. Some institutions make their digital architecture smart enough to keep parents updated about their wards' performances and their academic mentors' remarks about them.

However, there is no redressal mechanism formally in place to seek teacher accountability. The autonomy of the institute allows the teachers to set question papers for their students and the evaluation of answer scripts too are done by the same teachers.

Interrater reliability as a construct in assessment features nowhere in this practice. Customised question papers without discussing evaluation criteria with the students make it difficult for them to generalise the scores. For internal assessments too, the rubrics of evaluation must be publicly announced and discussed.

Research orientation among the teachers and initiation of practices of continuing professional development can help the teachers to bring in innovations in teaching. Collaborative teaching, willingness to audit classes and be audited, encouraging question paper moderations and discussing the evaluation rubrics with the students are all important aspects of academic integrity and accountability.

Whether the state or the higher academic authorities have an apparatus in place to assess teachers' academic accountability or not, it is important that the teachers as responsible professionals assume ownership and initiate practices that actually generate the exact learning outcomes not the romanticised and over simplified notions of developing 'the tomorrow's citizens' as globally competent.

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Creatives : Ankita Singh
Guest Author : Dr. V.K. Karthika

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