Washington Accord and Engineering Education in India

Engineering programmes, like all other higher education programmes, must reinvent themselves periodically. There are several reasons why the need is particularly high in engineering. First, information and communication technologies are redefining business practices, thus reinvention is perhaps needed more in professional fields like engineering. Second, engineering is at the heart of managing larger trends in society, such as large scale demographic issues due to population increases in Asian and African countries, resource scarcity and macroeconomic instability, and climate and environmental changes.. How should we design and conduct engineering programmes to train graduating engineers to work and contribute to the well being of the society, which is the supposed objective of engineering?

Engineering programmes are normally designed and conducted in the framework provided by Accreditation Board of a country.  Such a framework is supposed to present the traits of a graduating engineer in the context of the country.  It identifies the knowledge, skills and attitudes of graduating engineers as a set of generic outcomes of an Engineering Programme. Most of the countries have defined, through their Accreditation Boards, such Programme Outcomes for several decades and have been redefining them periodically.

India had a National Board of Accreditation (NBA) for nearly two decades, but identified such Programme Outcomes only in 2009.  This was prompted mainly by its wish to become a signatory to the Washington Accord, which is a framework for establishing the equivalence of engineering programmes of its signatory countries. The main inspiration to NBA in defining the programme outcomes of engineering programmes in India came from the accrediting agency, ABET, of USA.

However, engineering programmes offered in the framework of ABET differ substantially from the programmes offered in India.  During the first two years of study, American engineering students typically take courses in the areas of Mathematics, Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities. Engineering is not directly addressed till the third year in these programmes. Further, in the USA, higher educational institutions have considerable discretion over what is offered, so there is considerable variation across the country.  As engineering’s requirements are changing, the National Academy of Engineering of USA, in its attempt to define how engineers of 2020 need to be educated, has proposed several changes to the existing programme outcomes and practices.

By contrast, traditionally, Indian engineering programmes require students to take courses in engineering areas right from the first semester.  All the courses in the first two semesters are common to many branches of engineering.  Incidentally, this offers students the flexibility to change their branches at the end of first year.

Scholars generally agree that the Programme Outcomes methodology as suggested by Washington Accord offers a much better framework for designing Engineering programmes and courses. A survey of Programme Outcomes as identified by Accreditation bodies of different countries indicated that Washington Accord Outcomes represented the best standards that good engineering graduates ought to attain in a global context.  It is often a great challenge and rewarding to any teacher to design a course to address as large a subset of Washington Accord Programme Outcomes as possible.  Further, the Washington Accord also enables and provides metrics as to how an institution can differentiate itself while meeting the Programme Outcomes.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that India remains a provisional member to the Washington Accord, at the present time, a status that expires in June 2011. It is now gearing up for full membership.  The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) constituted a special National Board of Accreditation (NBA) to push the proposal of permanent membership forward on a fast track in 2010. It was decided to select institutions to conduct a mock accreditation to check whether the courses of the colleges met the norms and objectives of the Washington Accord. The report of the trial accreditations will be sent to the AICTE that will prepare a comprehensive report of the findings to be submitted to the officials of the Accord.

Accordingly, four institutions — Coimbatore Institute of Technology (CIT), National Institutes of Technology, Tiruchi and Surathkal, and BITS, Pilani — were selected by the Board for mock accreditations. A team of professors from Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology visited the four institutions and conducted the trial accreditations of select courses.  The findings of the same have been submitted to the AICTE. They have not been made public, even to the members of the NBA. Now that India has completed the procedures, the next step is to see whether the accreditation findings meet the norms of the Accord. This will be done by officials of the Accord.

(Source: http://www.thehindu.com/education/article1497591.ece)

In March 2011, two mentors on behalf of the Washington Accord – R Menon Unnikrishnan of California State University, Fullerton, and Lock Kai Sang of Institution of Engineers, Singapore – visited RV Engineering College, Bangalore, to oversee the process of accreditation. The two would now give a report to India’s National Board of Accreditation (NBA). Based on their inputs, India would bring about necessary changes in the guidelines that have to be based on those of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), USA.

“As mentors we are helping India. The process of accreditation to engineering colleges needs to change in the country. Mentoring would help when India makes a regular application,” Unnikrishnan said. Stating that in India it takes time to bring about changes, Unnikrishanan said some parts of their earlier reports have been implemented but others are still to be put in place.

(Source: http://eklavyajee06.blogspot.com/2011/04/nba-washington-accord-and-revised.html)

By:Professor N.J.Rao of International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore and formerly with Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Email: njraoiisc@gmail.com

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