Unlike many nations, the United States does not have a central governmental body responsible for higher education. Normally in other countries, an educational institution enjoys degree-granting authority if it was established or recognized by the government to award degrees. This kind of governmental “recognition” is the basis on which others will accept a school's credentials.
Schools without governmental recognition may nevertheless be “licensed” or “registered” by the government. Licensing and registration usually only constitute permission to operate and should not be regarded as degree-granting authority.
Higher education institutions in the U.S. do not look to a central authority for recognition. Rather, a school's credentials are deemed acceptable by others when it has “accreditation.” In contrast to governmental recognition, accreditation in the U.S. is decentralized, private, and voluntary.
Although there are many types of accreditation in the U.S., the main form sought or expected by most institutions is called “regional academic accreditation.” There are seven regional accrediting bodies in the U.S., which together compose the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions.
Somewhat confusingly, countries that rely on governmental recognition are also creating and operating accreditation agencies. These are often public or statutory bodies, and although they accredit institutions or programs, they may differ in important ways from U.S. regional accrediting bodies. Accreditation in other countries does not necessarily function the same way it does in the U.S.
India has two public accreditation bodies: the National Board of Accreditation (NBA); and the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). Neither can empower institutions to grant degrees; rather, each plays a quality assurance role within the educational system. According to the NBA, “Accreditation is a process of quality assurance and improvement, whereby a programme in an approved Institution is critically appraised to verify that the Institution or the programme continues to meet and/or exceed the Norms and Standards prescribed by regulator from time to time.”
Distinct from accreditation, the source of degree-granting authority in India is described in the University Grants Commission Act of 1956 (UGC Act). Section 22 of the Act states,
"The right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act or an institution deemed to be a University under section 3 or an institution specially empowered by an Act of Parliament to confer or grant degrees." By law, there are only two ways to obtain the power to award degrees in India: by legislative act (Central, Provincial, State, or Parliamentary); or by declaration of the Central Government under Section 3 of the Act (the “deemed university” provision, for “any institution for higher education, other than a University”).
In India, degree-granting recognition and accreditation constitute separate procedures that play different roles. The former determines the nature of the institution (is it, or is it not, degree-granting?), and the latter addresses ongoing quality concerns. By contrast, recognition and accreditation are essentially merged into one concept in the United States.
One could rely on NBA or NAAC accreditation for purposes of accepting Indian credentials, but before making this decision, it is important to understand that accreditation and degree-granting recognition are not the same thing in India. Recognition via the UGC Act constitutes the authority to award degrees, whereas accreditation is a separate quality control measure.
Note: The UGC Act may be replaced this year by The Higher Education Commission of India Act 2018. If so, credential evaluators will have to determine how the new law impacts the assessment of Indian credentials.
Jason Wessel is an Evaluator and Senior Manager of Evaluation Staff. He has been with ECE since 1993 and currently focuses on education in Albania, Cape Verde, India, Liberia, Mauritius, Paraguay, Qatar, and Uruguay.