This year, only four Indian institutions feature among the global top 50 in the recently released QS World University Rankings. The institutions- IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi, IIT-Madras and Indian Institute of Science (IISc)- have been rated by subject area. While there is cause to celebrate this, experts and academicians say that these rankings aren't of much significance. They are of the opinion that it is not that our universities are not up to the mark, or cannot compete with their global counter parts. "It is just that the ranking criteria are more based on western norms and not the nuances of the emerging markets," explains TV Mohandas Pai, chairman, Indian Centre for Assesment and Accreditation. Professor RK Shevgaonkar, director IIT-Delhi, agrees. "Parameters used by ranking organisations are more suitable for the western education system and hence though there is certain joy about being ranked we will fall short in some way or the other," he says.
The global rankings are usually based on various parameters like student-faculty ratio, citations by faculty members, international student and faculty exchange and, academic and employer reputation of the institute. Going by this it is hard to believe that only a few Indian universities make it to the list. And when they do, they make a mark only in certain disciplines.
Although India has 42 central universities, 285 state universities, 130 deemed universities and 125 private universities, why is it that only a few make it to the coveted list? Critics attribute this to a lack of international standards in our institutes. They say that more institutions should benchmark themselves against the best in the world and endeavour to get into the top slot. "Our big universities have become too narrowly focused as many institutions have become separate specialised entities," observes Pai. Shevgaonkar adds, "There is no collaboration/ coordination within the university departments, hence the progress of one is not the progress of all."
Danny Byrne, senior education editor, QS gives a lowdown on the QS world rankings by subject. "Launched in 2011 these rankings provide a targeted exercise that is more responsive to the strengths of smaller institutions and those that specialise in a particular field or range of disciplines," he informs. The rankings look at 30 different disciplines, and ranks the top 200 institutions in each based on a combination of academic reputation, employer reputation and research citations. Shevgaonkar disagrees with Byrne. "There needs to be a better understanding of what the institute can contribute. We would like to be recognised for the institution's contribution to the country," he says.
Why is it that not even a single Indian institute features in the "all-round top institutes" category? Byrne explains that institutes do not apply to get ranked. "Our data comes from two main sources: our reputational surveys, in which over 90,000 academics and employers worldwide tell us their views on the best institutions within a given subject area, and research citations." Academics, he says, are not allowed to nominate their own institution.
Experts however, sing a different tune. They say that usually the data used for ranking is collected from the websites of the institutes, and not many institutes have comprehensive websites. Pai agrees, "We need to improve the quality of data that goes online, market our institutions better, open up to global faculty and global students." Shevgaonkar says, "While it is not our policy, we need to encourage international students for admissions."
Despite limitations, the four institutes have managed to make a mark. So what is it that other institutes should do to achieve this feat? Academicians suggest that institutes should focus on being the best in academics. "It is not that we lag far behind from our foreign counterparts, but there is a definite need to improve in more than one area," advises Shevgaonkar.
Shegaonkar is bang on dot. Obviously we should not yet compare our institutions to a 378 year old Harvard or an 805 year old Cambridge, but surely we may aim to get there soon.