Rankings and listings are naturally our way of gauging any pecking order. We seek the top three, the top 10, top 100, and so on, simply to evaluate positions and pecking orders. And, if the ranking is about educational institutions, as numerous business magazines have discovered to their joy, such issues are a sellout: Students and parents grab copies to know which the top-ranking institutes are. Based on the ranking of an institute, a student's future career and opportunities might be entirely different. While an alumnus of a top-ranking institute will see doors open to lucrative jobs and career opportunities, one from an unknown institute might not get the same options through campus placements.
While a number of rankings are in existence, the Government of India in 1914 announced its intention of ranking the higher education system. By 2016, the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIFR) had released its first annual ranking of universities and colleges. The rankings are released in the first week of April, well in time for students to begin evaluating colleges and universities for admissions.
Higher education and education as such are reviled in India. While there are many ills to the system, it might be an impossible task to bring a dramatic change. Ranking is a good way to encourage institutes of higher learning to meet the standards the government wants to set. Each of the five parameter defined by the government are actually goals to be met by the institutes. These parameters define the higher education, as well as social goals of India. The weightage given are 30 per cent for teaching learning, 30 per cent for resources, research and professional practice, 20 per cent for graduation and outcomes, 10 per cent for outreach and inclusivity, and 10 per cent for perception. The weight differs for colleges.
The other significant purpose that the ranking will serve is to help the government identify and fund the top 10 public and 10 private universities to make them world-class institutes. According to the Budget announcement of 2016, these universities will work towards being counted among the top universities of the world, armed with funding from the government – as of now, the arms cache could be up to Rs 100 billion to be spent over 10 years.
Accepting the ranking
The success of a plan is in the participants. It cannot be a party of two.
In 2017, as many as 3,319 institutes participated. Of those, 216 were centrally funded institutes and 685 other universities. This year, 3,954 universities and 199 centrally institutes are participating in the rankings.
While it is not compulsory for institutes and universities to participate in the ranking every year, colleges and universities know the value of the exercise. Already, some of the unknown universities are cashing in on their rankings, displaying the NIRF ranking prominently in advertisements. Besides, the truly ambitious universities will want to be in the top 10 for sure.
The methodology: Placing value on integrity
Institutions, universities and colleges are supposed to register and upload information according to the guidelines issued by the NIFR. They also have to upload the information submitted to NIRF on their own site for a period of three years. As a step towards encouraging transparency, the NIFR is empowered to do random and surprise audits on the data submitted by institutes. If the submitted data are inconsistent with findings, the institute could be barred from participating in the ranking survey for the next two years.
While the ranking depends heavily on self-declaration, asking institutes to publish data on their own site is a simple way of ensuring transparency and integrity of information.
Research published only in renowned international journals like Scopous, Web of Science, Indian Science Index is given weight in the ranking. It, therefore takes away the burden of ascertaining the value of research by a government body. If these high-ranking journals accept a paper, it meets a certain internationally accepted standard, making the job simpler for NIRF.
“The rankings, with all its teething problems, is a welcome move to encourage a culture of research and subsequently innovation that we sorely lack,” says Sujatha Kshirsagar, co-founder and CEO, Drstikona Consultancy and PMS Pvt Ltd, a start-up with bridging the divide between corporate needs and academia as one of its aims. Drstikona encourages corporate houses to spend their CSR budgets on meaningful projects like research in academic institutes. With HP Incubator in BHU as an upcoming project and two other Indian clients signed up, it is positioning itself as a conduit to research in academic institutes. Kshirsagar believes a mindset of research with an aim to publish in the renowned peer-reviewed journals will lead to a culture of innovation over a period of time.
Variation in ranking
The first steps are always faltering, flawed even, but NIFR is open to change and is willing to make changes in the evaluation criteria. Some institutes have move up and some have slipped many places, but as the government moves towards encouraging participation, the place at which an institute stands is likely to flip as well, in some cases, dramatically.
Indian colleges do not foster a research mindset, with a 30 per cent weight on papers being published in international journals, institutes will begin to encourage it. Research is the first step towards innovation. Innovation will eventually encourage an entrepreneur's mindset. “A large part of jobs of the future will have to be generated, therefore innovation is key,” adds Kshirsagar, herself an alumni of IIM Bangalore.
Currently only IISc, Bangalore, has been ranked as the best university in India, according to NIRF ranking 2018. It is the only University from India that is counted among the the top 500 in the world in the Times World Ranking of Universities. Established in 1909 by Jamsetji Tata and Maharaja of Mysore, Indian Institute of Science (IISC Bangalore) is one of the premier engineering institutes in India.