Building World Class Universities in India
Prof Pankaj Jalote, Director, IIIT Delhi

Guest Author’s Profile:- 

Prof Pankaj Jalote is the Director of Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi. Prior to this, he was the Microsoft Chair Professor at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Delhi and he has also headed the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Kanpur.

Earlier he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland, where he also held joint appointment in the Institute of Advanced Computer Studies. An IIT Kanpur graduate he holds a PhD from University of Illinois. He has authored many books.

He is on the Board of Advisors of many software companies in India and USA, is a Technical Advisory Board member for Microsoft Research, India, has served on the Editorial Board of IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, and International Journal of Emperical Software Engineering. He is a Fellow of the IEEE. 


I recently attended the 5th Global University Summit, in which senior leaders from universities from many countries participated and shared views. It was indeed a unique opportunity to meet and listen to leaders of some of the best universities of the world.  While it was great to hear the views of these top leaders, and there are always things that one learns and approaches that can be translated to Indian context, it became clear to me that the pressing issues for these universities are simply very different from those faced in India.

At a fundamental level, these universities assume that high quality faculty talent is available, and high quality infrastructure exists. Some of the current focus areas for them are how to support higher education in times of reducing government support (almost in all developed countries the support from government for higher education is reducing with governments pushing them to become mostly self sustaining), improving diversity as they believe that in a globalized world diversity will help in their pursuit of excellence, attracting the best students, evolving strategies for making an impact, etc.

One could not help but see the stark difference from the scenario in India. Even in the top Institutes, getting decent faculty is perhaps the predominant issue being faced. And decent infrastructure remains a major concern – there is just too little money being put in for building educational infrastructure, as we still seem to believe that higher education needs just modest funding – an investment of Rs 200-500 crores for setting a university is viewed as extremely “generous”, when this amount is typically used to construct a high quality building for one department (the CS building of UIUC, Georgia Tech, MIT, Stanford – which have come up in the last 10 years, have cost in the vicinity of $100 million). So what is assumed by Universities in the developed world, are the pressing issues in India.

It also became clear that building a world class University, at least by the measures that are used to define such universities, will be a challenge, if not an impossibility, for the next few decades in India. The reason is simple. Research performance drives the global standing of a University, and the two main factors that impact research productivity and quality are faculty and PhD students/postdocs. The well established universities pursue talent at a global level, and are able to get them, given their facilities and good compensation. So they attract the best talent to join as faculty, and they get the best available students in their PhD programs.

The situation in India on these fronts is extremely challenging. Forget about global talent, Indian Institutions are not in a position to attract even the best Indian talent – both the best faculty and the best PhD students from India prefer working overseas. Even the best Indian institution has available to it only those faculty who chose to return to India (or stay in India), and those PhD students who were unable to get fellowships abroad (or did not wish to go abroad).

It should, however be noted, that at the undergraduate level, we are able to attract the best Indian talent, as generally the best students prefer to study in top Institutions in India and only those who cannot make it to them go abroad (if they can afford it.) Unfortunately, top class UGs, while they help build the brand of an Institution in teaching, do not help much in building the research capability of a University.

So, it seems evident to me that in pursuit of excellence, our focus in the foreseeable future should be on doing whatever it takes to attract the best Indian faculty to work in India,  attract top Indian students to do PhD in India (which can be facilitated by good faculty), and leverage the high quality UGs to the extent possible.  And if we are able to achieve this, then in due course excellence will come and ratings will follow.  (For attracting best Indian faculty and PhD students to work in India it is necessary to properly understand from them, what is it that they need to work in India,  and build policies based on this. 

I have done one informal survey of Indian PhD students in US on what they need to return to India – results of this survey are available here, and one of UG students in three IITs regarding why they dont do PhD in India and what they need to do a PhD in India – results of this survey are available here.  Inputs from both of these were used to build policies for faculty recruitment and PhD student recruitment at IIIT Delhi.)

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Joyti Singh
16 Jul 2013

Thanks Prof Pankaj Jalote Ji for wonderful article I read this post one time and definitely online Bookmark this post for future reference . I personally think that needs and Building World Class Universities in India is need of hour. I also feels should provide proper awareness at school about the variousbest engineering colleges in Uttarakhand in their region. We should take some bold infrastructural and Psychological change.
World Class Universities/ colleges in India can built through public private cooperation which not only have very good infrastructure but some quality education.
Joyti Singh

Joe Harris
23 Jun 2013

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H P Shukla
31 May 2012

Perhaps we forget the ‘context’, perhaps the ‘context’ needs redefining. Can we separate the so-called higher education from the lower or school education? What kind of school education have we provided for our villages? Why do we educate our children? Is it to make them readily available manpower for the global market, or for serving the needs of a global society, a global way of life as it increasingly obtains in Indian cities? Not so much what you do but why you do it. The motive, the goal, the endgame defines it all.
The west is hellbent on westernising the rest of the world; and the youth in the developing or underdeveloped (read ‘westernising’ or ‘under-westernised’) nations is only too willing for the saviour conversion. All this is sometimes termed ‘neocolonialism’. But a more important question to ask is: ‘Is this the intelligence our school education has given to our youth?’ Find and define the ‘context’ before debating development vis-a-vis the west.

K. Mustafa
28 May 2012

It feels exciting to listen from Computer Science Professor-Director, on these issues, which are largely considered to be the pearls of non-scientific community 'administrators-may educational administrators and thinkers! I largely agree with senior colleague from CS fraternity but would prefer to understand the 'invariants and feasibilities' towards a bright future ahead.
One inevitable fundamental to our country must be the understanding of the very CONTEXT, which is is most generally defined by our INVARIANT - the ever defying cultural-social economics rather than FEASIBILITIES- the financial prowess. Therefore, we should not be comparing with largely-different foreign educational scenarios with that of India. I strongly feel that lets correct our basics, be egoist not to adapt technologies and strive hard to solve our problems by our own means and ends. In short, i do not adhere to our honorable HRD minister of facilitating each student with akash and feel that it may bring down the students to earth - by making them miss the fundamentals - may not lead to SKY. I strongly feel to establish multi-tier and highly reliable 'Aptitude Testing System, identification of very-Indian Challenging Issues -emanating Research Problems and a System to eleminate Talent Wastages' as something to rescue us.
With regrets and regards,
K. Mustafa (in Personal Capacity only)