In the past one month, two reputed surveys came out ranking the top 200 and 400 universities in the world. The rankings were Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) world university rankings and Times Higher Education (THE) rankings which featured not a single Indian university in the top 200 institutions at a global level. The academic fraternity dubbed it as a matter of national shame as India is the only BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nation among the developing economies whose institutions have not been able to book a spot in the top 200 league.
It is only the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) who were featured in the ranking with some improving their positions. In the QS ranking, IIT Delhi (212) and IIT Kanpur (278), have improved from their 2011 position, while in THE ranking IIT Kharagpur stands at 234, IIT Bombay at 258 and IIT Roorkee at 367. But, when the ranking are compared with other BRICS nations institutions the improvement seems dismal as their institutes have fared exceptionally well.
There are seven institutions from China has figured in top-200, while Russiaâ€™s Lomonosov Moscow State University stands at 112, University of Sao Paolo, Brazil is at 139, and South Africaâ€™s University of Cape Town at 154.
In THE ranking India has some relief as another BRICS nation Russia has failed to make the top 200 list. Chinaâ€™s two top 200 institutions both rose, with Peking University moving from 49th to 46th and Tsinghua jumping 19 places from 71 to 52 supported by extremely strong income figures. Brazil and South Africa has only one, University of Sao Paulo in top 200 institutions at 158 and University of Cape Town at 113 respectively.
Though the ranking is not very encouraging for India and a larger group of academicians believe that this is really matter of concern and we need to improve in the areas like research and innovation to earn a place in top league. Other groups of people are of the view that these ranking systems are most suited for the education system in western countries and not favourable for a country like India with entirely different education system.
Review tried taking opinion of Vice Chancellors of some of the Universities.
Problems with India Higher Education System
Dr. N. Prabhudev, Former Vice Chancellor, Bangalore University said, â€śWe canâ€™t carry forward with the 19th century mindset, 20th century process and 21st century needs. With number of education bills stuck in Parliament, unions and people with vested interest block reforms in the country. We need to re-define the needs of students and teachers. Professors from outside are not called to teach and train. While the ones working in the country are not engaged in meaningful research, so it has become a chain where nobody wants to change. Selection of vice chancellors is more political than on merit. Governing bodies are in tune with the party in power - Left, Right or Centre.â€ť
â€śInnovation requires collaboration. No University has innovation centres; we live in an age of stark contradictions. The world enjoys technologies of unimaginable sophistication; we have none. Satisfactory operational system of a university should be one under which the University is run freely by educationists and enjoy the autonomous rights of independent thinking and free expression within the framework of the national constitution and laws. It should be ensured that â€śInstitutions of higher learning should be geared to the needs of society, run independently and practice democratic management in accordance with law, which is sorely missing in our system,â€ť added Prabhu Dev.
Prof. R K Kale, Vice Chancellor, Central University of Gujarat said, â€śThere are many reasons for that like lack of academic freedom, insufficient funding, lack of infrastructure, lack of support in research, non-availability of quality teachers etc. Practically, there is no autonomy for running the educational institutes. Most of our universities are starving of fund. The universities of foreign countries have academic freedom and are heavily funded. Recently India has increased the funding for higher education but still it is not sufficient to make universities internationally competitive. It is important to note that whenever nation is in financial difficulties, the universities are affected and suffered the most. The annual budget of the most of top listed 200 institutes is even higher than annual budget of some of states of our country.â€ť
â€śRecently, the government has issued office memorandum on the economic measures and rationalization of expenditure which is also applicable to our universities. According to this memorandum, universities are supposed to cut down 10 per cent from their non-plan budget. The university cannot cut the salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff. As a result, non-salary components are decreased to the great extent. What remains with our universities, compared to international standard, is a peanut. From this limited money the institutes have to run its day-to-day affairs and forget about upgrading library, running laboratories, and other essential things such as inviting scholars,â€ť opined Prof. Kale.
â€śFurther, in this memorandum the universities are asked to hold only such conferences workshops, seminars and symposiums which are absolutely essential with mandatory 10 per cent cut on budgetary allocations for seminars and conferences. There is also ban on participation in workshops, conferences, presentation of papers abroad. Creation of posts is also banned. How academic expansion will take place without creation of new posts and positions and attending seminars and conferences? There is already 35 per cent vacant posts in higher education in our country the universities When there is no academic freedom, no good infrastructure, no quality teachers and no adequate funding how we expect our universities and academic institutes to compete with Ivy League and C9 Universities?,â€ť asked Prof. Kale.
Dr. P Kaliraj, Vice Chancellor, Anna University said, â€śThe present system through which these rankings are done are most suited to the western countries and US they give 25 per cent weight-age to noble laureates and 75 per cent to research while we focus on employability. Another major problem is related to funding as most of the funding by central government goes to IITs and IIMs or IISc and state universities get almost negligible amount of fund. They should consider different countriesâ€™ education system in mind before ranking the universities. The parameters used for ranking do not suit us thus our universities do not get place in the list of select top 200 universities.â€ť
Nikhil Sinha, VC of Shiv Nadar University said, â€śQS and THE ranking heavily provide scores for research, the quality of the research, the publication record of the faculty and thatâ€™s where their focus is, they also rank you on the basis of Nobel laureates among your faculty. Universities in India do not do the research neither quantity nor quality wise. So, the ranking are heavily focussed on institutions that conduct research over institutions that are teaching focussed. We have some very good institutions like colleges of Delhi University they have very good under graduate courses and are teaching focussed but they do not do research, so they would not figure in these rankings.â€ť
How to break into the top league?
Dr. N. Prabhudev opines giving greater academic freedom to the universities is the key. â€śWe need first rate tangible assets like buildings, books, facilities, etcÍľ In terms of human resources we need great teachers, students, administrative staff, and University culture. Educationists run the university, which enjoys autonomy, rights of independent thinking and free expression. It should operate independently and exercise democratic management in accordance with the law. The culture of a university should be a culture of truth seeking, Precision and discipline.â€ť
â€śThe world famous universities such as Oxford and Cambridge exploit studentsâ€™ potential and inspire their creativity. A university must have world class professors. A sufficient and necessary condition of becoming a first rate university is world class professors, the autonomy of professors and their dedication to their careers. Education should be supported by greater financial resources and stronger commitments. Economic and social development planning shall give priority to educational development. The fiscal budget shall first satisfy the needs of education and human resources development,â€ť added Dev.
While Nikhil Sinha believes that taking certain informed steps can improve our ranking. â€śIn the programmatic ranking of these rankings we do not do that bad but at university level we have to do good at all the levels in all the disciplines, the other problem is that we do not have multi disciplinary universities neither we are conducting that quality of research. Institutions that extend the frontiers of knowledge do well in these rankings. We need to improve upon these areas and automatically our ranking will improve.â€ť
Prof. RK Kale is of the opinion that, â€śIf we have to reach the international standards and go in the top 200 universities, we should not do what we are doing now. We only debate and discuss, make policies on education. We keep reminding ourselves on importance and significance of access to education, equity in education, quality and equality in education, as well as its relevance in life. Fortunately, we have made good policies but we failed in their implementation. It is also important to remember that our education system is different, the western universities and other countries are investing in education since long. We started it only few decades back. And therefore there is educationally huge gap between Indian and western universities. To narrow this educational gap the expenditure on education should be increased.â€ť
â€śWe should also think what is good for our nation, device our educational policies and implement them effectively. Our agenda should be focused on to enhancement of socio-economic status of every citizen through education. The ranking game appears to me as a business adventure. It has a hidden commercial agenda. We should not get trapped into it. However, it does not mean that we should ignore the ranking. The situation is changing and nation is giving lot of importance to education. I am sure the measures recently taken for higher education will bear the fruits and we will find at least few Indian universities/institutions in the select list of top 200 universities of the world in near future,â€ť added Prof. Kale.
â€śOur education system is best suited for our country, if we really want to improve our ranking in these rankings we need to invest heavily in research as, if you look at the Nobel laureates they are innovators and researchers not academicians, we need to build a community, a generation of researchers and innovators to compete with best institutions around the world and this will improve our ranking,â€ť said Anna University VC.
It seems there is a unanimous opinion among academicians that the primary reasons for underperformance of Indian institutions are lack of funding, lack of research, insufficient number of teachers. While somewhere there is lack of consensus on these rankings and their credibility but there is agreement that Indian Universities as well as the policy makers need to look beyond just giving degrees and have to focus on the research and innovation to get entry ticket for the top rank universities. The Centre also needs to bring a change in its outlook towards the education system and should invest money in state universities as they are the ones catering to the larger group of population.