World-ranking agencies need to factor in the Indian context
Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank | 17 Mar, 2020
The last few decades have witnessed substantial importance being accorded to university rankings worldwide; the number of global rankings of institutions in higher education has grown exponentially during the last 20 years. Besides the globally reputed rankings, there are many other organisations that have taken to ranking our educational bodies. This ranking practice has led policymakers, teachers, students, employers, professionals and society at large to perceive institutions through the grading lens, and those who are ranked higher are recognised as superior in quality than those lower down the ladder.
In the challenging times of scarce financial resources, policymakers in different countries are increasingly interested in comparisons of the performance of various Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) according to certain objective indicators. However, the results of any ranking, especially global rankings, depend strongly on the choice of indicators and weightages assigned to them. It is difficult to measure and quantify quality itself, and therefore, rankings use various proxies—some of which may be rather distant from the actual quality of teaching or research. Creation of a strong ranking system will result in a robust university system which will help in strengthening the economy and improving the quality of life. It is seen that the ranking system has led to the development of a culture wherein all the participating institutions are competing with their fellow peers on matters related to governance, management, research and infrastructure. During the review meetings, it is encouraging to see that many institutions have developed their detailed short-term and long-term action plans and related capacity-building strategies to improve their performance in the rankings.
Most well-known rankings tend to equate institutional quality with teaching, international outlook, financial sustainability, research output which is measured by the number of citations and impact of their publications in peer-reviewed journals. However, I strongly feel that several other important objectives of higher education, such as social inclusion, commitment to social service, public service, human values on the one hand, as well as global well-being through national commitment to sustainable development goals on the other, need to be recognised as equally important outcomes of tertiary education institutions. And rankings should keep these higher order objectives and their outcomes also in mind while evaluating the performance of institutions of higher education.
It is seen that Indian institutions face many challenges in establishing themselves in the rankings. There are gaps which make it difficult for such institutions to make the cut. For instance, while our IITs or IIMs may have foreign-educated faculty but as per the QS parameters, you qualify as international faculty only if your passport is non-Indian. Another challenge is making our university graduates employable. How many of them are able to find jobs immediately? Are we equipping our youth with industry-worthy skills? Today, the Government is focusing on increasing GER (gross enrollment ratio) in higher education but at the same time, it is also stressing on outcomes. Similarly, what is the role of industry in education—be it in framing curriculum, designing systems, sponsoring research?
In accordance with the decision of the Prime Minister for finalising a five-year vision plan for each ministry, we came out with our ambitious five-year vision plan called ‘Education Quality Up-gradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP)’. We sincerely believe that this programme will promote research and the innovation ecosystem, thereby upgrading the quality of education to global standards. We want to position at least 50 Indian institutions among the top-1,000 global universities so as to make India a global education destination.
We have a well-thought-out strategy to facilitate our higher education institutions to raise their profiles on a global scale and become top performers in their respective fields. We have programmes like ‘Paramarsh’ and ‘Margdarshak’ where we have developed a mechanism to identify strengths and weaknesses of institutions and how they can improve their performance, research and be strategically competitive globally. Both these programmes are designed on the philosophy of mentoring—that is, higher-placed institutions hand-holding aspirant institutions with the aim of helping them improve their performance in the rankings.
Recognising the fact that pursuing a better position in the rankings requires huge financial resources, we have created a special mechanism called ‘Higher Education Funding Agency’, which helps institutions to meet their infrastructural needs. Covering more than 1,000 universities and 45,000 colleges across India, ‘The Quality Improvement Programme Mandate’ will help higher education institutions evolve to equip students with skills, knowledge and ethics.
To improve international rankings of Indian Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs), there are certain strategic changes/reforms that need to be undertaken: India needs to shift its model of conducting research in specialised research institutions to a model of embedding basic research in universities. There is a need to create a research culture in the universities and colleges while setting the mandate for quality research. Moreover, industry and innovation need to be fused with the research activities to ease the flow of direct funds and resources. The need of the hour is to prioritise the investment as well as policies directing the improvement in research culture.
Attempts are being made to realign and redesign the HEIs of the country so as to impart skills and expertise to its students to meet global and local economic demands. The industry-worthy reputation of Indian students, and hence Indian institutions, in the industrial context, is limited to top institutions only. The majority of Indian institutions do not fare well when it comes to ‘Employer Reputation’ owing to poor desirable skills and knowledge possessed by Indian students in the global market.
Another area where efforts are being made is that of encouraging innovative pedagogical methods of teaching. It is recognised that to compete with world institutions, our academic institutions have to focus on new techniques of teaching-learning, such as greater use of technology, flexible curricular practices, transfer of credits and better evaluation system. Appreciating this need, we have come out with specialised training programmes. The ministry is also taking measures to extend autonomy to institutions, in collaboration with faculty and students, to design the curriculum and assessment as per the local, national and global requirements. We are also trying to set up a network of faculty training and career guidance centers across the country.
Foreign student enrollment is another major parameter for achieving a higher ranking. The Indian education system has attracted many international students from different countries. According to the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) 2018-19, the total number of foreign students enrolled in higher education is 47,427, who come from 164 countries. The highest share of foreign students come from the neighbouring countries of which Nepal is 26.88 per cent of the total, followed by Afghanistan (9.8 per cent), Bangladesh (4.38 per cent), Sudan (4.02 per cent), Bhutan constitutes (3.82 per cent) and Nigeria (3.4 per cent).
However, this is not enough. Indian HEIs, owing to their huge numbers and diversity, have the capacity to double the current intake for international students while meeting the country’s demand for higher education. Efforts to cater to a large foreign student population need to be made so that we can perform our global responsibility of catering to persons from foreign lands desiring to study in colleges and universities while at the same time earning points for this service.
It is also to be noted that the recent success of Indian institutions in the ranking system has been achieved by the enthusiastic and active participation of more and more Indian institutions. Therefore, not only the remaining institutions need to be encouraged to actively participate in the global ranking system, but they also need to be mentored by higher placed institutions to achieve the global criterion for presence in global rankings.
There are changes that international ranking agencies may take into consideration to address diversities of Indian Higher Educational Institutions: For instance, world ranking agencies follow a subjective approach for data collection through perception-based independent surveys. Their metrics rely on outcome-based metrics derived from third-party databases, with little data being submitted by the educational institutions themselves. However, the participation of India in general, and academicians/researchers with working knowledge of Indian academia in these surveys, have historically been very low—thereby pulling down India’s average performance. Therefore, world-ranking agencies need to give due representation to the Indian context by extending the scope and data sets to include Indian academicians and researchers. There is the diversity of Indian HEIs based on specialisation, mode of funding, accreditation level, status, etcetera. Also, Indian institutions, like IITs and IISc, have been consistently registering their presence in the Top 100 list of subject-wise rankings. In addition, some Indian institutions have registered themselves under Top 100 and Top 150 list of special rankings, like Times Higher Education (THE) Emerging Economies University Rankings, THE ranking for Small University by size and QS WUR 2020 Top50Under50. The ranking agencies need to popularise these special category rankings as Indian institutions, unlike US institutions, have multiple kinds of institutions based on specialisation rather than having the US- and the UK-like homogeneous all-course universities. Attempts are being made to give due weightage to the Indian context like population, economy, relative capacity and size of Indian universities. Most of the Indian universities have a capacity of 5,000-8,000, in contrast with US and UK universities, which have smaller student populations. Thus a set of parameters counting this contrast need to be followed or similar kinds of institutions can be ranked under equally popularised special categories. Ranking agencies need to extend the scope to include more Indian institutions by extending the upper ranking bar.
Several measures have been initiated to improve the international ranking of Indian HEIs . This includes deigning the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to rank institutions of higher education in India. The Institute of Eminence scheme by the Government aims at creating top-class institutions that can compete with the best global schools. In total, 20 institutions have been identified. The University Grants Commission (UGC), Central Government and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) have launched various initiatives to improve the quality in higher education: Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN), IMPRINT (Impacting Research Innovation and Technology) and UAY (Uchchatar Avishkar Yojana), Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), National Academic Depository (NAD), Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP), Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching (PMMMNMTT), Study in India, National Digital Library, Campus Connect Programme, etcetera. The ministry has requested the university leadership across the nation to strictly adopt the Quality Mandate in order to be strategically competitive. In order to encourage research and development in the country, the Government is implementing various schemes, awards, fellowships, chairs and programmes under which financial assistance is provided to institutions of higher education as well as faculty members working therein to undertake quality research covering areas of knowledge across disciplines.
Apart from identifying universities with potential for excellence, we are creating centres with potential for excellence in a particular field. Several Special Assistance Programmes (SAP) have been designed to encourage the pursuit of excellence and teamwork in advanced teaching and research to accelerate the realisation of international standards in specific fields. A few months back, we launched a new initiative known as STRIDE, that is, Scheme for Trans-disciplinary Research for India’s Developing Economy. This scheme will not only strengthen research culture and innovation in our educational institutions but will help students and teachers contribute towards India’s developing economy with the help of collaborative research. A similar research initiative focusing on Impactful Policy Research in Social Sciences (IMPRESS) is being monitored and implemented by ICSSR. The role of our innovative, creative, research-intensive universities is not only vital for creating societal impact, but also in the development of a knowledge-based society.
Looking at the future competitive arena, we must all work together to develop a mechanism to not just improve the methodologies used by various ranking agencies but through our stellar performance, we should position our higher education institutions at the top of the grading ladder .
As one of the largest education systems in the world, I strongly believe that we must encourage greater ‘democratisation’ of rankings to include the different missions and diversities of universities to generate an internationally comparable data that allows more of the world’s universities the opportunity to showcase their achievements. Under the able leadership of our Prime Minister, we are determined to make our institutions’ knowledge producers to meet the nation’s growing needs. We recognise the fact that producing PhD graduates will be key to growing India. We do realise the fact that India’s higher education sector not only plays a vital role in driving the nations’ competitiveness but also provides a strong basis for creating a global knowledge economy. The academic world must understand that in the process of creating world-class institutions and knowledge-based society, robust ranking systems are very important. The best part is that ranking catalyzes collaboration rather than simply promoting competition.
Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank