Education News

Delhi: Nationalised league tables

With only one of india’s 800 universities (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) ranked among the Top 200 in the World University Rankings (WURs) league tables published annually by the reputed London-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education and Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University, the 18-month-old BJP-led NDA government at the Centre has devised an out-of-the-box solution. On September 29, it announced that it has devised its own league tables with unique parameters to rate and rank India’s universities inter se.

According to V.S. Oberoi, the newly appointed secretary for higher education of the Union HRD ministry, India’s own official university league tables will be ready next April. “Our framework is a moderated version of WURs of QS and based on self-reported data. Though all Central universities will be ranked, I hope state and private universities will also be included,” said Oberoi, addressing the FICCI higher education summit in Delhi on November 3.

The HRD ministry’s resolve to establish an “India-centric ranking framework” for universities comes a year after its announcement of a reliable, transparent and authentic ranking system for higher education institutions within the country on the recommendations of vice chancellors of Central universities and so-called institutions of national importance in August last year. At that time, a national institutional ranking framework (NIRF) for engineering colleges and business management institutes was unveiled by the ministry. Now a similar framework is being prepared to rate and rank architecture and planning institutions and universities.

According to Union HRD minister Smriti Irani, NIRF, which will include uniquely Indian parameters such as inclusivity and affordability, will empower a larger number of Indian institutions to participate in the global rankings. “I see this as a sensitisation process and empowering tool, and not a tool for protection,” she said at the launch of the framework.

Veteran market research and opinion polls professional Premchand Palety, promoter-CEO of the Centre for Forecasting & Research (C fore), Delhi who conducts national surveys of educational institutions for Hindustan Times and EducationWorld among other publications, says that instead of getting into the business of rankings which world over is undertaken by third party agencies and publications, the HRD ministry should focus on ways and means to improve the reputation of India’s universities and higher education institutions. “The HRD minister should argue for greater provision for education in the Centre’s annual budget to attract top-quality faculty and researchers to India’s universities. For instance, the stipend for IIT Ph D research scholars should be raised to at least Rs.1 lakh per month against Rs.30,000 currently. The creativity and prosperity of Silicon Valley is the outcome of Stanford University’s excellent researchers. We need to give a huge boost to research in India’s universities if we are really serious about competing with the best in the world,” he advises.

However, some educationists are of the opinion this initiative may unshackle the country’s public university system controlled by bureaucrats who abhor accountability and competitive rankings. As it has been made mandatory for higher education institutions to disclose practically all information publicly by uploading a plethora of data on the ministry’s website, information will become easily available and a government order can coerce even state and private varsities to do likewise.

“The NIRF is a boon for the public and intended end users who are sandwiched between two options — commoditised magazine rankings that are often of faulty methodology, and Tandon Committee’s classification done by second innings academics with third-degree arbitrariness that went unquestioned by academics and scientists... The planned announcement of NIRF rankings by April 2016 is a good attempt to provide some clarity to students confronted with multiple options with too little information,” writes S. Vaidhyasubramaniam, dean of SASTRA University (Tamil Nadu) in the New Indian Express (November 7).

The contours and architecture of the scheme will become clearer once the first league tables are published in April, a deadline which is unlikely to be met. Yet the moot point will be the credibility of government published league tables. The failure of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC, estb.1996) to assess more than 174 of India’s 800 universities, and widespread skepticism about its hallmark as also of AICTE’s National Board of Accreditation (NBA) for engineering colleges, is a pointer to the probable fate of NIFR.

Autar Nehru (Delhi)