National university rankings to include social contribution

India’s prestigious institutes of technology, or IITs, will spearhead a national system of university rankings, drawing up relevant parameters even though they are not themselves universities, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani announced last week at a meeting of IIT heads in Chennai.

Irani has been holding a raft of meetings with heads of central universities, IITs and Indian institutes of management on how to devise a national rankings scheme while at the same time boosting the activities of these top institutions to include research on development issues and policy advice to government on major challenges, as well as undertaking consultancy work for international organisations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a meeting last month of IIT directors and chairs of IIT governing boards that while global rankings were important, “we should also set up our own parameters for rankings, which will serve as an in-built mechanism for change and improvement”.

This would be more appropriate than the usual focus on international students, international research collaborations and research publications and citations in globally recognised journals, which are a major component of international rankings including those of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Times Higher Education and QS, according to a government official close to the talks.

“The social responsibilities of universities would be taken into account,” the official said. In turn the government will press for funds to be used to boost universities’ social and policy role, which will count towards rankings.

The IITs will help devise the national rankings scheme together with the ministry and university heads according to a timetable discussed at the Chennai meeting of the IIT Council on 22 September, which included heads of all 16 IITs.

A committee including several vice-chancellors of central universities, IIT directors and senior ministry officials, was set up at a national rankings workshop in August, to oversee the process.

“Our ranking system will first rank all Indian institutions, including IITs, central and state universities. By December we will have a raw format and after which we will have consultations with stakeholders to release the ranking,” said Ashok Thakur, secretary for higher education in the Human Resource Development Ministry.

IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Madras will spearhead the ranking exercise. “IITs have been working closely with the ranking agencies and they will come up with the framework by March next year,” Thakur said.

Less relevant indicators

Chair of the governing board of IIT-Kanpur M Anandakrishnan said international ranking agencies used parameters which “don’t suit” Indian universities.

“Some people believe that reputational ranking in particular may not be equally relevant for Indian institutions. At the same time, there is also scope to develop India-specific rankings, by taking a different look at some of the parameters, while India internationalises on its own terms,” said Indranil Ghosh of the British Council in a recent council blogpost.

Indian government officials said the specific indicators of rankings organisations had been examined and some were less relevant to India.

IITs are the only Indian institutions that appear in international rankings, but as specialised technology institutions conducting little research, they barely make an impression on the top 200 of world rankings despite being highly selective and having influential alumni in leadership positions around the world.

IITs “do not have characteristics of a university on which the ranking system is based”, said Anandakrishnan.

More broadly, initiatives to favour people from diverse social backgrounds such as the disadvantaged, tribal groups and those from lower castes, to help them access higher education are not considered in the international rankings, Thakur said.

Indian universities also perform poorly on indicators such as the proportion of international staff and students. Although these two indicators have a low weighting in most international rankings, the world’s top 200 universities attract large numbers of international students, and international staff help to boost their citations and raise their overseas profile.

“We will take international parameters such as faculty-student ratio, publications, citations into account, apart from giving weightage to industry-academic collaborations [and] social development that are relevant to IITs and centrally-funded institutes,” said Anandakrishnan, a former vice-chancellor of Anna University, a technology and science institution in Chennai.

Nonetheless government officials have said that international rankings are important and global mobility of students and faculty helps attract international research funding.

Data collection

An Indian rankings scheme would be an ambitious project, officials said, requiring the collation of data including research, placements, patent applications, consultancy work and other data that are up to the standards of international rankings agencies.

IIT-Delhi has already put together a committee to deal with international rankings to ensure that the data collated is of a high standard.

“During the [rankings] workshops we learnt that a lot of universities and higher education institutes are not aware of how to fill in the forms listing out their achievements; some of them do not understand what needs to be highlighted,” the ministry’s Ashok Thakur told local media after the workshop.

For example, research carried out at IITs “is not reported well", Thakur said, adding that the “know-how” of international rankings agencies would be tapped to understand indicators.

“Indian universities are overall considered teaching universities and not research ones, but now it is imperative for the universities and institutes to present their data well so that they can improve their chances of making it to the global top ranking lists,” he said.

In a meeting in Mumbai at the end of August with chairs and directors of 13 Indian institutes of management, minister Irani also asked IIMs to develop a framework for ranking management institutions with an eye on global rankings but taking into account developing countries.

This would help domestic institutions pursue academic excellence to achieve some of the goals set by the National Ranking Framework, she said.


While India is committed to using its resources to educate its own population, improving access and the gross enrolment ratio in higher education, the government favours building international collaborations that do not strain institutions' own already-scarce resources.

In a two-day meeting with vice-chancellors of 39 central universities held in Chandigarh from 12-13 September, Irani discussed appropriate internationalisation strategies for the universities, including academic collaborations and faculty and student mobility, that can also help boost their position in rankings.

Ministry officials said vice-chancellors' suggestions on how to increase the number of foreign students seeking to enrol in these universities would be considered. Setting up special residences for international students is being explored as an important solution, officials said.

The universities will also be asked to lay out a strategy for scaling up their research efforts and ensuring more research papers are published.

IITs are already becoming more involved in international collaborations and Prime Minister Modi has said he would use his visit to the United States this week to discuss international backing for proposed new IITs – five of them were announced in his first budget for 2014-15 in July.

A proposed new IIT in Goa will be in collaboration with as yet unnamed well-known institutions in the United States, officials said. Irani will accompany Modi to America to sign a joint declaration. Partner countries for other new IITs would also be announced.

The IIT Council meeting also announced a new Global Initiative for Academic Networks – GIAN – under which 1,000 top faculty and researchers from foreign universities will be invited to visit IITs and motivate young people to take up research.