Second university ranking adds new overall category

India’s second annual round of ranking of its universities and other higher education institutions released last week includes a new overall category which looks at institutions across all disciplines.

It also throws up several surprises, starting with smaller participation – 2,995 institutions against last year’s 3,563, since the ranking process is voluntary.

The rankings are divided into different lists of research universities, engineering institutions, management institutions, pharmacy institutions, and colleges. The overall ranking category has been added this year “to provide a view across all the institutions across all the disciplines”, human resource development ministry officials said last Monday.

The Indian Institute of Science or IISc in Bangalore came top of the overall list in the universities category, with Indian Institutes of Technology or IITs holding the next four places. New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University or JNU came sixth, followed by another three IITs and Banaras Hindu University or BHU, completing the top 10.

The top research universities were IISc Bangalore, JNU, BHU, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, and Jadavpur University in Kolkata, with the University of Delhi coming eighth. JNU had moved up a notch to second place among the country’s top research universities. Last year it came in third. BHU, which stood seventh last year, also moved up.

The general college ranking was also newly added this year. However, promised rankings for architecture, law and medical schools did not materialise due to “non-representative participation", a ministry official said.

Unveiling the list of top institutions on 3 April, India’s Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar said the ranking – made under the National Institutional Ranking Framework or NIRF and by the National Board of Accreditation – took into consideration perceptions by employers, academic perceptions and even public perceptions. “Institutions must produce quality manpower,” the minister said.

The ranking is an important tool to make institutions aware of quality issues, according to the human resource development ministry. Javadekar also said that “the educational institutions performing well in the annual ranking will be awarded with more funding or grants, enhanced autonomy and freedom of functioning and various benefits”.

Javadekar said the country’s own ranking system increased the credibility of India’s higher education abroad. The rankings would be taken into account to decide which institutions would be promoted internationally, according to the ministry.

“Although ranking parameters are not direct measures of quality they do serve as important pointers of the quality and attention given to the students in different educational institutions,” ministry officials said, adding that the NIRF rankings took into account important parameters used by international university rankings “but also specific needs of our country to meet the need for social equity and employability of our graduates”.

The National Board of Accreditation considers 20 parameters in making its rankings and these include teaching and learning resources, research work, outreach, graduation outcomes such as employability and social and gender inclusivity. Country-specific parameters include regional diversity, outreach, gender equity and inclusion of disadvantaged sections of society, the ministry said.

JNU’s strong position

Javadekar attributed JNU’s high ranking to the work done by its science departments. Once a bastion of social science research, JNU is now seeing the opening of new schools that deal with hard science, including biotechnology, nuclear physics and computer studies.

“JNU has improved on its academic position, despite all odds and pressures, because of its consistently high research and publications output, said Rajat Datta, professor of history at JNU and acclaimed academician, referring to controversies over campus agitations and human rights issues that have dogged the university in recent years.

Datta said he was unsure how JNU would fare next year because of an 84% cut in admissions to its MPhil and PhD programmes as a result of University Grants Commission admission guidelines being imposed on JNU, once known for its fiercely autonomous functioning.

’Serious flaws’

Not everyone is happy with the ranking criteria or the idea of ranking itself. Franson Davis Manjali, professor of linguistics at JNU, said: “Once quantification and ranking take over higher education and research, the quality of thinking and social concern suffer. Quantification came into this domain from the business and media sectors.”

Ajay Mehra, director at the Centre for Public Affairs in Noida, said: “The ranking must be seen in the light of the government’s push towards job-oriented courses. No quarrels there but the humanities and social sciences are being pushed out. Are we manufacturing zombies?”

Other educationists see serious flaws in the NIRF ranking methodology. Rajiv Lochan, professor of history at Panjab University, Chandigarh said they do not work for multi-disciplinary universities like Panjab and JNU. “Many faculty members teach courses beyond their parent departments and NIRF has no mechanism to take this into account.”

Lochan said the verification methods are as yet primitive as they “allow institutions to get good ratings by simply bumping up figures in areas like student achievement”.

According to Lochan, NIRF blandly counts the number of students in PhD programmes without checking whether there are enough faculty members to handle them or the facilities available. “This is the case with JNU which has a high ranking this year only because it has too many PhD students, in violation of UGC [University Grants Commission] norms,” he said referring to UGC restrictions.

On the positive side, Lochan said the NIRF rankings forced universities to compete with each other for funds and students. “They have been shaken out of [their] lethargy, which had so set in that the universities had even stopped tracking the way funds provided to them were being utilised.”

Specific categories

Indian Institutes of Management or IIMs took the top five places in the separate management ranking, with IIM-Ahmedabad coming top. One surprise in this category was the elevation of the relatively obscure Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College or ARSD, a constituent college of Delhi University, in fifth place, outranking nationally well-known institutions like Madras Christian College. ARSD is known to be close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

IITs took the top seven paces in the engineering ranking, with IIT Madras in Chennai heading the list.

Many parents and students were particularly interested in the college rankings, a new category this year, which broke down university rankings into constituent colleges – these are particularly important in large universities such as Delhi University and universities in Chennai.

However, as several top colleges under Delhi University such as St Stephen’s, Hindu College, Delhi School of Economics, Ramjas College and Hans Raj College did not participate in the voluntary ranking, the results were somewhat skewed. Miranda House, a women’s college under Delhi University, was judged the country’s best college.

Mehra said he found it hard to understand the motive behind making participation in the ranking exercise voluntary. “All publicly-funded universities and colleges should compulsorily be part of it. Indeed, a private institution may have the option not to participate, but not the public institutions.”

However, the ministry said the institutions that took part account for nearly 70% of research output in the country. Universities as a whole produce around 80% of the country’s research. The remaining 20% is done within government research establishments such as the Department of Atomic Energy, India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Indian Space Research Organisation.