Impact rankings reflect steady progress in certain fields

The recently released Times Higher Education Impact Rankings reveal strong growth for a number of emerging economies, especially Asian economies, reflecting their investments in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-related activities, outreach to communities and the fostering of public good objectives.

To be ranked overall, institutions must submit to SDG 17 (partnership for the goals) and at least three others.

Overall, there are 61 ranked Indian institutions compared to 49 last year, Indonesia has risen from 18 to 28 institutions, Malaysia from 19 to 23, Vietnam from four to seven, Pakistan from 36 to 63 and Sri Lanka from three to six, while the Philippines has gone from five to 15. Brazil too has grown from 38 to 48.

These results need to be viewed in the context of a rising number of ranked institutions globally, up from 1,118 in 2021 to 1,406 in 2022, indicating greater competition globally and that more institutions are embracing these rankings.

It is the case, however, that the Russian Federation and Japan lead in absolute terms with 94 and 76 ranked institutions respectively in 2022. The other striking feature is that only 13 Chinese institutions are ranked, the same as last year. It would appear that Chinese institutions are concentrating more on the World University Rankings rather than the Impact Rankings, with 97 of China’s institutions ranked in the World University Rankings.

This sentiment is also the same for the United States and the United Kingdom which only have 42 and 53 ranked institutions in the Impact Rankings compared to 183 and 101 ranked institutions respectively in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Still some way to go

As mentioned, India has 61 overall ranked institutions in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, up from 49 last year. India has three institutions in the top 200, spearheaded by Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham at a strong 41st in the world.

India has a reasonable breakdown of institutions across the spectrum with three institutions in the top 200, five institutions between 201-300, three between 301-400, 11 between 401-600, 14 between 601-800, eight between 801-1000 and 17 above 1001+.

Therefore, while there is a reasonable breakdown across the range of rankings, it should be noted that the bulk of institutions are in the lower reaches of the rankings, most notably the 1001+ range.

This suggests that there is still some way to go before Indian institutions become front and centre of the Impact Rankings and we need to recognise that this takes time, investment in capabilities, rigour and familiarity with the submission process.

What is also noticeable is that, unlike the World University Rankings, the famed Indian Institutes of Technology are not as prominent. These Impact Rankings play to other university missions, including their outreach to local communities.

The presence of private universities in these rankings is also telling as India continues to move away from its traditional public-driven model. Interestingly, private institutions are undertaking public good-focused research and related activities.

Strengths and weaknesses

Looking further at India’s performance by individual SDG, we find that Indian institutions are most represented in SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and, to a lesser extent, in SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).

In fact, a number of institutions perform particularly strongly, with the best Indian institution being eighth in the world for SDG 5, sixth in SDG 6, second in SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) and equal eighth in SDG 10 (reduced inequalities). These are strong results and demonstrate that Indian institutions are highly competitive globally and indeed at the leading edge in certain fields.

However, it should also be noted that Indian institutions are still not particularly strongly represented in SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 15 (life on land), SDG 2 (zero hunger) SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and, to certain extent, in SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 13 (climate action).

These are important areas for India’s development, and greater representation of institutions in these fields to address environmental, poverty and governance challenges, among other things, would be beneficial.

All in all, Indian institutions are increasingly engaging in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and, in some cases, making very significant progress.

Dr Anand Kulkarni is associate director of planning, performance and risk at Victoria University, Australia and author of India and the Knowledge Economy. This article in part draws on an article by the author in the Campus Review. Views expressed in this article are the author’s.