WHILE EVERY global city has a world-class university to boast of, Maharashtra’s oldest university did not make it to a list, released earlier this year, of the country’s top 100 universities.
The ranking released in April by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is a big blow, a dramatic downfall for a university with a 160-year heritage. The varsity ranked in a 100-to-150 bracket under the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) of the MHRD that classifies institutions across the country based on the teaching standards, research work, placements and outreach programmes, among other parameters.
Economist Bhalchandra Mungekar, who was vice-chancellor of MU between 2000-05, says, “The university’s not appearing in the list of top 100 universities as per the criteria of the Ministry of Human Resource Development is a serious matter. It reflects on the overall functioning of the university during the last decade or so.”
The University of Mumbai, with an array of distinguished alumni in all walks of life, found itself outclassed by several other universities from the state. Savitribai Phule Pune University bagged 10th position, Homi Bhabha National Institute ranked 21. Mumbai’s Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) grabbed the 25th position. More embarrassingly, not only did all central universities trump MU, but almost every metro city had a university in the top 10. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, topped the list, Kolkata’s Jadavpur University was the fifth best university in the country, Chennai’s Anna University ranked sixth followed by University of Hyderabad and University of Delhi.
This is the second time that MU failed to make it to the list. Last year too, the varsity failed to earn a rank, having failed to participate after not furnishing the required details on time.
In a small saving grace, the university has been selected by the Universities Grants Commission (UGC) as one of 15 ‘Universities with Potential for Excellence”.
The ranking led to some soul-searching, say officials, and the university now plans to review its performance and take corrective measures. “The internal quality assessment cell, IQAC, will review our score and suggest measures to do better next year. These measures will be implemented at the earliest,” said M A Khan, Registrar of Mumbai University.
University Vice-Chancellor Sanjay Deshmukh did not respond to calls or messages.
In the meantime, the varsity has lost its Grade A accreditation from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) as it failed to apply for reaccreditation in time. Without the grade, which defines the quality of the institute based on its performance, curriculum, evaluation, faculty and infrastructure, the varsity is ineligible for grants from the UGC. The amended Maharashtra Public Universities Act, too, stresses on NAAC accreditation of universities as well as colleges.
It is important to note that the NAAC ratings of the varsity, too, fell from 5-star (an equivalent of A++ now) in a span of 10 years. For the 2003-08 period, the university had received a 5-star rating, which dropped to A in 2012.
Rajan Welukar, Deshmukh’s predecessor as V-C, said the low rating was reflective of the administrative problems of the university that has more than 700 affiliated colleges. “It is difficult to manage a university with over 700 affiliated colleges and 7.5 lakh students. In such cases, the management is too busy with administrative work to concentrate on aspects such as research and quality of education,” said Welukar. For instance, the examination system of the varsity is in a mess and declaring results on time has been one of the biggest challenges for officials.
Welukar suggested decentralisation of universities and more autonomous colleges was the way forward.
Renowned scientist R A Mashelkar, an alumnus of Mumbai University and former director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, agreed with Welukar. “The success of ICT is a glaring example of the success of granting autonomy to more colleges,” said Mashelkar, a 1962 graduate of ICT currently serving as the chancellor of the institute.
The ICT, formerly the University Department of Chemical Technology, was granted autonomy in the year 1994. It was ranked the second best university by the MHRD in the first chapter of NIRF in 2016.
“Granting autonomy to colleges and giving them the flexibility to design the curriculum and courses helps improve the quality of education. It helps the institute grow,” said Mashelkar, adding the universities must also ensure the university environment is conducive for research and innovation.
Mungekar, who is also an alumnus of the varsity, blamed the state government, too, for MU’s downfall. “The state government is equally responsible in the sense that before implementing the new Act, it suspended the then-existing Maharashtra Public Universities Act 1984. It suspended all serious deliberations of the university’s functioning in various bodies such as the academic council, management council and the senate,” said Mungekar.
Meanwhile, in the World University Rankings list released in March by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a British agency that ranks higher educational institutes, four departments of the University of Mumbai made it to the top 100 for the first time. These are the mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry and pharmacy and pharmacology departments. Incidentally, of the 16 departments including Arts and Humanities that were scored by the agency, only science and engineering departments made it to the rankings. QS has released world university rankings over the past six years but MU has not made it to the list once.
The low rankings in various surveys directly influences the perception of potential recruiters in the industry, impacting students’ chances. Career consultants said students of other state universities such as Delhi University typically have a slight advantage over MU students at entry-level jobs.
“The rankings generally reflect the quality of faculty and infrastructure as well as the overall outcome in terms of performance of a university. It also reflects on the alumni effect of the varsity. All these criteria form the legacy of a university,” said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and Executive Vice-President of Teamlease, a recruiting consultancy. “If there’s a slippage in any of the above criteria, it shows in the students’ performance. This becomes a disadvantage for graduates at entry-level jobs,” said Chakraborty.
Another noted alumni, economist and Padma Vibhushan Jagdish Bhagwati pointed out that MU did not take rightful advantage of its alumni unlike most world-class universities. “All universities exploit the loyalty of their distinguished alumni to raise their visibility and therewith also human and financial resources to strengthen themselves,” said Bhagwati, who is a professor at Columbia University. Bhagwati holds a BCom degree from Sydenham College in Mumbai.
In Economics alone, the university boasts of having produced distinguished graduates such as Padma Desai, who was recently awarded an honorary degree by Columbia University, and Meghnad Desai. Bhagwati said Harvard, which is Padma’s alma mater, has announced a Padma Desai Prize in Economic Science. However, such cases are rare in the University of Mumbai. “This suggests lack of academic leadership,” said Bhagwati.
Tomorrow: Barely any patent applications, precious few research works by Mumbai University scholars