Making the grade

Why the methodology for world university rankings is not suited to India

Written by M M Ansari | Published: June 4, 2013 2:31:28 am

Why the methodology for world university rankings is not suited to India

International comparisons of the performance of higher education institutions (HEIs) in terms of quality of teaching and research outcomes are useful tools for policymakers. They help gauge the performance of institutions responsible for creating educated and trained manpower. In India,HEIs have a poor record of performance. None of the institutions,including the IITs and IIMs,is ranked among the world’s top 200 universities,according to the survey conducted by Times Higher Education (THE).

The prime minister recently observed that many of India’s HEIs had not “kept abreast with the rapid changes that have taken place in the world around us in recent years,still producing graduates in subjects that the job market no longer requires”.

Taking note,the Planning Commission and the ministry of human resources development (MHRD) organised a conference titled “National Policy Dialogue: University Ranking,Research Evaluation,Research Funding”. The conference focused on two matters. First,the suitability of the methodology employed by the THE for grading the Indian universities. Second,ways to raise the standards of teaching,research and scholarly publications so that Indian universities scored better under different parameters.

The world university rankings are based on 13 indicators,broadly grouped under four categories. These are teaching (30 per cent),research and citations/ publications (30 per cent each),industrial funding (2.5 per cent),and international outlook and reputation (7.5 per cent). Ranking is teacher-centric. So HEIs which can attract and retain motivated and trained faculty score well under each parameter.

In India,overall scores suffer because of the weightage given to teaching. Most HEIs suffer from shortages of trained teachers and the student-teacher ratio is unfavourable for quality teaching. A majority of colleges and universities are engaged in teaching at the undergraduate level,while research activity gets much lower priority. Since teaching and research are closely related,learning attainments are adversely affected,hence the increasing number of “unemployable graduates”.

Similarly,the weightage given to research and publication is also loaded against HEIs in India. All universities (which number over 700) and colleges (over 37000) do not have trained faculty,the required facilities and an academic environment conducive to research. Expenditure on research and development is less than 0.5 per cent of the GDP. Moreover,the model of higher education in India is such that most competent faculty move towards greener pastures offered by the specialised institutes,such as the IITs,IIMs or the CSIR’s labs. HEIs for general higher education do not attract and retain faculty for quality research and publications.

Needless to say,with research and consultancy services offered by HEIs at such a low ebb,financial support by industry is almost negligible. As for the international outlook and reputation of HEIs,universities and colleges are highly localised in terms of student enrolment and the recruitment of staff. International recruitment of faculty is unthinkable in India for financial and legal reasons. And very few institutions attract students from abroad.

So the methodology employed for world university rankings is not suited to HEIs in India. Unless teaching and research activities are strengthened to set them on par with other international institutions,all comparisons would be futile. A free and fair competition requires a level playing field for judging the performance.

It seems unlikely that the relative strength and performance of HEIs will significantly improve in the foreseeable future. In the Twelfth Five Year Plan,for instance,the allocation for higher education has been reduced by 60 per cent as compared to actual expenditure in the Eleventh Plan. While the Centre is planning to launch the National Higher Education Mission to improve access to and the quality of education,the strategy for implementing this scheme is yet to be formulated.

Moreover,at least 60 per cent of enrolment in higher education is accounted for by private universities and colleges. Such institutions not only charge exorbitant fees but also compromise on the quality of relevant education. It is not surprising that a large number of graduates,even from technical and professional disciplines,do not meet skill and competency based requirements. This is also true of institutions supported by the government. The culture of quality assurance and excellence in research does not exist in most of these institutions,which is why they shy away from accreditation by national bodies. There are a host of regulatory bodies to monitor quality in higher education,but they have failed to maintain prescribed standards. This is often attributed to corruption among these bodies.

Briefly,HEIs suffer both from internal inefficiency due to bad governance and external inefficiency because of weak linkages with industry and business organisations. All the issues,including governance,funding and accountability,should be thoroughly reviewed to make appropriate policy interventions. Improving the performance of HEIs is critical for ensuring economic competitiveness in global markets.

The writer is former director,distance education council,IGNOU

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