Updated: March 10, 2017 12:05:24 am
Indian universities rarely leave a mark in global university rankings. The Times Higher Education Rankings are no different. No Indian varsity figures in the top-200 in the list released on March 7. The performance of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru — ranked eighth in the list of small universities — provides the only silver lining in an otherwise embarrassing performance by the country’s top educational institutions. This is not the first time that the Bengaluru-based institute has done well in an international survey. In 2015, it made it to the list of top 100 engineering universities worldwide and was among the top 30 Asian universities in 2016. While the overall performance of Indian universities in the recent survey is likely to cause some heartburn and, as usual, questions will be asked over the applicability of global criteria to Indian universities, the IISc’s consistent success holds lessons for the country’s university system.
With less than 3,500 students and a faculty strength of around 400, IISc has one of the better student-faculty ratios in the country. Global surveys — and pedagogic principles — recognise that more faculty per student makes for an institution with an engaged and interactive teaching environment. The IISc has a teacher-student ratio of around 1:8. To put things in perspective, California Institute of Technology, the best small university according to the Times ranking, has one teacher for every 6 students. In India, IIT Guwahati, another small university which did well in the Times ranking last year, but has slipped this year, has a teacher-student ratio of around 1:7.5. Compare that to IIT Bombay which has a faculty-student ratio of 1:14 or IIT Delhi which has a faculty-student ratio of 1:16 or the University of Delhi with a faculty-student ratio of 1:22. Indeed, the overall faculty-student ratio in the country, 1:27, is a good indicator of the poor performance of Indian universities in global surveys.
Comparisons between educational institutes should not be taken too far. But the IISc’s performance on institutional autonomy is salutary in times when the academic bureaucracy in the country often treats universities like another government department — or at times, even the government’s handmaiden. For example, last year, universities in Gujarat were issued a list of “preferred” topics for doctoral research by the state government. The IISc, in contrast, prides itself on its independence and, significantly, the Central agencies have allowed the Bengaluru-based institute to have its way. For instance, in 2014, the IISc forced the UGC to withdraw its directive on the four-year undergraduate programme in 2014. But Delhi University, which had begun a similar programme, had to take it back on the UGC’s directive. The IISc’s success owes a lot to the institute’s vigour, but it’s also in some measure a result of how the government has dealt with it.
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