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Our Universities: The Best Are Not Good Enough? || Midweek Matters 29

06-10-2021published_dt 2021-10-06T06:45:29.128Z06-10-2021 12:15:29 IST
2021-10-06T06:45:29.128Z06-10-2021 2021-10-06T06:45:29.128Z - - 18-01-2022

Hello and Welcome 

To Midweek Matters. 

I take special interest in knowing about the state of education in our country. I wait for two reports every year. Annual Status of Education Report by Pratham, which gives an assessment of school education in the country; and the NIRF Report which tells us about our Universities. When I see the latter, I quickly look up the global rankings of universities and see where our own universities are in the pecking order. Last week NIRF 2021 report was released by the union education minister. Today I would like to speak to you about its findings, as well as share my reflections on them by putting them in a global perspective. 

We have a National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) to assess our universities, science and technology and Medical institutions and colleges. It’s put in place in 2016. The criteria the framework adopts to rank institutions are comprehensive. I think it’s one of the best frameworks evolved by our union ministry of education. It assesses an institution on the basis of its performance in five different parameters. An institutions's Teaching, Learning, and Resources are looked at. This parameter includes student strength, student teacher ratio, Faculty's qualifications and experience and its financial resources and their utilisation. The second criteria is Research and Professional Practice. This looks at overall publications, patents both published and granted, and professional footprint, meaning projects and consultancy. The third is Graduation Outcomes. This looks at performance in examinations and number of Ph.Ds completed. Fourth one is called Outreach and Inclusivity. This looks at the composition of the student body. It’s regional, gender, and economic diversity as well as provision for physically challenged students. The fifth and final one is Peer Perception. It assesses how the institution's academic peers and employers view it. In other words, the institution's standing in the academia as well as in the job market. 

Many of our IITs have scored top marks. Of the top 10 institutions in the overall category, 7 are IITs: Madras, Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Roorkee, and Guwahati. Another science institution, Indian Institute of Science IISc, Bangalore is second. Two institutions which are not devoted entirely to science and technology have also found place in the top 10. At 9th place is my Alma Mater JNU and the 10th slot is won by Benares Hindu University. As I said this is the overall ranking of institutions. However, when it comes to Universities per se, IISc Bangalore tops the list. JNU is 2nd. BHU is 3rd. Jamia Milia Islamia occupies sixth place, and Aligarh Muslim University is in the 10th position. Calcutta University, Jadavpur University, Amrita Vishwa Vidya Peetham, and University of Hyderabad along with Manipal Academy of Higher Education make it to the top 10 universities in the country. 

I would like you to notice two things in this. One, at least three universities that are detested by the present regime are in the top ten. The assessment is done by the regime's own Ministry of Education, on the basis of the criteria laid down by it. It means that the performance of these universities on the five criteria laid down by the Ministry is so compelling that they could pass muster even if the scrutiny were unsympathetic. Faculty and student bodies of these universities proved that fierce assertion of independence, sharp sociopolitical consciousness do not dilute their academic excellence. They even offer a strong hypothesis that sociopolitical consciousness and academic excellence are only two inseparable facets of a good university. The story is the same in the previous years too. Since 2016 when the present Framework began under the present government. Those in the first ten slots this year have been in the first ten consistently. A couple of them probably went down to 11 or 12 during a year or two. My alma mater JNU has been consistently at number two, behind Indian Institute of Science, since 2017. In 2016, it was at 3rd place.

Second, none of the five star corporate funded Bonsai universities could make it to the top ten universities in the country. I have given a link to the NIRF portal in the description below. Do take some time and look for them. The exercise is a good cure for those who denigrate public universities.

When we look at the global rankings, the story is different. Forget about top ten or twenty five. Not a single Indian university finds a place in the top 100 universities in the global rankings. Of the top 100, about 44 places are taken by the American and British Universities between them. US 26 and UK 18. My other alma mater, the LSE, is in 49th place. Our top universities and institutions have to be content with low ranks: Our IIT Bombay at 177th, IIT Delhi at 185th and IISc at 186th ranks. These rankings are by Quacerelli Symonds (QS) in its 18th edition of World University Rankings 2022. QS is a most widely consulted education analyst. I said we had to be content with these rankings. That’s because our Education Minister when the rankings were published, tweeted, "India is taking a leap in the field of Education & Research and is emerging as a Vishwaguru. We are equally proud to have a Guru like the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi…." That’s the unseemly Ministerial puffery we hear after our best institutions settle for less than respectable places globally.

It’s is not entirely the show of Western Universities. 12 Asian universities found place in the top 50 ranks. 4 universities from China and 2 each from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong made it to the top 50. One has to strain to find our universities in the rankings. They are at far from global reckoning. The story is not much different with other 4 respected ranking bodies: The Times Higher Education Rankings, Shanghai Jiao Tong University Ranking, Top Universities Ranking, and US News and World Report Ranking. Our best are not good enough to be in the top 100 or 150 universities globally. Years of negligence and indifference to standards of higher education in the country by successive governments have brought us to this. 

A majority of our universities are defunct. It might sound harsh but it is a reality that teaching in our universities is poor. Research and publications are pathetic. In number and quality, academic output is dismal. Both in public as well as in the privately run Bonsai universities. It is disappointing to know that all the journals published from India have an SJR SciMago Journal Rankings Score, of less than 1. The highest ranked journal in both Economics, Econometrics and Finance and Multidisciplinary has an SJR score of less than 0.5.  Our publications are nowhere near. Though India has a good ranking in the area of medicine and scientific journals, it still is way below the global standards. One cannot but be amazed by the number of new books that come out from the reputed academic and university presses that are advertised in a single issue of the New York Review of Books. Here is an example from the 23rd September 2021 issue of the publication.

This has implications for our science and technology prowess. As a consequence, R&D in our country is disappointing. Take a look at the data from World Intellectual Property Office in Geneva. I have given the link to their portal in the description. In patents filed, in patents granted, in industrial design patents filed by companies, India is at an unacceptably low position. The most common forms of intellectual property are patents, trademarks and industrial designs. In 2020 filings, China tops the list in all the three categories. In patents, US is in the second position followed by Japan, South Korea and Germany. In Industrial design, Germany is in the second position followed by South Korea, USA and Italy. World Intellectual Property Organisation also gives the break up of resident and non resident applications for intellectual property by nationality. Applications by residents rather than non residents are dominant from China with 88.8%, Japan with 79.7%, South Korea with 78.

4%, Germany with 69.2%, and Russia with 65.7%. Whereas for India,  63.7% of the patents are filed by non residents. By people living outside India. 

Our spending on R&D at 0.65% of GDP remains abysmally low. Lower than much smaller countries like South Korea at 4.6%, Israel 4.9%, Taiwan 3.5%, Brazil 1.3%, and Singapore 2.2%. 

The union government pledged to spend 50,000 crore rupees in the next five years through the much hyped allocation to National Research Foundation. But it falls way below the needs of a country that aspires to be a five trillion dollar economy and a Vishwaguru. 

Our New Education Policy is long on administrative tweaks and woefully short on meaningful strategy to make our higher education achieve global standards in teaching and research. To make our universities inclusive and vibrant. The government and the ruling dispensation do not help the cause of excellence in universities by sending police and masked plain clothes men into the campuses to beat up students and by slapping sedition charges on those who are politically active. One cannot miss the fact that the universities which have scored high in the NIRF of union education ministry are also the favourite targets of the ruling party's ideologues and its foot soldiers. 

Our universities need funds, investment in research facilities, inclusive admission policies to accommodate diversity, better teacher student ratio, an encouraging ecosystem for innovation, an atmosphere conducive to questioning the status quo, irreverence towards political, scientific, academic authority and religious dogma. Indian Universities can only excel and thrive in a liberal and tolerant society. If there’s one message from the 2021 national rankings by the NIRF of union ministry of education, it certainly is that. 

That’s all for this week, Will be back again next week.

Wednesday, lunch time at 1:00 o’clock. 

Stay safe and do take good care of yourselves and all your loved ones. 

Until then, Bye.