Excel , Don’t Spreadsheet

As in school education, India has broadly won the battle of numbers in higher education. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), which measures the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions (HEIs) as percentage of population aged 18-23 years, has risen from 8.1% in 2000-01 to 25.2% in 2016-17. But just as in school education, the battle for quality of education has barely begun.

One dimension of the quality is the number of universities recognised globally for the quality of their education and research. How does India do along this dimension?

India Absent

In the 2018 Times Higher Education (THE) university rankings, no Indian university appears in the top 200 institutions. China has two in the first 100 and another two in the101-200 category. Among the institutions ranked between 201and 600, India has six and China 19. Several smaller Asian countries — Hong Kong with three in the top 100 and two in the 101-200 category, South Korea with two in each category, Singapore with two in the top 100, and Taiwan with one university in the 101-200 category — do better than us in this ranking.

Global university rankings give an inordinately large weight to research. For example, THE rankings assign 30% weight directly to research and another 30% to citations, which measure the influence of research. Institutions with less than 1,000 articles in the preceding four years are automatically excluded. The weight of teaching in THE rankings is 30%. This leaves 7.5% weightage for internationalisation in terms of students, faculty and collaborations, and 2.5% weightage for influence on industry.

While India has created high-quality institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), they all remain largely teaching institutions. Their reputations are largely built on the brilliant students they get to select out of a very large talented pool. In terms of volume and influence of research, which measure faculty quality, we do not score as well as competing institutions globally.

Part of our problem is faulty institutional design at inception: we relegated research to councils, which do not form a part of universities. We, thus, implicitly adopted the philosophy that universities were there only for teaching.

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