The move to rate medical institutions is welcome, but the ranking process should be unbiased and adopt quality parameters that are sustainable and dynamic, say academics.

The recent announcement by the Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University of its intention to rate institutions affiliated to it, has come like a bolt out of the blue for the medical education sector in the State.

All 336 institutions affiliated to the university will be run through a set of parameters evolved for the specific purpose and rated against their performance in each of these categories, vice-chancellor Mayilvahanan Natarajan said. They will be split into four main streams — Medical, Dental, Allied Courses, and Indian Medicine — and provided a star rating at the end of the exercise.

He added that it was high time some sort of rating system was put in place for educational and training institutions in the medical and allied services sector. Rating in the engineering sector had helped students make wise choices about the college to pick, and now, this advantage would also be available to medical aspirants, he explained.

The actual process will be implemented by the market research company, Nielsen, in collaboration with expert groups nominated by the university.

A State already familiar with the rating of engineering colleges (for several years now) is still debating the merits of rating medical colleges also. On one side of the debate is a celebratory reaction, welcoming the move to rate colleges that offer medical and allied disciplines. On the other is a note of caution about what goes into the ranking process and concerns about its utility value.

S.P. Thyagarajan, chairman, Tamil Nadu State Academic Audit and Accreditation Council, said the university's move is a good initiative. “This will give the public an understanding of the credibility of the institution. It is crucial, especially in the private sector, where a number of institutions indulge in marketing themselves. Sometimes, we find that they offer much less than the promises made in the advertisements,” It is important to tell prospective candidates the truth, and this can be done through rating of institutions.

However, it is essential is to ensure that parameters for quality that are adopted must be sustainable and internationally acceptable, Prof. Thyagarajan added. “Undeniably, a ranking will be valued only if it is credible. There is need for a lot of expert-group interactions to develop the parameters of ranking.”

One key factor that would differentiate rating between engineering and medical colleges would be patient strength at the attached hospital. “More patients means better clinical experience for students. This would have to be accounted for, just as industry interaction has a value in engineering streams,” he added.

A. Gnanam, former chairperson, National Assessment and Accreditation Council, raises the question of having a dynamic rating system. “How long do you want to rank colleges for? If you provide a rating this year, how long is it valid?” he asked. Unless the ranking is also periodically evaluated, it would not be fair to institutions who have done badly initially, and have subsequently made the effort to improve.

“Quality is a continuing process and we must not brand an institution forever,” he added.

Dr. Mayilvahanan said that institutions that have not performed well would be given an opportunity to set things right. If they do, another inspection will be initiated and an altered ranking would be provided. On the other hand, if they fail to make improvements over a period of time, institutions can also lose their affiliation.

J. Mohanasundaram, dean, Madras Medical College, is on the side of the aye-sayers. In a State and segment where private colleges are in a majority, a rating system would, for sure, help students choose their college better. “It goes without saying that the evaluation should be unbiased and balanced, and must be periodic,” he said.

For government medical colleges too, the rating would be beneficial, he opined. A scientific evaluation by the appropriate authority of the facilities lacking in these colleges would come in handy when seeking more funds from the State, Dr. Mohanasundaram explained.