How reliable is a ranking model based entirely on academic performance? Academics call for a comprehensive ranking system based on several other parameters.

With the mushrooming of private players and increased commercialisation in higher education, students want a credible ranking system to invest their future and their parents' hard-earned money.

 Anna University (AU) had introduced ranking of about 250 affiliated colleges in 2003 but soon discontinued it as self-financing colleges started making huge claims based on the rankings. This year, the Madras High Court directed the AU and newly-formed Anna Universities of Technology (AUTs) to publish the rank list of colleges for the benefit of students. Immediately, the rank lists were published based on pass percentage and script-wise. Now, the rankings have been stayed as well.

 Academics say the science behind ranking institutes is inconsistent and it cannot be entirely based on academic performance, especially in engineering education, and varied parameters have to be measured before that golden number is arrived at.

Colleges will have their claims. A college that was ranked 150 in the latest ranking claims that it was the No.1 college among institutions started in 2010. In case, the court vacates the stay, the Anna University, which will retain its affiliation status with the merger of all five AUTs, may come up with a better and more comprehensive ranking, if needed.

 “A ranking model based on the criteria put down by the National Board of Accreditation can be an option. Other parameters such as the co-relation between marks scored by students at the time of admission and the marks secured while passing out can also be used. This will determine the improvement or regression the institution has brought in the performance of the student,” says Prof. C. Thangaraj, vice- chancellor, Anna University of Technology - Chennai. “The placement record and the salary the teachers are paid are two other models for ranking, though in some exceptional cases the conditions may not be entirely applicable,” he notes.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) is assessing institutions on a 1000-point scale based on seven criteria.

“The ranking of colleges has gained a lot of prominence. Many a time, based on its old glory, a college is ranked high. But it is important to take into consideration how the college is faring in the present,” says S.P. Thyagarajan, former vice-chancellor, University of Madras.

Reflecting the Shanghai system that takes into account the number of foreign students in a university, the number of students joining a college from other States can be applied to Indian institutions, says Prof. Yash Pal, former chairman, University Grants Commission (UGC). “The more diverse the background of students, the more value they add to the college,” he says.

SSN Engineering College is known as one of the top institutions in the State.  “Though our institution has been consistently ranked the best, a system based on the academic performance alone is not all-inclusive. The holistic development of students, creating social awareness among them, leadership development and accomplishments by students are some of the criteria that should be considered,” says Kala Vijayakumar, chairperson of the college.

Rankings based on pass percentage could lead to unhealthy competition among engineering colleges to top the list through unfair means. There is every chance that coaching will replace teaching in colleges and institutions of advanced learning, and centres of research, will limit themselves as coaching centres churning out students with good marks, say academics. Engineering is all about finding solutions to the problems faced by the society. Scoring high on exams is not the true indicator of talent of engineers, they point out.

Experts emphasise that ranking at the global level such as Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Shanghai World University Rankings take into account criteria including the level of quality research undertaken, outcome of the research, innovative courses and also the present profile of the alumni of the university. 

“The Indian universities too need to be ranked based on similar criteria, but the interest in research is reducing to a great extent every year,” says Mr. Thangaraj.