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Updated: April 11, 2013 04:51 IST

Why this global ranking process matters

  • Phil Baty
Comment (16)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

DEBATE @ THE HINDU By seeing how they compare against the finest across a range of common indicators, even universities that fall short of the world’s best have much to gain

India was given a sound warning against “the overuse of rankings” in The Hindu last month (Op-Ed, March 9, 2013). In a measured and sensible article, Philip Altbach, director of the Centre for International Higher Education at America’s Boston College, outlined some limitations of global university league tables. He said that it would be a “mistake” for India and other developing countries to “obsess about the rankings.”

Of course, obsessions are rarely healthy, but as the editor of the leading global ranking system, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, I would warn that it would be a far greater mistake for Indian institutions and policymakers to under-use the global rankings than to overuse them.

Let us get one thing clear right away: a country of India’s size, rich intellectual history and growing economic strength deserves world-class universities that can compete with the very best universities in the world. Indeed, India needs such institutions for the future success of its economy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was absolutely right when he warned in February: “Too many of our higher education institutions are simply not up to the mark. Too many of them have simply not kept abreast with changes that have taken place in the world around us.”

Referring to global university rankings, Dr. Singh said: “It is a sobering thought that not one Indian university today figures in the top 200 universities of the world today.”

It is sobering indeed — it was Professor Altbach himself who told The Hindu back in December last year that India “is a world class country without world class universities.” This must change, and it is heartening to see that improving quality in Indian higher education has been identified as a key priority for the Twelfth Plan.

Thirteen indicators

But how can we monitor the progress of this essential goal? How do we know when the politicians and institutional leaders have delivered the quality institutions that can compete at the highest levels on the world stage?

This is where the Times Higher Education World University Rankings are crucial. They judge world-class research institutions against 13 separate performance indicators, carefully balanced to reflect the full range of a top research university’s mission: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and internationalisation.

The system was developed after 10 months of open consultation with the global academic and student community, and was refined with the help of an expert advisory group of more than 50 leading university figures from 15 countries.

The rankings database, developed by our trusted data provider, Thomson Reuters under its Institutional Profiles Project, includes detailed data (many tens of thousands of data points in total) on several hundred of the world’s very best institutions. Most importantly, data is collected under a common set of globally accepted common definitions, providing a unique global resource.

Retaining talent

I had the pleasure earlier this year of visiting the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in Gandhinagar, where at the International Conference for Academic Institutions the internationalisation of Indian higher education was a key theme. Vice chancellors lined up to speak of the need for Indian universities to respond to globalisation — to retain top talent too often lost to the West, to attract faculty and students from all over the world and to share best practice and to collaborate in research across national borders to push forward the knowledge economy. This can all be done while preserving India’s national identity and individual priorities.

Some may argue that India should not worry about promoting world-class research universities when it has so much to do to simply cope with the exploding demand for higher education. This would be wrong. Of course not all institutions in India should — or indeed would want to — ape Harvard or Oxford, and the majority should rightly focus on local needs. But India and even lower-income countries need at least some institutions competing at the global level.

Max Price, the Vice Chancellor of South Africa’s University of Cape Town, has argued that in a globalised economy, no country can afford to fall too far behind. “If a country cannot integrate reasonably competitively into global systems of trade, finance, communications and data, production, quality assurance and global markets, it cannot develop,” he told Times Higher Education.

Some may also argue that there is no point in Indian institutions joining the rankings process while they have little chance of making it into the elite top 200 or even 400. But by joining Times Higher Education’s rankings exercise, and submitting data to Thomson Reuters, even institutions that fall short of the world’s elite have much to gain by seeing how they compare against the best across a wide range of common indicators.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) is a perfect example. Its Vice Chancellor, Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin, got it absolutely right when she said: “It is not a failure not to be in the top 200 but it is a failure if you choose not to know where you are on the measure.”

(Phil Baty is editor, Times Higher Education rankings. The first ever THE Asia University Rankings will be published on April 11, 2013. See:

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While I agree with the previous article that universities (or policy makers) should not use rankings as *THE* measure of success, it should not be forgotten that measuring the efficacy of universities is not an easy task. While some people (like those working in Education) can come up with our own metrics to come up with a rank, the average person on the street cannot.
This is especially true for parents whose children are just about to enter college. I believe that it is for these people that rankings should be generated. A parent (or a child of 15-16) does not have the know-how to tell the difference between VJTI and BITS, Pilani. The rankings however can be of help here.
This is why I (personally) do not see the need of including research productivity into ranking methodology. While research is extremely important, I don't think universities who do good in teaching do well in research (and vice-versa). Just look at Harvard (great research) and Cornell (great teaching).

from:  Aadhaar Verma
Posted on: Apr 12, 2013 at 11:47 IST

It is not wise to have a blind faith in global or regional rankings of universities. It is not difficult find some universities in top 200 rankings globally appear for a year and then vanish forever. A one-time ranking is used to attract students. We must have practical understanding of the rankings. Unlike the Universities in the USA, Canada, Germany and other developed countries, IITs will not be in a position to get foreign students, one of the criteria for global standing. This is a national problem. In our country, the infrastructure and other living conditions cannot match with developed countries and also some of the emerging economies in East Asia. There is a saying: a chicken curry prepared at home is like a plain dal fry. We have little understanding of the IITs and their success. Is not it true that IITs laid the foundation for our software industry for which we are known globally? Think of those IITians who went to Silicon Valley to return the favour to the country. They did not find an environment here due to lack of infrastructure and funding. Unlike the USA and other developed countries, IITs are badly placed. In the USA, most universities get huge funding for R&D. IITs started in a poor country with a focus on creating a strong pool of basic engineers to cater to the needs of the country. They did not get funding for R&D from the industry sector which also had serious problems. Until the 1990s, industry sector had to live with a stunted growth model in an era of controlled economy. Even today, IITs may not be getting funding from industries that could be comparable with the other countries. The growth of an institution and its quality teaching and research cannot be evaluated in isolation of national problems. One of the major factor why some of the East Asian universities are being recognised today is because of the growth of manufacturing sector in their countries supported by effective national policy framework. In India, our manufacturing sector’s size close to 20 per cent of GDP, much lower than 60 per cent figure in East Asia. On a positive note, IITs have proved to be honest institutions, despite living in adverse conditions all around. They have fulfilled the aspirations of students from poor and middle class families.

from:  Sarat Dhal
Posted on: Apr 12, 2013 at 10:55 IST

There is no point arguing about this. India's priorities needs to be fixed. In my opinion, if India can give clean driniking water/quality primary education to all its 1.2 billion people - it is a big achievement by any measure. There is no point focussing on the Top 10 or Top 100. Countries whose universities are in top 100 have achieved this basic requirement to majority of their population. Just my 2 cents.

from:  padma
Posted on: Apr 12, 2013 at 02:37 IST

By falling to the fourth rank the previous first ranked Harvard had not diminished in stature or in its performance. Ranking should be seen in the correct perspective. Indian universities need not hang themselves by no rank or low rank. Taken to the extreme, some individual students commit suicide under parental or societal pressure when they miss a rank by a few points. Such obsession is bad.
However, it is important for Indian universities to measure themselves against the “common indicators.” They may select certain of these common indicators and some others based on their own mission, vision, objectives, and goals, and assess how well they are performing. Such an assessment should be followed up with evaluation of the underlying causes and instituting of remedial or enhancing measures for the next period. Smart leaders of education would develop strategic plans for meritorious accomplishments by their universities using the selected common indicators.

from:  Som Karamchetty
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 23:18 IST

Mr. Anil Karn should not dismiss the World University rankings in such a cavalier fashion. The criteria on which these rankings are based are clearly described in detail by each organization, and Mr. Karn will benefit from going over them. The criteria used by each vary only in some minor details, but ranking Universities with some hidden commercial agenda is NOT one of them.
B. Mohanty

from:  B. Mohanty
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 22:58 IST

We need NET, SLET and all those exams and what can the University do, though it give a degree certificate it is just a face wash. If not score high in any of thoe mushroom test exam more than the certificates isued by the universities, how can Indian Universities be among the world 200 top ranking unniversities.

from:  Beno
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 22:30 IST

Well, people are confused when it comes to higher education. Higher education should not be an effort to make students cut out for industries. IITs should not be treated like glorified placement machinery. Studying basics, in a thorough undisputed manner. It obviously meets just 2% of the work we end up doing in industry, but that makes a huge difference.
And about research it is true, we dont have world class research which is supposed to aim at the necessities of India being promoted. Mainly because the structure of PhD conferring IITs is very very rigid. I too am a victim of that, After finishing my masters at IIT Kharagpur, I worked in Industry for a while, but I couldn't find a guide simply because IITs were behind producing papers and not focusing on key area.
For our country the best example is Solar energy harvesting systems which are economical. No one seems to be bothered.

from:  Nithin Kunneparambil
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 16:39 IST

In India education has become commercial. Many politicians have taken this route to amass quick wealth. No remarkable research has taken place even in premier institutes. Now there are so many IITs, they will definitely lose their brand value. There should be enough funding for research and faculty recruitment should be done with greater care and insight. No nepotism and favoritism should be there in faculty recruitment. scandals involving famous universities have been reported in the past where alterations of grades and mass copying have taken place. Swift action should be taken against those responsible. These are some measures to get the Indian universities within 200 ranks.

from:  Nathan
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 16:35 IST

Shocking that even IITs do not figure in the top 200 Global Universities Ranking The success of Silicon valley in technology is partly due to our brilliant IItians who turned entrpreuners Nevertheless I am not suprised about IIMs not making the mark as they do not have International standards like Hravard/ Stanford /Kellogs/or other premier Global Management Institutes

from:  Srinivas
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 16:02 IST

The situation of higher education in India is very worrisome. Universities in India are not pressing for the 'need of the hour' in the current market situation.
Taking for instance the condititon of technical education in India, except for a few institutions, there is no practical knowledge of the technical base that a student is deemed to learn being from a technical background. Instead there is too much insistence on mugging up the book knowledge.
There has to an equal share of book knowledge as well as practical knowledge, these two have to go hand in hand.
There was an article in Hindu about a conglomerate brand planning to open institute which will provide with the practical knowledge by making the students work in their company during their tenure of graduation or post-graduation.
This is kind of innovation in thinking we need from our educational sector in order to compete with the world standards.

from:  Sahil Bhatia
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 12:41 IST

The educational administrators lack poor vision and unable to foresee future research and educational requirements resulting in poor research quality and graduates. One may argue our graduates get employment abroad and doing well. However, this is only confined to IT sector. We must remember, the individuals sweat it out to perform in a very competitive environment and all the credit cannot be attributed to our educational system. We are talking in a narrow sense confined to IT industry only. Further, lack of honest and integrity in teaching, research, recruitment of staff and lack of funds for high class research adds to the owes. There is too much political interference in university administrative affairs. Unless the men at helm of affairs realize these fundamentals our educational system will continue to languish.

from:  J. Venkataramana
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 12:12 IST

Yes I agree with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's vice chancellors comment.If we participate , we know where we are and what to improove.But that is not sufficient. We have largest technical, arts universities compared with the world. But they are not best. As a student who stdied at an IIT, i know some of our system's defects. The government itself won't support research in our country. Like in the devoloped cuontries, there are no incentives if you publish an article in a journal or you wont get allownces if you attend a conference. The stipend you are getting is not sufficient to pay you hostel fee. We, India got the talent. We don't have the mechanism to use that. The west know how to use that. It's my opinion.

from:  Rao
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 10:56 IST

I need to raise some basic questions: What are the parameters for the ranking of best university and who sets them? If we get into them, we can easily see that a particular lobby wants to make higher education a sellable comodity. Also the obsession in the "third-world" for the west (Europe and USA, in particular) further strenthens this lobby. Now living in water and wishing to remain dry is asking for moon. comparision of two entities with different ground reality is not only unethical but also unhealthy. Therefore in my opinion, this debate of ranking of universities has no intelectual value. This is precisely for commercial purpose.

from:  Anil Karn
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 06:59 IST

Everything is fine, i.e Ranking etc, And it is also OK not to be top listed in first 200, but my worry is there is nothing done to improve TEACHING by university staff to students. All the teaching staff is worried about is the research publications, research funding etc. They are not hold accountable for their quality of teaching, enthusiam about teaching. If they don't teach properly, very few students get understanding of the topic and they study only to pass the exam without any zeal for the topic. This is OK for those who are naturally bright, but they are in minority in all classes. Majority of the student should feel comfortable,understand the subject and lively debate the topic, this will happen only if the teacher is good. Unfortunately majority of our teahing staff are ordinary, not interested, not given reward for their efforts etc. In my years of University studies I had only three good teachers. All the teachers were sincere, good persons but not good teachers.

from:  ravi
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 06:52 IST

The basic problem with Indian educational Institutions such as IIT`s and other central institutes (which becomes even worse at the University level) is the lack of a fair and transparent faculty recruitment system. Unless this can be rectified we will continue to breed mediocracy in research and teaching even in our best institutions. What is also needed is a strict performance based promotion and tenure system.

from:  PETHER
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 06:11 IST

The question is not whether Indian Universities are ranked correct.It
is whether Indian Universities have solved problems which are as old
as the hills.The poor Water Management,Transportation,Poor
Administration leading to Maoist infestation,the lack of even basic
know on safety even in places like Kerala or elsewhere( boats being
provided with life jackets),Boats being sink proof by
strategy,etc.Landscaping to improve living and prevent excessive
flooding in times of heavy rain.The caste and honour killings dont
really do any credit or give credence to any level of education in
society.Creation of Universities dont mean people are knowledgeable of
how to spread toleration and lead a decent life.

from:  Prof.Paul.V.John
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 05:20 IST
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