Measuring regional diversity

The National Institute Ranking Framework’s calculation of regional diversity in educational institutions is inaccurate

September 28, 2021 12:15 am | Updated 12:15 am IST

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

The National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) is a methodology adopted by the Ministry of Education to rank higher educational institutions in India. On September 9, the Education Minister released the sixth edition of the NIRF rankings. The NIRF formulates the ranking on the basis of five parameters. Each of these has one to five sub-parameters. This article discusses one of the sub-parameters (Region Diversity) of the parameter named Outreach and Inclusivity.

Problematic formula

The NIRF calculates regional diversity inaccurately because it takes into account only the percentage of students enrolled from other States and countries at that particular institution. The formula that it applies is this: RD = 25 × fraction of total students enrolled from other States + 5 × fraction of students enrolled from other countries. This formula calculates the regional diversity of States not on the basis of State-wise representation by students at the institution, but on the basis of the percentage of total students enrolled from all States except the State the institution is located in. This is problematic. Let’s say that there are 100 students in total at an institution in New Delhi of whom 99 belong to Uttar Pradesh. The formula will show that the institution is extremely diverse because 99% of the students are from ‘other’ State(s), which is misleading.

To improve accuracy, the NIRF should ask two questions. One, from how many States have students come to study at the institution? The answer to this will give us what we can term as horizontal regional diversity. Here, we take a bird’s-eye view of the geographical area of India and then we count the States represented by one or more students studying (or enrolled) at the institution. However, this alone will not help comprehensively assess regional diversity. Even if all 29 States are represented at the institution, we won’t know how many students are from towns and villages, how many are from non-metropolitan big cities, and how many are from metropolitan cities.

Horizontal regional diversity can be more comprehensively assessed by asking a second question: what is the size of the hometown of the students? This can be termed as vertical regional diversity. Its calculation will show us how many students have come from Tier I, Tier II, Tier III cities and towns, and villages from within each State.

Comparing two institutions

For a clearer understanding of horizontal and vertical diversity, let us compare the demographic data of the Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru.

Under ‘Region Diversity’ in the NIRF rankings, Jamia scored 17.75 out of 30 and NLSIU scored 27.04. At Jamia, there were students from 15 States. Of them, 76% came from U.P. (44.7%), Delhi (16.1%) and Bihar (15.25%). No student came from Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu or Telangana. Only 1.4% of the students were from south India (comprising five States, Puducherry and Lakshadweep). Clearly, horizontal regional diversity is weak. On the other hand, Jamia’s performance on vertical regional representation is impressive because 43% of the students came from small cities, towns, and villages, though only from 15 States.

At NLSIU, only 18% of the students came from small cities, towns, and villages. The institution is primarily accessible to students from metropolitan and non-metropolitan big cities, though the students came from 24 States. Thus, it performs well on the horizontal front but weakly on the vertical.

How does the NIRF intend to calculate such diverse regional diversities? Even if the concept of vertical and horizontal diversity is incorporated into the parameter, the NIRF cannot brush under the carpet the methodological challenge of determining what place (city, town, village) a student comes from — should it be the place at which the student was born, the place of current residence, the place where high school was completed, or the place at which the student’s father/mother was born?

The NIRF rankings make the positional goods the institutions have to offer more transparent to students, parents, funders, and the government. Incidentally, on the basis of the five parameters, the ranking creates a transparent hierarchy of higher educational institutions in India. The least we can therefore ask for is more accurate parameters. The policy questions above must be answered by the NIRF. This article intends to only evoke scholarly scepticism about the accuracy of regional diversity, as calculated by the NIRF. And ideally, it should also lead readers towards asking how other parameters can be made more accurate.

Husain Aanis Khan is a lawyer and Research Fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, New Delhi

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