The problem with our university vision

Instead of taking local conditions and market demands into account, India tries to ape the West

Updated - July 05, 2022 02:25 pm IST

Published - July 05, 2022 12:15 am IST

The IIT Madras campus in Chennai .

The IIT Madras campus in Chennai . | Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B.

It has now become an annual ritual in India to discuss the international rankings of higher education institutions (HEI) only when global ranking systems such as the coveted QS World University Rankings are announced. The QS World University Rankings rank HEIs on the following components: academic reputation (40%), employer reputation (10%), faculty student ratio (20%), citations per faculty (20%), international faculty ratio (5%) and international student ratio (5%). The international research network and employment outcomes were 0% for this edition.

While it is heartening to see that the number of Indian institutes among the top 1,000 globally has risen to 27 from 22 last year, and that the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, has moved up 31 places to emerge as the highest ranked Indian institute in the 2023 edition, there is no serious debate on the abysmal performance of Indian universities barring the Institutes of Eminence (IOE). IOEs occupy a special place as they are granted more academic and administrative autonomy, and public IOEs get additional funding. Therefore, their dominance in the top 500 in the QS World University Rankings comes as no surprise.

Step-motherly treatment

Among the other HEIs too, there is great inequality. As per the All-India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), 184 of the 1,043 HEIs in the country are centrally funded institutions. The Indian government generously allocates financial resources to these institutions. However, the financial support provided by State governments to State HEIs is far from adequate even though the number of under-graduate students is largest in State public universities (13,97,527) followed by State open universities (9,22,944) of the total students’ enrollment. State-sponsored HEIs barely manage to pay salaries and pensions.

While the number of universities increased by almost 30.5% in 2019-20 compared to 2015-16, academic and administrative infrastructure has not been strengthened commensurate to this growth. The lackadaisical attitude we see in filling up faculty positions has further worsened the quality of teaching and research in HEIs. In fact, quality education and the world class research output that policymakers expect from State public universities remain elusive as these HEIs have never had financial and other resources to attain academic and professional growth.

Also Read | The multiple crises in Indian universities

On the other hand, the institutions that are generously funded by the Centre perform better than their State-sponsored counterparts on all academic performance indicators — faculty strength, modernised laboratories, building infrastructure, digitised libraries, sponsored research project grants, computing facilities, etc. Therefore, that the State-funded HEIs would not perform well in these rankings was a forgone conclusion. It is a consequence of the unequal and unfair system in the Indian higher education system, where State-sponsored HEIs are provided step-motherly treatment and positioned poorly vis-à-vis centrally funded institutions. No ranking system seems to rationally rank institutions after examining their administrative challenges, infrastructural constraints and financial predicaments; they only pay attention to performance metrics based on academic strengths and other achievements. For India to perform better on these rankings, we need to pay more attention to the State HEIs.

The NEP vision

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has envisaged all HEIs to become multidisciplinary institutions by 2040. The aim is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education, including vocational education, from 26.3% in 2018 to 50% by 2035. The NEP also aims to ensure that by 2030, there is at least one large multidisciplinary HEI in or near every district. This means that single-stream specialised institutions will eventually be phased out.

However, the fact that prominent multidisciplinary universities such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, the University of Hyderabad, and Jamia Millia Islamia have slipped in the QS World University Rankings should compel national think tanks to revisit the NEP’s proposal in this regard. A close study of the QS World University Rankings reveals that single-stream specialised HEIs such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and IISc have performed better than their multidisciplinary counterparts. Eight IITs (Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Roorkee, Guwahati and Indore) are placed among the top 500 globally, in addition to IISc, Bangalore. IIT-Indore ranked highest among the second-generation IITs by securing the 396th position and IIT-BHU made its maiden presence in the 651-700 band.

A plan in the NEP for multidisciplinary education and research universities is also being contemplated in order to achieve the highest global standards in quality education. While everyone is demanding multidisciplinary education, the performance of the specialised HEIs in the QS World Rankings bears testimony to their superiority over multidisciplinary/multi-faculty institutions. The idea of converting a specialised institution into a multi-faculty university does not seem to augur well for an economy driven by specialist professionals. It would be perplexing if the IITs decided to offer courses in physical education and medicine or the National Law Universities ran undergraduate degree programmes in mechanical engineering.

It is crucial to emphasise here that nobody is averse to the idea of multidisciplinary/multi-faculty education if there is a 15% to 20% flexibility in the total academic strength. But converting all HEIs into multidisciplinary institutions is not an idea that holds water given the unique conditions and demands in India. No study or data support the idea of transforming specialised institutions into multidisciplinary/multi-faculty universities either. Such an idea may have worked in the West where HEIs invest substantial resources in multidisciplinary research through private and public research grants and funding. But a ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be of help to India. The need of the hour is to build and develop our higher education system while taking into account Indian conditions and market demands.

Milind Kumar Sharma is professor at Department of Production & Industrial Engineering, MBM University, Jodhpur, erstwhile, MBM Engineering College, Jodhpur. Views are personal

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.