If you cannot find Indian universities among the top institutions of higher education in various global rankings, do not blame our academic standards but acknowledge the fact that a lot of research in the country is being done in vernacular languages, Union Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani recently suggested.
“A lot of hue and cry is raised about our higher education institutes not figuring in global rankings. The reason is not the lack of high-quality research but in India, a large section of research work is done in vernacular languages whereas global rankings only consider research done in English,” she said during a national seminar on the new education policy in the capital this month.
Considering the fact that two universities from our neighbouring and non-English speaking China featured among the top 100 in this year's “Times Higher Education World University Rankings” while India drew a blank, can the minister's argument stand the scrutiny of a better ranking system that deemphasises on “universal” standards or takes into account specific contexts in which the universities in developing countries operate?
Or is it just an attempt to cover up the poor performance of the India's higher education system as reflected by the poor global rankings? Opinions of experts are varied in this regard.
“Rankings help students make important decisions about their career and these also provide universities an opportunity to measure their own performance and chart out a course for further improvement,” Phil Baty, editor-at-large of the Times Higher Education Magazine, told IANS during a visit here.
“However, I believe that there is a need to recognise different contexts in which universities in emerging economies function and, therefore, we publish a separate ranking for higher education institutions of BRICS nations and other emerging economies,” Baty noted.
However, Indian universities failed to find a place even in top 20 positions of BRICS and Emerging Economies Rankings 2015 – a list dominated by the higher education institutes in China.
The next round of the rankings will be published during the “Times Higher Education and BRICS and Emerging Economies Universities Summit,” to be held at the O.P. Jindal Global University in Sonipat, Haryana, from December 2-4.
Baty pointed out that the separate rankings for BRICS and emerging nations do not dilute the importance of global rankings as the basic parametres used in developing these rankings are same.
“What is holding Indian universities back is lack of funding, political commitment to change and inadequate international networking,” Baty, who is also the editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, said.
Baty's observations were partly backed by Sudhir Kumar Sopory, vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). According to him, even JNU, that ranked 71 in the “2015 BRICS and Emerging Economies Rankings”, needs to work on its number of foreign students and faculty to improve global ranking.
“Where we lack right now is the number of foreign students and faculty, and the number of citations,” he was recently quoted as saying by a national daily.
“Why should we be hiding from rankings while we use all other international benchmarks to understand the the progress that our economy or society has made? In my view rankings are fairly objective and not 'managed' as perceived by some,” stated Sreeram Chaulia, a noted world affairs analyst.
“Instead of criticising the rankings we should introspect and take steps to improve quality of research and teaching at higher educational institutions,” added Chaulia, professor at O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU).
“Appreciating the rankings require a degree of self-criticism,” he pointed out.
According to Aman Shah from JGU, an expert in governance and management of higher education institutions, making a bid for the top positions would require us to build a culture of competitiveness and innovativeness.
For Kathleen Modrowski, dean, Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, while Indian universities have much to achieve in terms of global rankings, Indians have made a definite mark.
Modrowski, who worked as a consultant at the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), at its Paris headquarters for many years and helped build up the global studies and experiential learning programmes of the Global College of Long Island University (LIU), New York before moving to India, however, agreed that blaming the rankings for not having Indian institutes among the top in the global rankings, would only amount to barking up the wrong tree.
Reforms such as removing bureaucratic hurdles, promoting independent thinking, allowing more mobility in the education system and more collaboration among universities within and outside India, according to her, can help propel the country towards a better higher education system that can match with the best in the world.