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Friday, November 16, 2012

Times Higher Education’s Ranking of World Universities – 2012-13: Where Are the Indian Institutions?

“We can make a difference to the world if we do the right things” is what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on the evening of 11th November in Mumbai to over 400 CEOs attending the ET Awards for Corporate Excellence. 

Making a difference to the world is alright, but what are those ‘right things’ and who is holding us back from doing them, is what is disturbing every right thinking Indian.

It is perhaps to answer these hesitating minds, the Prime Minister also said the same meeting: “We are taking steps to ensure that we are able to capitalize on the demographic dividend that is expected. Skill development, expansion of secondary and higher education and better healthcare facilities will all contribute to a fitter and more skilled workforce which can then look forward to gainful employment opportunities.”

Against this backdrop, let us first talk about our higher education system. The latest annual rankings of the world universities by the New York-based Times Higher Education, on the parameters such as teaching quality, research activities, knowledge transfer, and international outlook, for the year 2012-13, do not contain any Indian entity.  

Any surprise?

Certainly not, for we know what our universities are: infested with rank indiscipline among the student community, our universities are functioning as mere degree dispensers while its faculty is busy either in politicking with power centers for promotions sans performance, or actively pursuing their side businesses; and if there are a few committed faculties here and there, they are mostly frustrated by the lack of support from the administration in terms of funds, machinery and moral encouragement for undertaking any worthwhile research on the campus.

Of course, the  most intriguing part of the rankings is: there are 21 Asian Universities in the list of the world’s 200 best universities, challenging the western supremacy— five from Japan, four from Hong Kong, four from Republic of Korea, three from Israel, two from China, two from Singapore and one from Taiwan.  The academic excellence achieved by Japan is of course a well-known fact for quite sometime across the globe, but it is the rise of Chinese, Singapore and Korean universities as centers of excellence in the globe that is pretty mind-boggling.

As the National University of Singapore claimed 29th position, the University of Hong Kong 35th, the Chinese universities of Peking and Tsinghua 46th and 52nd respectively, the Seoul National University 59th and Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology 68th position in the 2012-13 rankings, it is pretty certain where these countries are heading to.

That aside, the most remarkable achievement of these universities is their strength to climb further up the ladder from their previous year’s performance. Analysts observe that with their government’s commitment to spend 4 per cent of its GDP on education, Chinese institutes of higher education are all set to progress further in the coming five to ten years.

How did the Chinese and Korean universities convert themselves into centers of growth for their countries through their research output that is quite contemporary vis-a-vis the western world? The answer is not far to seek: they are simply wooing international expertise to their campuses by structuring well-designed partnerships with leading world academia and also undertaking problem-solving research for global corporations in collaboration with their in-house R&D wings. At the same time their governments too are pumping in huge capital to support their research activities. The net result is: domestic faculty and students are getting exposed to cutting edge technology and research methodology by virtue of their interface with international faculty and in the process changing the very characteristics of their universities. China is indeed treating their universities as “engines of growth”. And given the way these universities are pursuing their goals, it will be no wonder if they soon turn out to be competitors to the western institutes with their research output, and in the process elevate these nations as producers of next-generation consumables.  

As against this spectacular performance of our neighbors, where do we stand? Suffice it to say our universities are suffering from plain lack of goal.  Our governance too lacks direction, for how else can one explain the recent announcement of government of India granting Rs. 25 crore for establishing Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development at Oxford University? In fact, our country supports 92 chairs in various universities across the globe for undertaking sundry research, even in countries that are as poorly equipped as we to undertake such research, while century-old universities in the country suffer for want of basic infrastructure. That’s not the end of the story of our mismanagement: we continue to spend sums to build new universities, while existing universities find it difficult to pay even salaries to the faculty.

Further, as though not to fall behind the government, the industrial houses of our country too fund establishment of Chairs in overseas universities—notable among them being Tata Group of industries, Mahindra & Mahindra, and Aditya Birla Group, that too, in universities that are considered to be the world’s richest like Harvard, London school of Economics, etc.—of course, as a memorial to their founding fathers or to build their brand value in the overseas markets, while universities to their next door in India are struggling to fund even a petty research project that can also impart training to the young scientists, besides furthering the very cause of applied research in the country.   

That aside, the biggest problem faced by the nation today is: acute shortage of quality faculty in science, technology, and management disciplines. Yet, we continue to allow government and private agencies build institutions of higher education. This reminds one of Homi J Bhaba’s lamentation in the late 50s and early 60s, of India building giant institutions first and then search for people to fill it with, instead of finding researchers first, and as they grow with their research output, build structures around them to suit their research pursuits.

Over and above this lopsided planning, our educational system is also saddled with archaic rules that govern its day-to-day administration—our UGC prohibits recruitment of foreigners as fulltime faculty. The US, a country rich in its own academic talent, attaches great importance to constantly recruiting foreign talent by its universities, whereas, despite the acute shortage of talented faculty, we have a regulator at the national level who says ‘no’ to such a necessity.  

As a result, our education system is in dire straits—out of the 567 universities as on 22 June 2012 (2012 -06-22)[update], only three institutes namely:  IIT Kharagpur in the 226-250 bracket, IIT Mumbai in the 301-350 band, and IIT Roorkee in the 351-400 bracket could find a place in the Times Higher Education  2012-13 rankings.

All this poses a battery of questions to the nation: Are we doing the ‘right things’? Who has to do the ‘right things’? Is there anybody to look at these present constraints of our higher education that are sure to cripple the future of our nation?


Unknown said...

I hope you've got a clear list of the top universities. Still hoping to read more information about the topic. Thank you for sharing this great royal essays. Thank you and god bless.

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