India’s prestigious institutes have produced several talents across different domains who are at the helm of affairs in many big companies around the world.  However, the realm of academics is ever challenging with constant requirement to up resources and be in the frontline of global rankings.

Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings (QS Rankings) and Times Higher Education (THE) rankings, perhaps the two most popular yardsticks to measure the institutes of higher education across the globe, comes up with lists of the topmost education institutes across nations. Many prominent Indian academic institutions feature in the lists every year, creating a stir in the academia of the country.

The findings of QS Rankings for the year 2016-17 saw a drop in the position of many of the prestigious institutes from India from their previous rankings. The 13th edition of the rankings, released recently, had the country’s eminent institutes such as IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay, IIT Kanpur, IIT Kharagpur and IISc Bangalore falling their ranks. Although IISc, Bangalore, retained its top position among the Indian universities, it also fell from its ranking of 150 last year leaving the country with no institute in the top 150 ranks. IIT Delhi dropped from last year’s 179th position to the 185th place while IIT Bombay dropped from 202nd rank to the 219th spot. Against the odds, IIT Madras jumped five positions from last year’s 249 and to retain its spot in the top 250 list.

Although the drop is not much as compared to the previous year’s rankings, keeping abreast in the listings would mean sending a positive message about the country’s academic environment. Commenting on the drop in the QS rankings, Ben Sowter, Head of Research at the QS Intelligence Unit, said that the comparatively less number of PhD-qualified researchers in India has impacted research productivity and thereby the standard of universities (impacting the rankings). While every year many PhDs are awarded, the numbers to not remain consistent. M.H. Bala Subrahmanya, Professor of Management Studies, IISc Bangalore says, “The number of PhDs given out every year varies. Some years will have more PhDs; some years may not have many. The ranking is thus obvious to go down. Basing the ranking on this criterion can be a bit off base.”

The main indicators that constitute the methodology of QS Rankings are academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty-student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty and international students. The faculty-student ratio is an area of concern as far the rankings are concerned with most institutes failing to meet the increasing student demands and lagging in ensuring optimal teaching quality. “Meeting student demand is going to be the major challenge for India’s tertiary education sector in the upcoming years. Meeting enrolment targets while ensuring teaching standards are maintained will require a continued willingness to both hire new staff and create new institutions; alternatives to the already-competitive IITs are necessary if they are to maintain their high research standards,” says Jack Moran, education reporter, He also emphasizes on improving research performance along with availability of resources are other factors that for progress in the rankings.

The lesser numbers of PhD qualified researchers from abroad serving in Indian institutes has also contributed poorly to the international faculty ratio, leading to the drop of overall ranking. “As far as IIT(M) is concerned,  it’s true that the number of foreign teachers and students are less. This is because the focus is more on regional students. There is higher demand for papers when there is Medicine discipline; we don’t have Medicine here and the number of publications are also less comparatively,” says Jyotirmaya Tripathy, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras.

Lesser number of publications is another concern. However, getting papers published in reputed journals involves arduous and disheartening processes, according to some. “As far as Business Schools in India are concerned, publication culture is almost absent. It’s easier and monetarily profitable to teach than produce a paper. Another issue is rejecting papers at the desk level. This is frustrating. It is difficult to get a paper published in a referred journal. It is thus important to facilitate more time to research and produce papers. Indian B-Schools thus are usually low in ranking,” says  M.H. Bala Subrahmanya.

Despite these concerns, four Indian institutions remain among the world’s top 100 in research impact with IISc Bangalore bagging the position of world’s 11th-best research institution in the ‘faculty scoring’ indicator.

The Times Higher Education (THE) rankings based on the line of QS (emphasizing on teaching, research, citations and international outlook) reveal a list that is not drastically different from the former. Though institutes like MIT and Oxford found their place amidst the topmost 10, it is noteworthy to notice that MIT came first in QS and Oxford in THE. THE, published from the UK features 31 Indian educational institutes while QS published from the USA features 14 Indian educational institutes. Further, the best ranked Indian institute is IISc, Bangalore is placed at 201-250 in THE. This variance also points to a possible fluctuation or the subjectivities that come into play while the rankings list is prepared. Elucidating on the rankings in regards to QS, Jack Moran says, “Rankings remain a moving target, and all of the indicators used by QS to compile the tables are relative ones, so the drop of one institution will always be, in part, due to the rises of others.”

Meanwhile, India’s performance in the QS regional rankings also suggests remarkable upper hand over its regional competitors. “The performance of Indian institutions in our recent regional rankings suggests that India is gaining some ground on its regional competitors,” Says Ben Sowter, Head of Research, QS. According to him, the country is making significant progress towards providing tertiary education for its tertiary-age population.  Phil Baty, World University Rankings editor of THE also feels that India’s performance in the THE World University Rankings has improved significantly and that this should be celebrated. “India’s strong performance is partly due to the country’s participation in global benchmarking exercises; just last month the government launched a new funding-backed project aimed at catapulting Indian Institutes of Technology to the top of world university rankings. It is the star of the South Asian region with 31 universities in the list and four new entries in the top 800.” However, raising concerns over the pressure on infrastructure and less international focus, he said that impacted the positioning of the Indian institutes in the list.

Another significant development in this year’s THE Ranking is the inclusion of several private/deemed universities from India. While the last year ranking had Amrita University and BITS, this year saw a number of institutes making it to the list besides these two. They include Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Amity University, SASTRA University, Manipal University, Sathyabama University, SRM University and Vellore Institute of Technology.

What comes out of the Rankings in a nutshell is that though the number of institutes featuring in the list are increasing, effort is required to progress in the positions. This calls for more funding and investment in the area of university education with an emphasis to increase research aptitude. These rankings assume importance since it is referred by students, academicians, governments and other policy makers around the world.

The findings also have to be read along with the recommendations in the Narendra Modi government’s recently released New Education Policy that calls for addressing the concerns regarding the quality of education in the country with special focus on system efficiency, research and development, governance and financial commitment to education development.

Renitha Raveendran & Reetamoni Das work for

Featured Image: IIT Kharagpur – Image by Biswarup Ganguly [GFDL, CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons