New Delhi: Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-Madras) is the country’s best institution according to the Modi government’s National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), but it’s IIT-Bombay that holds the title in international charts like QS. While IIT-M is not even in the top 200 of the QS World rankings released this week, IIT-Bombay has not made it to the NIRF’s best three Indian institutions.
Why this difference, you ask? According to officials in the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry, it all boils down to “perception”.
The rankings issued by QS accord a heavy weightage to “perception”, that is, how an institution is seen and judged by academia and employers etc. HRD officials say this is also the reason Indian institutions have slipped in international rankings this year.
However, the government’s ranking system, the NIRF, places greater weight on parameters such as teaching and learning outcomes, they add.
The scepticism about the global ranking criteria has triggered talk in the government on internationalising the NIRF, with officials dismissing the need to subscribe to international ranking systems.
“We want to internationalise the NIRF because we have built an extremely credible system of ranking,” said Anil Nassa, member secretary in the National Board of Accreditation (NBA), a government agency involved in the accreditation of higher-education institutions, who has been working closely on the NIRF since its inception in 2015.
Another official who has worked on the NIRF added, “Our rankings are much better than international rankings, we do not need them. We do not give too much emphasis to perception, which can be easily influenced and that makes us better than others.
“What will a foreigner know about the strength of a university in India? Basing ranking on perception rather than quality of research is flawed,” the official added.
All a matter of ‘perception’
According to the official website of QS, one of the world’s leading educational ranking frameworks, it accords 40 per cent weightage to ‘academic reputation’.
“Based on our academic survey, it collates the expert opinions of over 100,000 individuals in the higher education space regarding teaching and research quality at the world’s universities,” the website’s methodology section states.
A further 10 per cent weightage is given to ‘employer reputation’, which is based on “almost 50,000 responses to the QS Employee survey”. The survey asks employers to identify institutions where they source the most competent, innovative, effective graduates. This, in effect, takes the weightage for perception to 50 per cent.
In the NIRF, meanwhile, perception among academia and employers only gets 10 per cent weightage.
According to officials in the HRD ministry, NIRF accords 30 per cent weightage to teaching and learning, which include teacher strength and faculty-student ratio, 30 per cent to research, and 20 per cent to graduate outcomes. Another 10 per cent, they say, is for outreach and inclusivity, which includes percentage of students from other states, women, economically, physically and socially challenged students.
The plans to internationalise the NIRF come as Indian institutions, even premier ones like the IITs, IIMs and the IISc, consistently fail to court good ranks on global lists. While IIT-Bombay, at 172, continued to be the best ranked Indian institute in the 2021 QS rankings announced Wednesday, it saw a sharp fall from its 2020 position of 152. IIT Delhi, which was at 182 last year, is now ranked 193.
Two years ago, the Modi government launched the ‘Institutions of Eminence (IoE)’ scheme precisely with the aim to develop 20 private and public institutes as educational centres of global repute. The public institutions under the scheme are given funding to improve their research, infrastructure, hire foreign faculty and get more international students, while the private ones are given more autonomy from the regulators.
The debate over international rankings is not restricted to QS alone but also extends to those issued by the Times Higher Education (THE). QS and THE are among the most widely-cited educational rankings, and are meant to guide both students as well as their potential employers.
According to the THE website, it gives 30 per cent each to research, citations and teaching, with the rest covered by “international outlook” (7.5 per cent) — the number of foreign students and staff, and overseas collaboration — and industry income, or research income earned from industry (2.5 per cent). However, seven leading IITs refused to participate in this year’s THE World rankings, saying their criteria is “unclear”. They remained a part of the THE Asia rankings.
Announcing the NIRF rankings Thursday, Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ had criticised the international rankings for their emphasis on “perception”.
“Times and QS ranking downgrade our institutions on the basis of perception, I do not agree with that. Our institutions are doing a lot of good research, we cannot be judged only on the basis of perception,” the minister said.
Asked about the government’s criticism of their criteria, QS research director Ben Sowter told ThePrint over email that every ranking methodology has its advantages and disadvantages, and none is “correct”.
“Regardless of the debate around the validity of perception measures in a rankings context, perception and reputation matter; they matter to commercial organisations attempting to sell their products; and they matter to educational institutes hoping to attract students, faculty, partners and investors to participate in their operations.” he said.
“More detailed benchmarking, like the NIRF, that a nation is able to undertake is important – it will always have the potential to cover more areas of operational activity and draw on data that may not be available or comparable across borders, he added. “However, domestic and international benchmarks are interdependent, perhaps even co-dependent, rather than independent.”
ThePrint has sent an email to the THE media communications department for a comment on the criteria. This report will be updated when they respond.