Indian Education and its Obsession with Rankings

Philip G. Altbach, a Professor at Monan University and the director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the U.S, writes about Indian education in a recent article in the Hindu. This follows from President Pranab Mukherjee’s recent comments about the need to reform India’s educational institutes to better instill skills for its innovation and entrepreneurial future. During the same speech, given at the 10th convocation of the National Institute of Technology at Kurukshetra, President Mukherjee also talked about the absence of any Indian university in the top 200 global institutes for education. But much more can be learned from global rankings, the author writes (citing another op-ed piece in the Hindu):

The Times Higher Education rankings, he notes, assess 13 performance indicators. The Academic Ranking of World Universities, commonly known as the “Shanghai Rankings” objectively measures research performance. Both provide useful criteria for the benchmarking of research universities — they are, however, not relevant for most of India’s higher education institutions, including its 34,000 colleges and many of its lower echelon universities which mainly provide supervision of colleges and teaching in selected postgraduate fields, but perform little if any research. The third global ranking, sponsored by the for-profit QS education company, relies most heavily on reputational measures and is, in my view, of little relevance.

Indian higher education needs many improvements, but two are relevant here. It needs a small number of top-quality, internationally competitive research universities. And it needs significant improvement in the overall quality of the system, and especially of the colleges. I’ve written earlier in The Hindu that the rankings are overused. But they provide useful guidelines to what is internationally recognised as the key criteria for universities — the definition of “world-classness.”

This lack of research institutes in India seems especially telling, and is one of the most important yet oft ignored statistics for the education system and its failures. This is interesting, given our otherwise obsessive references to ratings, how we compare to other countries, and how many schools we’ve built (without talking about the quality of education offered). We would do well, then, to learn a little from rankings, but then more deeply understand the underlying reasons and causes for these rankings. As Professor Altbach writes in conclusion,

Building successful world-class research universities is not an easy task. India would do well to think about such key elements as effective governance, patterns of funding, the role of the private sector, the creation of a competitive academic culture, and other factors. The rankings will provide little guidance for these central decisions.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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