A rank shame

After QS and Times Higher Education published their rankings of universities across the world, higher education has become the subject of fierce debate in India. The highest ranking institutions from India are the IITs, but even these do not figure in the top 200. The general refrain why does no Indian university find a place among the top global universities?

Unfortunately, given our present policies on higher education and our institutional dispositions, high rankings for Indian universities is a distant dream. To begin with, only take a look at the key features of the top global universities. Highly ranked universities are research intensive; some have a long and distinguished history of research, others, mostly in Asia, have raised their research standards in the last 20-30 years. Almost all the top universities are comprehensive. Not only do they teach and research the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, they also have very strong programmes in engineering, medicine, law and management. These universities admit students at the undergraduate and the postgraduate levels and are committed to excellence in undergraduate education.

None of the Indian universities fulfil these criteria. We either have institutions with hundreds of affiliated/ attached undergraduate colleges, like the Universities of Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Pune, or institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which only teaches postgraduate courses, or stand-alone institutes like the IIMs, which specialise in teaching management courses, and the national law schools, which only teach law. Then there are a large number of research-only institutes, which contribute almost nothing to teaching.

Compared to global trends, our record in developing comprehensive universities is abysmal. For the 11th five-year plan, the government announced new initiatives in higher education, which included setting up 16 new central universities and 14 world class universities (these are still on paper only), 8 IITs, 20 IIITs, 7 IIMs, and so on. Why did we shy away from seeding comprehensive universities with both undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses, and both liberal and professional courses? The stark reality is, in contrast to the global model, the dominant model of education in India separates liberal and professional, undergraduate and postgraduate, research and teaching.

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