Why higher education is sinking

An insistence on uniformity and a mechanical imposition of rules are weakening the university system

The Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) ranking of universities across the world was released on May 9. QS is a well-known educational and career advice company, and prior to 2010, produced these rankings along with the Times Higher Education. The QS ranking combines several indicators such as academic reputation, reputation of undergraduate students amongst employers, citation index of faculty, faculty-student ratio, etc. The latest ranking confirms that Indian universities are not evenly remotely close to the leading universities in the world. Some of the IITs figure amongst the top 50 in a few

of the engineering disciplines. However, no Indian university figures among the top 200 in most subjects. What is perhaps more distressing is that we are left far behind even among Asian countries an increasing number of universities in China, South Korea and Japan figure among the top 100 universities. Even tiny Singapore has the National University of Singapore a world-class university in every sense of the word.

It is tempting to dismiss the QS ranking as flawed and unimportant. But burying one's head in the sand can, at best, be a temporary palliative. Virtually everyone in Indian academia knows that increasingly large numbers of Indian students join foreign universities. Earlier, this flow used to be restricted to students going abroad for their PhDs. Now, even undergraduate students queue up at airline counters to go to greener pastures abroad. So, there is very little doubt that the QS ranking is a reflection of a deep-rooted malaise. The social cost of all this would have been much smaller if there was a significant flow of Indians returning to pursue careers in India. Unfortunately, the inflow is a tiny fraction of the outflow.

There is no single reason explaining the sorry state of higher education in India. The lack of adequate resources, bureaucratic interference by government babus and their political masters, and perhaps most unfortunately the tendency of some vice chancellors to treat universities as their personal fiefdoms, have all played their role in precipitating this decline.

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