By Surjith Karthikeyan and Sheeja SR
Recent years witnessed pathbreaking and series of reforms in the Indian educational sector which include inter alia introduction of the National Educational Policy, renaming the Ministry of Human Resource Development as the Ministry of Education, promoting and improving the standard of universities through the National Institutional Ranking Framework, promoting online education, research, improving quality of education, etc. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has also initiated reforms in a few areas which might facilitate the Government’s efforts of strengthening inclusive education.
India has the best institutions in the form of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institutes of Technology, University of Delhi, few Central Universities, traditional state universities with potential for excellence, emerging private universities, coupled with well-known subject-specific institutions including Indian Institutes of Management. Globally their ranking has improved recently due to Government’s efforts. The question here is how to transform them to be in the top 100 or 50 globally. Though these institutions get the highest funding from the Government and have the best infrastructure facilities which match international top-ranked universities, they are comparatively lagging in global ranking. Thus, the focus should be oriented to push them from the “global ranking trap”.
Professionalism coupled with time-bound strategic goal setting is the key, which should essentially come from the individual institution concerned. This includes inter alia improvement in key indicators which determines world ranking such as employer reputation, international student and faculty ratio, citations per faculty, academic reputation, faculty-student ratio, etc, followed by deep and rigorous efforts to achieve the same. Professionalism means improving the teaching to international standards which could inter alia be by lectures from subject experts who are successful international practitioners. In this context, the recent suggestion by UGC to involve subject experts from various sectors in teaching is a step in the right direction.
Employer reputation indeed determines the quality of a university as it measures how the university/institutions could mould students for successful careers. Students also want to be employed after their graduation. This could be facilitated by the university tying up with key employers, understanding their requirements, and then incorporating the required skills with relevant experts, in the institution’s curriculum. ‘Networking unit’ consisting of teachers and students for facilitating network with key national and international employers should essentially be a key component of subject departments in universities. The statistics of yearly selection by key employers may also need wide dissemination through an appropriate international forum.
Academic reputation is another key component with substantial weightage in the overall rankings. This may have two components viz; teaching quality and research quality. Teaching quality is something that needs independent evaluation by professional agencies. As students are the best judges of teachers, at reputed international universities, the students could evaluate their teachers through technology platforms for each of the lectures delivered to them. This indeed then gets consolidated and evaluated by independent professional agencies in the relevant fields. The global rankings are based on the collation of an average of more than one lakh expert opinions from various educational forums through surveys and questionnaires. For building our universities and institutions to this level, we need to essentially incorporate professional evaluation of teachers by international agencies
Citations per faculty are another key component that measures the research quality of an institution. Recently, IISc has been ranked as the world’s top university based on several citations. The citations per faculty could be improved by enhancing the technical and professional content coupled with publishing the same in globally approved and recognised journals/publications. The top universities in India could replicate the strategy adopted by IISc in this regard. Report on Research and Development Statistics of Indian Ministry of Science and Technology ranks India in 3rd, 5th and 9th places on global research output, in the year 2018. However, the application of these research outputs for policy needs focussed intervention from educational practitioners and relevant institutions/universities. The research output should essentially be linked to industry requirements as is done internationally. India has a comparatively smaller number of researchers compared to China, the US and a few other countries, which also needs focussed improvement.
Faculty/student ratio is another indicator that has key weightage in an international ranking. UGC has specified recently 1:10 faculty student ratio for postgraduate courses and 1: 25 for under graduate courses. The same needs to be strictly enforced in top ranked universities in India. Research reveals that a smaller number of students per faculty enables students to have meaningful access to lecturers and teachers. The ‘Research Assistants’ concept in international universities, selected from students to assist the teachers could be replicated in India too in top universities.
The international student ratio & International faculty ratio is another major component that decides world rankings. There is no denial of the fact that students are the best ambassadors for improving university rankings and a high proportion of international students in university improves its reputation internationally. For attracting international students, the faculty composition should essentially have international experts for which doors should be open for international recruitment/lateral entry. These international experts who may also be part of professional ranking agencies may then enable the university to be recognised internationally and inculcate global awareness and outlook for the same.
India has produced CEOs and international experts in various fields, prominent ones include Sunder Pichai, Satya Nadella, Parag Aggarwal, Shantanu Narayan, Indra Nooyi and others who had completed Indian graduation and then moved to reputed foreign universities for specialized courses. The same should be appropriately highlighted by the respective universities in their brochures and widely disseminated internationally. The fast-track reforms being undertaken by the Government in the educational sector with improvements in global indicators as suggested above may place India in top 50 in global university/institution rankings in the coming years.
(Surjith Karthikeyan serves as Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Sheeja S R is Professor, Department of Economics, University of Kerala. Views expressed are personal)