The true test of eminence: Dictating terms to higher education institutes doesn’t help

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Published: June 11, 2020 6:30 AM

QS 2021 shows even IoEs paying for bad regulation

QS world university rankings, Institute of Eminence, IoEs tags, UGC, AICTE, NAAC rating, Indian universities,higher education instituteThe academic and infrastructural gaps that could exist between Indian and top-ranked foreign universities is mostly rooted in India’s regulatory architecture for higher education.

The latest QS world university rankings show how little the Institute of Eminence (IoEs) tag from the Centre could mean for an Indian university/higher education institute if little is done to tackle legacy problems of over-regulation first. Most Indian universities have slipped in the QS rankings, including 10 IoEs from the public and private sector. While India has still managed three universities in the top 200, their position has worsened over the last rankings. India’s tally in the top-500 globally has come down from six last year to five. The irony is that the government had mandated that an institute/university conferred the IoE tag, with which came a promise of greater academic, administrative and financial autonomy, had to work on figuring in the top 500 by 2028, before aiming to move into the top 100. As per an Indian Express report, two of the ten private universities that have earned the IoE tag—BITS Pilani and Vellore Institute of Technology—have got pushed out of the list of top 1,000.

The academic and infrastructural gaps that could exist between Indian and top-ranked foreign universities is mostly rooted in India’s regulatory architecture for higher education. UGC and AICTE have constrained universities on almost all matters, academic or administrative. And, though IoEs are out of the UGC’s purview on a significant number of matters, most of the public-sector IoEs that were to each receive Rs 1,000 crore from the Centre have received only a quarter of this so far. And, even with the significant autonomy for IoEs, they have not been freed from anti-meritocratic regulations for public universities such as reservation. Snail-paced recognition of changing realities has rendered the regulatory architecture obsolete, at the cost of universities.

For instance, the sclerosis on online and distance education has allowed foreign universities to capitalise on demand for online education in India. While UGC, in 2018, allowed select universities to offer this—only those with a NAAC rating of 3.25 or higher, and those that figure in the top-100 of the NIRF ranking qualified—only seven had been given approval. It is true that the government has now allowed the remaining 93 to do this, but it is hard to tell yet if this will take off meaningfully. Also, if the UGC deems 993 universities fit to teach, why does it have reservations about all of them being able to do this online?

That said, some of the criteria that QS rankings consider may not suit India at a fundamental level; for instance, the student-faculty ratio, and international students and faculty criteria are hard to meet for highly populated developing economies like India. But, there are secular parameters where Indian universities haven’t done well either—IIT-Bombay, India’s top-ranked institution, has slipped in terms of academic reputation and employer reputation, which together account for 50% of weightage. It also had a poorer showing in terms of citations per faculty (20% weightage) from last year. The government needs to understand that the longer it keeps dictating terms to higher education institutes, the harder it will be for them to excel.

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