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Cracking the ranking code

chandigarh Updated: Jul 15, 2014 13:41 IST
bajinder pal singh
bajinder pal singh
Hindustan Times
Indian universities

The success of Indian universities in cracking the code in the Silicon Valley and providing CEOs like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Nokia’s Rajeev Suri fails to explain its asymmetric performance in the global rankings list.

Is the rankings code tougher to crack, or is there something that can explain the chasm between extraordinary alumni performance and low rankings of their alma mater? Or has the academic cognoscenti failed to acknowledge the prodigious achievements of Indian universities?

Not one Indian university figures in the top 10 QS BRICS rankings, where every BRICS country, barring India, has at least one entry. Despite recent advances, not one Indian university is among top 20 in Asia, leave alone the world. Compared to India, East Asian countries have taken a virtually unassailable lead, and eight universities from East Asia figure in the top 50 in the Times World Reputation Rankings (2014).
Just like the performance of Indian universities, the reasons too could be equally asymmetric. Consider this: In 2012, India sent 97,000 students to the United States, while it received less than 800 American students. The Institute of International Education’s Open Door (2013) report reveals that the United States is host to over 8,00,000 international students.
China, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and France all exceed the six-figure mark, but not India. Ranking methodologies accord priority to internationality, and India is sadly missing in the top destination list.

Geographical origin of students is another significant indicator. UNESCO’s Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students (2012) reveals that Nepal and Bhutan are the two top sources of foreign students to India. Nepal is the only country which sends more than 5,000 students, and Iran, Malaysia and Afghanistan follow next. This is tragic because India is blessed with one of the world’s largest Englishlanguage educational programmes in the world, an advantage that East Asia does not enjoy.
Another critical factor is academic output, and China’s performance is illustrative. China’s share among G20 countries has increased from a little over 5% in 2003 to 14% in 2012. India is also ratcheting up its pace and its share in the ‘Web of Science’ has increased from 20,000 to 45,000 papers. However, India lags behind in quality, with the Thomson Reuter’s Report on Research and Innovation Performance (2014) revealing that India’s percentage of ‘highly cited papers’ is half of the globally accepted average. The report termed India’s Citation Impact as ‘stubbornly low’.
A general paucity of Industry-Academia interaction has its impact on the issue of patents. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) report illustrates how China now accounts for 20% of all patent applications filed, next only to the United States. Japan (17%) and Korea (9%) follow next, and Indian ranks ninth with less than 2%.

Both publications and patents are related to research excellence, and the UNESCO report on ‘Higher Education in Asia (2014)’, dedicated an entire chapter on research excellence. The section coauthored by experts Saeed Ul Hassan, Inn Beng Lee and Peter Haddawy concluded that “Universities in China achieve world-class performance in a total of 53 areas, followed by Singapore (37), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China (22), Japan (16) and the Republic of Korea (14).”
However, there are indicators where Indian universities outsmart most countries. IITs have an acceptance rate of 2%, something that would be the envy of even the Ivy Leagues.
Are Indian universities ersatz, or is it a mother lode waiting to be mined?
Despite the extraordinary performance by its alumni, Indian universities still lack a focus on both research and rankings. And this is rankling many an Indian right now.