Recently, Panjab University received a score of 10.5 out of a possible 100 in one subject. In another subject, it scored an equally dismal 23.7. The first subject is called ‘research’, while the second in called ‘teaching’ — two factors that have traditionally been regarded as the hallmark of any reputed university. The sad part is that its performance was the lowest among Indian universities ranked in the Top 100 Asian University Rankings 2015 released by The Times Higher Education last week, though its Asian rank of 38 was next only to Indian Institute of Science, and way ahead of other Indian universities.
There was a time when universities ranked their students and distributed the students’ report cards. There was virtually no one to rank the universities. Things have changed dramatically, and today, not just their students and alumni, but just about everyone else is ranking universities, and displaying the university’s report card for the entire world to read.
But if PU is rated so low in both research and teaching, then what is the secret sauce that ensures that it comes out top in most university rankings?
If there is one solitary indicator where PU outperforms everyone else — it is citations. In just about every other indicator, it performs rather badly, scoring much below everyone else in teaching, research and industry income. PU’s citation score is a whopping 84.4, so high that even the best university in Asia, namely the University of Tokyo cannot match this score. University of Tokyo with a score of 74.7 and the second-best Asian university, National University of Singapore (NUS) with 66, are way behind.
PU outscores everyone else in India in this field, with its closest Indian competition being IIT Roorkee, which has 62.6 points. Only five universities in Asia perform better than PU, with Tokyo Metropolitan University in Japan reaching a perfect score of 100.
The entire story turns topsy-turvy when PU looks at other indicators. Both JNU and PU are among the worst performers when it comes to industry income. For universities where data is available, JNU ranks the lowest in the category of “industry income” among the top 100, saving PU the disgrace of occupying the lowest spot. IIT Roorkee and Madras are the creditable Indian performers in this list. In research, PU is the lowest ranked university in India, and the fifth lowest among all Asian universities. It has an abysmal score of 10.5, compared to University of Tokyo with 85.1 and NUS with 78.1. Aligarh Muslim University and JNU are the other low performers from India, while Indian Institute of Science being the only notable Indian entry.
Which takes us to the criterion of “international outlook,” a criterion where most Indian universities fail miserably due to the absence of international faculty, low intake of global students, and missing crossnational partnerships. PU does better in this category compared to Indian universities, though its score of 29.2. is way below NUS, which tops with a score of 94.1. It tops among the nine Indian universities in the top 100 list, though in the global list it is below the halfway mark. PU has always been famous for being host to significant number of international students, both from Asia and Africa, and it can capitalise on this aspect.
The final category for ranking universities is teaching, and here too, PU is ranked the worst in India with a score of 23.7, marginally better than IIT Roorkee. It is here that JNU outperforms its Indian counterparts, though its score of 39.4 is one-half of the topper in this league.
PU ends up at the bottom on teaching and research in India among the top 100 universities, and second worst in industry income. “International outlook” is a saving grace for PU, but it is in citations that it genuinely makes an international mark.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Thailand.