Japan, Korea and China have more universities figuring in the top 100 even as the University of Tokyo has topped the list in the 2014 Asqia University Rankings. What are these countries doing right?
For me, China has been the most exciting country. They have a clear-cut policy to create world-class universities and they have systematically been working on it since the ’90s. They have managed to dramatically increase the number of universities and have carefully nurtured a few select universities. These universities get generous funding from the government and this has resulted in better infrastructure and lab facilities.
Korea is a rising star and it has been showing steady progress. Japan, on the other hand, has seen a decline, a stagnation of sorts, if you will. Although it has about 20 universities in the top 100, they are struggling to get funds. If this continues, China (with 18 institutions in the top 100) is set to overtake Japan in the coming years
What has the India story been like? From your observation, what are some of the challenges that Indian universities face?
There has been a significant increase in the representation of Indian universities in this list with ten universities in the top 100 (as compared to three last year).
One of the biggest roadblocks to India’s surge in the rankings, though, is lack of funding for research in universities. India can perhaps take a cue from China and selectively fund those universities that perform exceptionally well. Sometimes, uneven distribution of research funds can help. Secondly, Indian universities need to be more globally networked and leave behind strong global footprints through collaborative research and sharing of good practices. The other pressing issue that India has been facing over the last few decades is brain drain.
The best talent from the country is heading overseas for higher education and is bagging top jobs there. To retain such people in your own country, you need to invest in better infrastructure and lab facilities, provide more opportunities and offer better salaries to qualified professionals. Also, Indian universities should be given more flexibility and a certain degree of autonomy to take key decisions
What has really worked for Indian universities this time around? What are some of the areas where they have shown improvement?
Indian universities have only recently started taking global rankings seriously. Even about 18 months ago, the perception here was that rankings did not matter. That attitude has changed significantly; however, not all universities are forthcoming about giving information. That is set to change with the directive from the country’s president asking all institutions to participate wholeheartedly in the ranking process. In any case, the India story has been the best this year and Indian universities have shown the most improvement in terms of rankings and the number of institutions, as compared to last year.
The success of Indian institutions has been on the basis of excellence in research – not in terms of volume but quality. Panjab University, for instance, is one of the best in Asia with some very interesting research work in particle physics. Similarly, the IITs have built extensively on their strengths in science and technology
Have there been any surprise entries in the Asia rankings this year?
Yes, indeed. Turkey has been a big surprise with five institutions in the top 40. The country has a good mix of public and private institutions with the private players performing quite well. They have fostered a spirit of healthy competition. Iran and Saudi Arabia too have three institutions each in the top 100.