It is both sad and unsurprising that only two Indian institutes — Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science and Punjab University — have been ranked among the top 350 of the world’s best universities.
Unsurprising, because the results have not been very different from the ones given out by the Times Higher Education Survey over the past few years. Yet one cannot help feeling a niggling surprise at India’s low position when one finds that of the top 10 positions, seven have gone to US universities and three to those of Britain. Much of our university education has been modelled on the redbrick universities of Britain.
And the number of Indians who have excelled there and also at Harvard, MIT or Berkeley is by no means small. True, not many Indians or people of Indian origin have won the Nobel Prize, but many have come close to achieving it.
India now has close to 700 universities, central, state, private and deemed. Barring the private ones, most universities have similar subjects and course structures. The extent of specialisation is limited among Indian universities.
This is not so in the universities of Japan or China. In the arts and humanities stream, there is no institute from these two countries in the top 100 whereas in engineering and technology and the physical sciences, their ranks are sometimes higher than their overall ranking. The upshot of this is quite clear in the sense they have invested in areas where they are able to get maximum returns.
This is a current of thought seriously absent in India now, mostly due to competing vested interests operating in the field of education. But that leaves one question unanswered and it is why our IITs have failed to make the cut and have stayed content with their positions in the 351-400 band.
The IITs have said the method of ranking is loaded against their system, but does that wholly explain that just two IITs, IIT Roorkee and IIT Bombay, figure among the top 100 in Asia? Of the five criteria used in ranking — teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income — it is only on the last criterion that our institutes face some disadvantage.
Our universities have many other problems, such as inadequate staff and research facilities, poor libraries, etc. Many new IITs are operating on the premises of their counterparts and some central universities, set up more than five years ago, are still in an inchoate shape. Often they lose their best students to industry or the civil services. The government should step in to ensure that our teachers are paid at par with at least some of their Asian counterparts.
In this context it is heartening to note 1,000 American academics will be roped in to teach in India as part of a deal between PM Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama.