India topped the list in South Asia in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-17, marking a new high for the country but also reflecting the strides it needs to take in the globally competitive sector.
The highly regarded Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, is India's top institution among the 31 in the list, and featured in the 201-250 group in the overall list of 980 institutions. The University of Oxford topped the list for the first time.
India, with a large student population, is seen among potentially the most productive areas in the higher education sector. It has also considerably increased investment in the sector in recent years, with private universities reaching new heights.
On South Asia, Phil Baty, editor of the rankings, said: "But the star of the region is India, which has 31 universities in the list. Its leading university – the Indian Institute of Science – is edging closer to the top 200, claiming a spot in the 201-250 band, its highest ever position and the country has four new entries in the top 800."
He added, "India's strong performance is partly thanks to the country recognising the importance of participating in global benchmarking exercises; just last month the government launched a new funding-backed project aimed at catapulting Indian Institutes of Technology to the top of world university rankings."
According to Baty, it was encouraging that the Indian government had displayed an ambition to create world-class universities. India’s leading institutions were "edging towards the world top 200", he said.
Oxford became the first UK university to top the rankings in the 12-year history of the table, knocking the five-time leader, California Institute of Technology, into second place.
Oxford vice chancellor Louse Richardson said: “This wonderful news recognises the extraordinary talent and dedication of all who work and study at Oxford. We are delighted with this affirmation of our global success and will be working hard to maintain our position.”
Overall, 289 Asian universities from 24 countries made the overall list and an elite group of 19 are in the top 200, up from 15 last year.
Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice-president of research and evaluation at the Institute of International Education, said the “sharp rise” of Asia’s universities was due to three main factors - rapidly growing populations and demand for higher education in the region, governments making “significant investments” in universities, and improvements by individual institutions.
On advances at university level, she said many Asian scholars who studied at Western universities are now academics in their home countries and have “really begun to transform their own higher education sectors”.
They have “brought back to (their) home campuses some of the teaching values of critical thinking and liberal education, as well as the idea of promotion based on merit and research outputs”, she told Times Higher Education.