When 24-year-old Sutirtha Chakraborty graduated in business management from Aston University in Birmingham, UK in 2013, he was glad he chose this option over any other college in India. “Aside from the quality of education, I chose the UK because of the global exposure that it would provide me — in terms of interacting with students of different nationalities, a practical approach to education and industry-relevant exercises,” he says. “Unlike the Indian system that bases education on textbooks, in the UK, management education involved playing business games that would be related to economic activity in the world.”
Like Chakraborty, hundreds of Indian students prefer to pursue higher education abroad; often, the university’s global ranking is a deciding factor. While Indian institutes have consistently fared at the bottom of global rankings lists, last week, the country made some headway.
While UK-based ratings body Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) typically rates institutes around the world, this time, it ranked countries. In the first-ever Higher Education System and Strength Rankings (HESSR) released last week, India featured at 24th position out of 50, with a score of 69 out of 100. The US, UK and Germany bagged the first three spots, with 100, 98.5 and 94 scores respectively.
The ranks consider four criteria — the number of institutes in the country that appear in the QS rankings; the position of these institutes in the rankings; impact of economic investment in higher education; and the country’s population.
“Countries such as the US and UK have flexibility, autonomy and competition in education, aspects that are completely lacking in India,” says Neeraj Hatekar, head of the economics department at the University of Mumbai. “In India, we even accept sub-standard teaching; also, there is little innovation in learning techniques at our colleges.”
According to the QS website, “[HESSR represents] a new attempt to use university rankings performance alongside other metrics to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a country’s higher education environment. In doing so, it aims to assist governmental bodies charged with improving their nation’s higher education system to benchmark against competitor nations.” It assesses higher education in 50 countries, across six continents.It is interesting to note that third-world countries such as Argentina and Brazil are above India in the overall rankings.
“The ranking considers only 50 countries and we can’t be celebrating that we did better than another third-world country,” says Amit Dasgupta, Mumbai head of SP Jain School of Global Management in Lower Parel. “The essence of these rankings is to set a benchmark based on the countries that have the best education system in the world.”
Here’s a look at what this means for India’s higher education space.
The first category, called system strength, assesses the performance of the nation in the international rankings, and each country is awarded a score based on the number of its institutes that are ranked 700 and above in the QS World University Rankings. This number is divided by the average position of those institutes in the rankings. The aim, says QS, is to give an overall indication of each country’s standing in the global tables.India has ranked 20th in this category. “We still have a long way to go before we get most of our institutions in the world ranking list,” says Devang Khakhar, director of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B), which ranked 202 in the 2015 QS rankings. “We need more investment in the higher education space. We largely have science and engineering institutes listed in these rankings and too few general universities. We need to work towards bettering our universities.”
Access to world-class education
The second category relates to access to world-class institutes. Scores in this category are calculated based on the number of seats available at universities ranked within the global top 500, divided by an indicator of population size, thus representing the chance to gain a place at a world-class university for residents of the country in question. India ranks 42 in this category.
“India has fewer institutes in the top 500 than many of the other countries,” says Ben Sowter, head of research at QS. “Therefore access to world-class institutions, according to our definition of what makes a university world-class, is affected.”
This definition, say experts, is the crux of this problem. “Our focus is on indigenous students, while global rankings assess international diversity in the classroom,” says MA Khan, registrar of Mumbai university, which ranked 701 in the 2015 rankings. “But this does not mean our institutes are not of high quality. Few Indian students go abroad to study, because of financial limitations, but also because of the quality undergraduate learning they can get in India.”
However, even with a huge population, China is above India in this category, and experts say India should learn from China’s educational strategies. Moreover, countries such as Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan have also fared much better than India in this category.
“China awards scholarships for its students to study abroad, but with the condition that they return and serve the country,” says Ashok Wadia, principal of Jai Hind College, Churchgate. “In India, we lose talent to other countries. Further, politics, little appreciation of talent and the lack of a conducive research environment makes it difficult for our education system to flourish.”
“In a bid to become a super-power, China is ensuring that it invests in a workforce that can engage with different countries at various levels,” says Dasgupta. “So, the education sector is a huge priority. This is also why there are so many Chinese institutes in the global ranking lists.”
In this category, QS assesses the country’s leading institute as per the global rankings. This is a normalised score, and based on the premise that the performance of a country’s leading university is an indicator of the country’s investment in building a flagship institute. India ranked 26 here.
Last year, for the first time, two Indian institutes made it to the top 200 – IISc Bangalore (147) and IIT-Delhi (179). However, these rankings are still low as compared to other countries.
“Our colleges don’t prepare students to compete in a global environment. Their education and employability skills are unrelated and there is hardly any industry participation,” says Hatekar of Mumbai university.
“In countries like the US, business houses invest in education and actively participate in forming the curriculum too. For instance, in Germany, academics sit with corporates to analyse what skills they would require in a student five years down the line, and train them accordingly,” adds Dasgupta.
The final indicator aims to assess the impact of national investment in higher education, comparing each nation’s financial situation to its performance in the international rankings. According to QS, an indexed score is awarded for each university featured in the rankings (7 points for a university in the top 100, 6 points for 101-200, 5 points for 201-300, and so on), which is then factored against the GDP per capita for the country. While India did well in this category at the 4th place, experts say this isn’t a reason to rejoice just yet.
“While India has problems in the Access category, it also has a very low GDP per capita due to the size of its population — this is also why China comes second in this category. From a policy perspective, Singapore and Switzerland clearly face very different challenges to India and China,” says Sowter of QS. “This indicator is specifically designed to bring a little balance to the system and recognise that systems face diverse challenges. Typically, countries performing surprisingly high in Economic will appear predictably low in Access.”
On the plus side, experts in India say that this also indicates that India is adequately investing in the education space. “With the amount of money we are investing, we are producing quite an admirable result in the world rankings,” says Khakhar of IIT-Bombay.
“In India, we impart good quality education with lesser money as compared to other countries,” says Khan. “In that sense, we have achieved a far better ranking than many other economically stable countries in the world.”
However, other experts say investment in education remains an urgent need. “We invest a miniscule part of the GDP in education, and most of this goes in paying salaries — we need to provide world-class infrastructure and research facilities for a favourable outcome,” says Hatekar.