The University of Mumbai did not rank in the top 100 universities in India, let alone top 50 or 25, in the recently released ratings of the Government of India. In fact, it ranked way down, between 151 and 200. St. Xavier’s ranked a modest 40th among colleges and Pune’s Savitribai Phule University ranked 10th among all universities. The IIT-Bombay, of course, was placed third in the overall rankings but it is the institute’s own achievement.
This was the second edition of the Union Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry’s National Institutional Ranking Framework’s rankings. More than 3,300 institutions participated. They were ranked on six parameters: Teaching and learning resources, research and professional practice, graduation outcomes, PhDs graduated, outreach and inclusivity, and perception among employers and research investors.
A few reputed institutes such as Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College and Delhi School of Economics did not apply this year. This was not the case with the University of Mumbai. It participated in the process but fell way short. Vice-chancellor Dr Sanjay Deshmukh did not react to the rankings but reports suggest three possible reasons – decline in research scholars, lack of patents, improper submission of data to the ministry – for the poor performance.
It would be easy to dismiss the NIFR rank on the grounds that the parameters were limited, the university was short-changed in some way, and such rankings do not matter. Indeed, ranking is not a comprehensive way to determine the potential and value of a university but it does offer a top view.
The last decade or two would have to be among the worst that the University, established in July 1857, witnessed. It is no longer sufficient to say that its alumni include Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Dr Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, MG Ranade, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dr BR Ambedkar, RG Bhandarkar, PV Kane and other stalwarts. They graced its portals then when the university stood for academic excellence.
Its recent distinguished alumni, according to the University’s website, include actors Aishwarya Rai, Urmila Matondar, Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, politicians Praful Patel, Sanjay Dina Patil, Nilesh Rane, industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Ajit Gulabchand, banker Chanda Kochhar. There aren’t thinkers, reformers, jurists, educationists, writers or poets in the “distinguished” list.
The University has been de-intellectualised, batch by graduating batch. It has not been home to path-breaking research or world-renowned scholars for years. Even on limited parameters such as the NIFR rankings, it falls short. Why India’s second oldest university is in a deplorable condition — academically and administratively — calls for a deep study. What can be done to improve it calls for urgent and honest action.
“The University of Mumbai has been a victim of bureaucratic and political interference resulting in a succession of progressively worse vice-chancellors,” wrote Dr. Aroon Tikekar, the late author, editor and biographer of the university, “While scant attention was paid to quality of education, expansion of the number of colleges was considered growth. The university then went on to become a cash crop, spinning money and power.”
Those are harsh but true words. Besides the bureaucratic and political interference, by design more than default, the University devalued the Humanities stream and neglected the Sciences in a number of ways. The emphasis in the last few decades was on vocational streams such as business, management and media. But even in these, the quality of education is nothing to be delighted about.
The University no longer places a premium on excellence in any sector of any stream. Its colleges too are happy to meet bureaucratic norms that it demands of them. First, the University must get its administrative wing in order, and conduct exams and declare results on schedule. Second, it could put in place a committee of respected and renowned achievers in various fields who can map the way forward for the next 25 or 50 years focussing on academic excellence.
This is the University’s 160th year. It did not have to get a matching rank in national ratings.