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How vital are rankings when you’re selecting a university?

Global listings might be a comment on the quality of an institute, but here are some tips on how to figure out if it is the right fit for you.

education Updated: May 30, 2018 16:31 IST
Lavina Mulchandani
Lavina Mulchandani
Hindustan Times
IIT,IIM,University rankings
(Illustration: Sudhir Shetty)

When it’s time for young Indian students to pick a university in India and abroad, a familiar drill follows. Many look at rankings lists by organisations like the Times Higher Education (THE), QS and The National Institutional Ranking Framework’s (NIRF).

While you might think a university is good for you based on how well it is placed in the rankings and its reputation, a second look may change your mind. “You need to realise that rankings are not the only factor that determines the quality of an institute, and more importantly, whether it is the right fit for you,” says education counsellor Karan Gupta. “Take off your rose-tinted spectacles and look for factors such as location, placements and course content before making the admission decision.”

Rankings systems allow universities to show their credibility, highlight their research and reputation, but experts say this alone should not influence your choice of college. Here are other factors you should consider

Making the cut

Karthick Sridhar, vice-chairman at Indian Centre for Academic Rankings & Excellence (ICARE) can see why ranking sway decisions for Indians. “We like to list everything in a top-down manner,” he says. “So rankings seem to be an attractive way to choose. In India, we have 789 universities, 37,204 colleges and 11,443 independent institutions, we obviously are tempted to look at top 20 and apply to some of them.”

However, most rankings, both national and international, only feature institutions that choose to participate. Universities are required to fill up a participation form, sharing data on various parameters of the institution’s academic performance and offerings. “If an IIT or a university does not participate in these rankings and submit the necessary documents, it will not appear on the list,” says Sridhar. “So if you only consider rankings, you may miss out on a college that offers a course of your choice has a good campus vibe; but did not feature on the lists you looked at.”

The rankings are also often confusing. “The final score of an institution is based on how the data is tabulated, which in turn, depends on what parameters are used and how much weightage each parameter is accorded,” Sridhar says. For instance, QS rankings give high importance to the perception of a university and THE’s rankings give importance to teaching. In NIRF, a university that appeared in the 80-100 bracket one year may see itself in the Top 50 bracket the second year. “Even QS rankings and THE make errors in analysing data they receive from universities,” he adds. “You should only use them as a tool, along with several others to make a decision.”

Rankings also falter when it comes to equally matched institutions, grouping similar universities and making it impossible for people to appreciate their diversity. “Another point to consider is that most global rankings are biased towards older institutions,” says Kalpesh Banker, founder and lead researcher at education advisory EduShine. “Global top spots are dominated by some of the oldest universities of the world. Indian Institutes of Technology are comparatively smaller and have the budgets that are much higher than traditional state universities. So, they have better chance of making it to the global rankings. If you look at any of the global rankings you will find most of the top spots in India are occupied by IITs.”

Rankings can also be unfair to niche institutions. In a list of 100 top colleges, a music school might rarely score well, and it would be pointless to compare it to an IIT. It also doesn’t take into account a university’s other characteristics – many have excellent specialised libraries, fluid course material, a campus vibe that promotes independent radical ideas and neighbourhoods with much to learn from.

“You should hence, only prefer to use university rankings for the initial screening of the institutes of choice,” says Banker. “The final decision should be based on the subject of choice, the scope for employment and tuition fees.”

First Published: May 30, 2018 16:31 IST