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Pardon us, your ‘slip’ is showing

One can’t quite figure it out. The Times Higher Education World Reputation rankings were out recently, and Indian universities were nowhere around the top 200. Think about it.

education Updated: Mar 19, 2014 11:01 IST
Ayesha Banerjee
Ayesha Banerjee
Hindustan Times
Harvard University,Massachusetts Institute of Technology,Stanford University

One can’t quite figure it out. The Times Higher Education World Reputation rankings were out recently, and Indian universities were nowhere around the top 200. Think about it. India’s technology and management institutes with their tough entrance tests, and universities with their awe-inspiring cutoff lists turning down lakhs of applicants every year.... how can they not measure up with the best of the best global players?

The alumni of some of the best institutes in India and abroad say when it comes to pure theoretical teaching,there is nothing wrong with the Indian education system. “It is very surprising that the top universities in India like the IITs, BITS Pilani and some of the real world-calibre universities are not ranked much higher than these ratings show,’’ says Anant Agarwal, president of edX, the online learning venture, or MOOCs, of Harvard and MIT that’s helping millions of people access lessons designed by some of the finest minds on the planet.

Agarwal, who holds a PhD from Stanford and a bachelor’s degree from IIT Madras, says he would like to question the way rankings are done. Many of the rankings combine both research and the education of the university, and in Indian universities in particular the reputation is highly based on teaching students. The calibre of IIT students is highly regarded all over the world and Agarwal says he suspects that it is the volume of research that is holding things back. “I don’t think these rankings give India n universities a fair share,’’ he adds.

On his education in IIT Madras and following his interactions with IIT professors around India, Agarwal says, “The teachings of some of the best professors of our IITs are definitely comparable to the teachings of some of best professors of any universities I have seen around the world.”

Is the Indian system then too ‘rigid’, in which academics and nothing but academics are pursued? Yashodhara Lal, who has 12 years of experience as a marketing consultant with Unilever and others, says most of the teachers at IIM Bangalore where she studied were excellent, and the facilities absolutely wonderful. The problem, she says, was the “tremendous amount of pressure and competition, and a certain degree of grade-obsession amongst most of the crowd.” Even though there were opportunities for creative expression such as the fests, they were overshadowed by the overall desire to graduate with top marks.

Agarwal feels the resource-rich Western universities equip students with the right skills and also encourage them to go in for research. “Many rankings look at the number of Nobel prize winners a university has. They look at how many people have won international awards and many of them come from research. Thus, if rankings is what you care about you may have to focus more on research. But my view is that maybe we should think of creating some rankings where we do not combine these teachings and create separate rankings for teaching and research,” he adds.

Indian institutes will require a sea-change in attitude and possibly a greater degree of focus on all-round development, says Lal, who is also a Zumba fitness instructor, has written two books, Just Married, Please Excuse and Sorting Out Sid, and, “more importantly,” is mother to three children.

Talking about a three-month exchange programme she did with ESADE Business School in Spain, Lal advocates more opportunities for Indian students to interact with foreign universities.”That will bring in a certain awareness of global standards. While I thoroughly enjoyed my exchange programme, I am not sure there was enough analysis or consolidation or experience sharing after I came back,” she says.

Fall season

The IITs - Bombay, Delhi and Kanpur - are also top of India’s ranking, but again, they fall below the 200th rank and slipping. Indian Institute of Science continues to be the most highly rated universities in India, although it has seen its position drop from around 130th place to just below 200 in the world. IIT Bombay has also dropped to the 210-220 group, while IIT Delhi and IIT Kanpur both now feature just below 250th position globally.

Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2014
1 Harvard University
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
3 Stanford University

First Published: Mar 19, 2014 10:30 IST