IITs lead in national rankings but continue global boycott

Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) dominate the country’s national university rankings released this week, with individual IITs taking seven of the top 10 slots of the best higher education institutions in the country.

Yet, six of the seven IITs in the top-10 list do not even appear in international rankings such as the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, having boycotted the United Kingdom-based ranking for three years in a row while calling for more transparency in THE indicators.

IIT Madras in Chennai, Tamil Nadu state, topped the overall national rankings list for the fifth consecutive year since 2019, according to the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) Rankings 2023 released by the Ministry of Education on 5 June. Other IITs in the top 10 included IITs Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Roorkee and Guwahati.

India has 23 government-funded but autonomous IITs with students selected via a highly competitive joint examination.

Apart from IITs, institutions in the top 10 include the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru (Bangalore), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Of the comprehensive, multi-faculty research universities, Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and Jadavpur University in Kolkata took 11th, 12th and 13th spots respectively. The top 100 in the ‘Overall’ category featured seven centrally-funded universities, 33 private and autonomous (deemed) universities and 26 state universities.

The Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru topped the ‘Universities’ category for the eighth consecutive year (2016 -2023). It stood first in the ‘Research Institutions’ category for a third consecutive year 2021-2023.

Inclusivity and outreach

Launching the rankings this week, Raj Kumar Ranjan Singh, minister of state for Ministry of Education and Ministry of External Affairs, pointed to the importance of rankings as a tool for students in selecting universities and noted the rankings exercise helped universities in identifying areas for improvement in teaching, research, resources and other aspects.

“This initiative has fostered a culture of data organisation and curation among participating institutions, promoting healthy competition on a national and international scale,” he said.

However, other top officials emphasised important differences between the national and international rankings.

There is a “need for spirit of competition amongst our institutions, no doubt, but our ethos, our culture has to be reflected in our ranking system”, stressed Anil Sahasrabudhe, chair of the National Education and Technology Forum and a member of the NIRF committee, speaking at the rankings launch in New Delhi.

Among the national ranking categories not included in international rankings is ‘Inclusivity and outreach’, which Saharasrabudhe described as “a very important parameter in our (national) context”.

Inclusivity and outreach includes parameters such as regional diversity or percentage of students from other states, proportion of women, number of economically and socially challenged students, and facilities for physically challenged students.

“When we look at the different world activities on rankings, be it Times Higher Education or the ranking by the QS, or the Shanghai ranking, they have completely different parameters. And that is why Indian institutions were never appearing in the top 100 and sometimes very few in the top 200 or 300,” Saharasrabudhe noted.

Kamakoti Veezhinathan , director of IIT Madras, told CNN-News18 broadcast channel on 7 June his institution would not alter such commitments in order to be listed in international rankings – a reference to the ongoing boycott by six top IITs of international rankings run by THE.

“We don’t want to change our social commitment and educational methodology to get listed in international ranking lists; these are factors which are important to us,” he said, pointing to increased access to higher education in India.

“Our aim is to increase the [country’s] gross enrolment ratio from 26% to 50%. Our education system is completely different from the foreign educational systems,” said Kamakoti.

Nonetheless, he pointed to a need for a strong research emphasis, which is also reflected in international rankings.

IIT Madras ranked second in the ‘Research universities’ category of the national rankings. “We believe we can come up with more research papers. At IIT there are more than 3,500 research papers submitted every year and we are taking more efforts through interdisciplinary courses to increase it to 5,000 every year.

“Again, I want to emphasise, [it is] the quality of the research papers that matter more than the number of papers we submit in a year,” he added.

Kamakoti also said IIT Madras would establish a branch campus in Tanzania in October, part of a plan for a chain of IIT branch campuses overseas announced last year.

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