Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why IITs fared so badly in world university rankings

Days after Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) failed to make it to the top 200 in the prestigious QS rankings of the world's leading universities, top IIT officials have admitted that it was their indifference to the ranking process and not an intrinsic lack of educational quality that cost them dearly. "We have been complacent. We never really took rankings seriously," Indranil Manna, Director, IIT-Kanpur admitted. "We are doing so now. The government is urging us to be more proactive." Highly placed IIT officials said the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) has also pulled up the IITs for this.

"IITs are much better than what the rankings suggest, but they are too arrogant to participate and give data," said TV Mohandas Pai, Chairman of Manipal Global Education and former director on Infosys board. He is also the honorary chairman of Indian Centre for Assessment & Accreditation (ICAA), a private accreditation body that is now working on India-specific university rankings.

The QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) rankings are widely recognised as a good measure of the pedigree of universities. Last week, when the MHRD allowed foreign universities to set up campuses here, it ruled that only the other such rankings could do so. Accusing the IITs of living in an ivory tower and not engaging enough, Pai said the institutes owe it to India to give full information, participate in rankings and put out their best. "They need to market themselves," he said.

When the QS ranking process was underway, IITs sent only the names of full-time faculty members who are on their rolls. US universities included research associates, people from industry, part-time faculty — everyone, who has taught even for a short time. This had a bearing on the rankings as faculty-student ratio was given a 20% weightage. So did citations, which contribute 20% of the overall QS score, and is calculated using data from SciVerse Scopus, a database of academic journal articles. Foreign universities put in all possible permutations and combinations of the faculty member/institute's names to facilitate an easier search. Indian institutes were unaware of the need for this.

Similarly, any institute can send names of people associated with it to help QS send questionnaires to the right people. Foreign institutes send 400-500 names; IIT-Kanpur, for instance, sent only 28. Without this QS will survey random people. All this cost IITs dearly in the QS global university rankings released last week. "The rankings are based on two factors: surveys and data," said Devang Khakhar, Director, IIT-Bombay. "(In future) We want to make sure that the correct data is supplied to the ranking agencies." India Inc employers also argue that IITs must take rankings seriously. "We need to ask whether we are living in a cocoon and not wanting to benchmark with others in the world," said Pratik Kumar, President, Wipro Infrastructure Engineering, and Executive VP-HR at Wipro.

"We have sent our IIT recruits to BCG offices across the world, and they haven't just survived, they've more than held their own and succeeded," says Sachin Nandgaonkar, Senior Partner & Director, Boston Consulting Group, who heads the consulting firm's recruitment initiatives. He is an IIT Bombay-IIM Ahmedabad alumnus. "Having said that, given that our output is globally comparable, I'd like IITs to come out strongly in the surveys." IIT-Delhi has kicked into action and put up a plan to avoid a repeat next year. "We have decided to put together a three-member committee, which will deal with the whole rankings business," said SK Koul, Deputy Director (Strategy & Planning), IIT-Delhi.

IIT-Bombay has identified a nodal person who will collate the information from various departments and send it to QS in the required form. "Even though I have certain reservations about the way rankings are put together, we have to admit that we need to do better," says IIT-Kanpur's Manna. "It's not about numbers, it's about our convictions."

Source: The Economic Times, September 17, 2013

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