The Economic Times; Apr 5, 2016, 02.23AM IST
By M Jagadesh Kumar
Universities offer formal and organised higher education in a variety of subjects. The primary objective of higher education is to enable the students to (i) acquire critical thinking, (ii) ability to ask questions, (iii) synthesise information and (iv) use the acquired knowledge to find solutions to unfamiliar complex situations. In the recent past, the yearly announcement of world university rankings has caught the public imagination and questions are being asked about why Indian universities do not find their place in the top rankings.
Very few know that there are nearly 50 world ranking systems for rating the universities. Among them, the most popular ranking systems are the Times Higher Education World University (THE) Rankings and the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings. Only 5% of the world’s 15,000 universities are included in these rankings.
Hiring organisations, prospective faculty applicants, funding agencies and more importantly parents are influenced by the university rankings. By reducing the entire university’s function into a single number, the ranking systems have ensured that universities are projected as corporate entities where students are treated as customers.
The reason why Indian universities do not appear in the top world ranks is because the parameters that are used for rankings are highly skewed towards citations, publications in top notch journals, presence of Nobel prize winners, availability of large endowments, presence of international students and faculty, online-based popularity surveys and so on. While many of these parameters are important, for a country like India, with a huge young population, it is important that Indian universities not only focus on academic excellence but on several other factors too for them to become more socially relevant. India should evolve its own ranking system based on a broader spectrum of parameters in addition to academic excellence.
It is only recently that India has started aNational Institutional Ranking Framework in six broad categories: engineering, management, pharmacy, architecture, universities and colleges. The parameters used by NIRF for evaluation are teaching, learning and resources, research and professional practices, graduation outcomes, outreach and inclusivity, and perception.
While this is a beginning in making Indian educational institutes compete with each other and excel, it is important that we include additional parameters to make these rankings more socially relevant for a country like ours. Universities have the responsibility to be inclusive and encourage diversity by being accessible to the most disadvantaged sections of society. They should incorporate enough safeguards to avoid any discriminative practices. Do Indian universities ensure that their campuses are safer for women and do they proactively work towards gender equality?
Often very little attention is paid by the universities to the physically challenged students in terms of designing proper access to the buildings and providing appropriate tools to enhance their learning. By looking beyond the stereotype mentality, universities should provide equal opportunities to help the students achieve their full potential.
When universities become large, the power consumption can be in excess of 10 MW per annum. Universities must evolve a green policy for efficient utilisation of power and should necessarily focus on self-sustainability, so that the university’s power requirements are met through renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic systems.
The ability of a university to adjust and adapt to the changing pedagogical approaches too is important. For example, do universities put a special emphasis on self-learning component in their curriculum? Has the university evolved techniques to provide suitable guidance and resource materials to the students to make self-learning an effective component of teaching process?
Coupled with this is the need for continuous evaluation. The purpose of examinations and tests is to provide timely feedback to the students to help them navigate through their learning. However, if tests are conducted only in the middle and end of a semester, they will serve no useful purpose in helping the students in altering their approach to learning. For too long, our varsities have produced job seekers. Why is that they do not produce job creators? Do our universities place enough emphasis on entrepreneurial skills and create an ecosystem which enables their students to become startup wizards?
As the Indian system of evaluation evolves and when the Indian educational institutes excel by competing with each other to become role models for the rest of the society for their teaching, research and social commitment, the world is going to take note of it. That is better than getting into the ugly contest of university hegemony promoted by the elite clubs of universities.
(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, JNU, New Delhi)