Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Phil Baty | India needs to ‘embrace’ global comparisons

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education’s (THE’s) World University Rankings, says that if more Indian universities open up for evaluation against global benchmarks, a new matrix could be developed specifically for India. At the moment, Indian universities barely figure in the World University Rankings, published annually in the UK. No university from India could grab a spot in THE’s rankings for the world’s top 100 universities under 50 years old, released last month. In the overall rankings for 2012-13, only three Indian institutes were in the top 400, the best being the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) at Kharagpur (West Bengal), Mumbai and Roorkee (Uttarakhand).

India has fared poorly in other rankings too. In the Academic Ranking of World Universities, published last year and conducted by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore was the only one from India in the top 500; in the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings for the world, IIT, Delhi, was the first institute from India to break into the list at the 212th spot, while other Indian institutes appeared later on the list.

There have been suggestions from Indian academia on a customized ranking for the country. Baty was in New Delhi last week to meet Union human resource development ministry and Planning Commission officials and discuss how to improve India’s participation and position in global rankings. Excerpts from the interview:

In your consultations with Indian academia and officials in the government and the Planning Commission, what was the general opinion on global university rankings?

I think there is a real recognition in India now that it can no longer afford to ignore global rankings. The global rankings aren’t perfect, they don’t perfectly capture everything that India does, the local nuances and the good work Indian universities do, but officials in the government and the Planning Commission, as well as Indian universities, now agree that one has to compare themselves with the best globally, otherwise India risks falling behind. Given its growing wealth and its presence in the global economy, India needs to make sure that it keeps competing with the best in the world—with China, Russia and Brazil, but also with the best in the US and other Western nations. I think for them, it’s time to embrace global comparisons.

But are global university rankings relevant for India?

Global rankings are trusted globally, and evolved through defined standards across a range of performance matrices. Now, that will be relevant for India. Some of these global rankings will not be relevant to universities that are focused on national needs and priorities. But the Indian government and the Planning Commission do believe the group of institutions they invited to consultations with us to be globally competitive. Hence, with their level of academic and research output, they should be at the forefront of driving India’s knowledge economy. They must embrace the global rankings and if they fail to embrace these global yardsticks, then they risk damaging India’s competitiveness globally. It (Times Higher Education) is not relevant for everybody but it is relevant for the most research-intensive, highest-quality Indian universities.

Haven’t some of the representatives from Indian universities said the ratings should be customized for India?

We are very unapologetically focused on strict global standards for the world university rankings, which adhere to global benchmarks. We make no special consideration for the unique circumstances of individual countries. At the global level, it’s a ruthless, highly competitive market so there is no scope for compromise. But what I think I am very willing to do is try and disaggregate the rankings more and perhaps evolve different types of ranking for different institutions. We published an Asia ranking for the first time this year but there is definitely scope for publishing deeper, bigger Asia rankings or a Central Asia rankings. At the moment, one or two per cent of India’s universities compete in the global rankings but for large numbers, we could perhaps develop this parametric and give more prominence to elements most relevant to its national needs. Maybe we could develop a new matrix specifically for India which factors in employability, social inclusion, community activity, et al. So I think we are very open to that but we can’t do that unless we get the Indian universities engaging with us so we need them to join the data-sharing process with us. At that point, we can develop unique propositions for them.

Many of India’s universities are government-funded. Given that, do you think transparency in data-sharing is attainable?

I think there is a very healthy mix of private and public universities in the world rankings. In some developing countries, private universities perhaps have sometimes more flexibility to react quickly and change to different circumstances, different markets. I think some of the state universities in some countries are burdened by too much bureaucracy, too much central control, too many state diktats, so they are less dynamic and flexible. Occasionally, private universities have the ability to raise more philanthropic funding, to be more entrepreneurial, but of course, in great state systems like China, we have seen governments encourage freedom to ensure that their universities figure in the rankings. In Korea, some of the top universities have no state control to allow them more creativity, flexibility and dynamism. So there is no right or wrong model—diversity is a fantastic strength of higher education globally.

Participation in the Times Higher Education is voluntary. What has been the experience with Indian universities so far?

One of the challenges we have been facing is that India’s institutions have been a bit reluctant to take part. The system is 100% voluntary. All the universities—from Oxford to Harvard to Yale to Cambridge to those in Melbourne, Toronto and Peking—see the value of participating. They want to be part of the process, first, to be visible in the world; second, to benchmark and monitor their progress. What we find is that Indian universities are very, very hesitant. Last year, only nine Indian universities participated.

Why do you think Indian universities aren’t making it to the top of THE’s list?

Once the universities participate, they recognize the value of global benchmarks. In particular, the IITs realize that. We have seen some private institutions, such as Amity, which are very ambitious and wanting to be visible globally. So far, their weak points tend to be around global recognition and lower reputational schools. A lot of that goes around visibility, networking, research collaboration, partnership—which is improving—and then, there are issues of internationalization. The universities are not attracting as many global scholars, thinkers, students into India as much as in some other countries. Universities need to be more aggressive about attracting more talent into the system rather than losing talent to other university systems.

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