Let's admit that the entire nation was more surprised than cheerful, to know that Panjab University was ranked ahead of the nation's pride - the elite IITs, in thlatest round of the Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings 2013-14. While no Indian institution makes to the top 200, Punjab University emerging as the top-ranked Indian institution and being placed between 226 and 250 (The report didn't give a specific ranking) in the global rankings was in fact a ‘news' which India should have been proud of.
But what was made to be the ‘breaking news' was in fact, "how did Panjab University sprint ahead of the IITs, considered to be the nation's premier technology institutes ?"
Interestingly, just few days before the Punjab University news appeared, Directors and Chairmen Board of Governors of IITs at a meeting of the IIT Council in New Delhi, raised questions on credibility of global rankings and said it seemed to be linked to an institute's paying power, indicating that financial considerations may play a role in deciding an institute's position in international academic rankings.
As per a report in the Indian Express, IITs also complained that incomplete information was often picked up from their website to determine rankings without any verification. IIT Kanpur director Prof Indranil Manna told The Indian Express "Some of these ranking agencies offer deals for performance analysis and advertisement". Prof Gautam Barua, who was the director of IIT Guwahati, added, "There is a definite commercial angle to it. They bombard you with mails on events across the world; they seek expensive advertising for their ranking magazines and so on. An institute's 'reputation' holds high weightage on these rankings."
Well, the IIT professors were not wrong and there exists many dubious agencies offering rankings and awards (and many institutes buying them too) but being cynical about this particular P.U ranking in all fairness, is incorrect.
So in the larger interest of academic institutes of the nation, let's try to understand how Panjab University which did not feature among the top 500 universities forayed as the top Indian Institute and also break few myths of ranking system.
Not all ranking agencies are suspicious.
While many dubious agencies on the job ask for ‘donations' directly or indirectly participation in many ranking like Times Higher Education Ranking (THE) is voluntary and free of charge. Before participating in any ranking, the agencies' credibility check is an absolute must.
The ranking parameters need to be understood.
Generally the parameters are - academic reputation, employer reputation, international outlook, faculty-student ratio, citations, research volumes, international students, international faculty, faculty with PhDs, internationally recognised accreditations, joint degree programs and even alumni salary up to a period of 3 years. In addition, some even consider the infrastructure, campus facilities. Parameters and weightage may differ from one rating agency to another.
In Time rankings, citations were given high weightage which contributed 30 per cent of the total scores. And while Panjab University scored 84.7 per cent in its citation parameter, IIT Kanpur and IIT Kharagpur could only manage scores of less than 40 in their citation parameter.
In the international outlook parameter which carried a weightage of 7.5 per cent, Panjab University scored 29.3 per cent while IIT Kanpur, IIT Kharagpur and IIT Roorkee scored less than 16 per cent in the segment.
Information needs to be provided.
Panjab University has done an excellent job in research and citation papers and more importantly collating the data and providing the right set of information needed by the ranking agency. Most do not have the information in place and are not able to provide.
So, where did IITs go wrong?
As per Dr. Jitendra K Das, marketing guru, who has done his masters from IIT Delhi, formerly Dean (Noida Campus) at IIM Lucknow also having taught at IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Kozikhode, and currently Director, FORE School of Management, New Delhi, "IITs have had a stiff upper lip and high nose and so they never consider it important to participate actively in these rankings. They may not even have proper data on the citations by their faculty. Neither are they bothered about any PR activity.
Panjab University scoring higher than the IITs in international outlook simply means that they have been able to attract international students whereas by nature only Indians study in IITs and hence the low score in that area. If, the ranking parameters had mother tongue diversity rather than nationality diversity, then the IITs would have probably scored much high on that front. Further, IITs do not keep track of alumni salary as I think this data is also useful."
IITs are premiere institutes of the country and will continue to do so and as Prof. Arun Kumar Grover, V.C Panjab University recently said, "This is a futile comparison. PU cannot compete with IITs in science & technology just as IITs cannot be compared with say Indian Institute of Science." Agreed.
Wake up Call.
Panjab University surely has shown the way to premier Universities and institutions of the country on how to project the good job done and manage perception. The IIMs have started realising the need for better perception management activities and recently IIM Calcutta was ranked 19th in the Financial Times Global Rankings, above the London School of Economics and Manchester Business School for its management programmes.
It is high time that not only the IITs take these things as seriously as they take the academics and teaching but other Universities of the country should also make a note. It would be great to see more and more Indian institutes in the top ranks.