What's in a rank? The NIRF ranking methodology is fairly exhaustive and could make the case for Indian universities abroad

On Monday, the union government released a list of the top universities, engineering colleges, architectural institutions and management institutions in the country. The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) covers 3500 educational institutes of India in five categories — engineering, management, pharmacy, architectural and university.

As one would rightly imagine, the Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology do dominate the engineering category, but College of Engineering, Pune and PSG College of Technology break the monotony. Management category, too, is dominated by the Indian Institutes of Management; however, SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (Mumbai) and Fore School of Management (New Delhi) made it to the list. However, in the university category, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru and Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) in Mumbai top the list, followed by Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Hyderabad. JNU and UoH offer a plethora of courses (including pure science courses). JNU has special centres for molecular science and nanoscience. Meanwhile, according to the ICT's website, the institute has a "record of 11 faculty who qualified for special grants" and produced 100 PhDs in a span of one year. IISc on the other hand has impressive centres of research — a cryogenics facility, nuclear magnetics and spectroscopy facilities.

According to a PTI report, Smriti Irani, Union HRD Minister said that NIRF's efforts are to make this ranking system an annual affair and more categories will be added so that students can know about an institute before enrolling.

Methodology of ranking framework

The assessment by NIRF has been made on the basis of five parameters: teaching, learning and resources; research productivity, impact and intellectual property rights; graduation outcome; outreach and inclusivity; and perception.

Cumulative Sheet

The teaching, learning and resources parameter takes into account regular full-time appointees, number of faculty members with PhDs and visiting faculty with PhDs. A sports component is also important in this criteria: it takes into account the sports budget, top performances and extra-curricular activities.

The research productivity parameter measures the number of publications by way of citation indexes through the list of publications submitted by the university faculty. Primary sources of information that were used to measure these were Scopus, Web of Science, Google Scholar and Indian Citation Index. The research productivity is also measured through books and monographs published by reputed publishing houses.

Intellectual property rights is an interesting measure — one that perhaps truly highlights the 'innovative' aspect of research.

Graduation outcome assesses the percentage of students clearing degree requirements in minimum time. An added component is the performance of students at national level exams such as GATE, UPSC etc.

To understand inclusivity and outreach, refresher and orientation courses were taken into account along with "e-content creation", industry interaction and measures taken by the universities to improve their quality. Regional diversity i.e. students from different states also became a point of measure.

Perception was measured through surveys of academics, institution heads, HR heads of employers etc.

Why do these ranks matter?

According to the World Economic Forum, while rankings do have value, often they "do not serve as the best proxy of quality and relevance of tertiary education institutions...any ranking is eventually an arbitrary arrangement of indicators aimed at labelling what it is being pre-defined by the ranker as a “good” educational institution." However, one must understand that academia is a vicious cycle: to get grants, the university must prove its reputation, and to prove its reputation, the university must receive grants. A national ranking system, and one that is as exhaustive as this one, will propel institutions into higher world rankings. If you take a look at the two most important world university rankings — QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) and Times Higher Education rankings, there are almost no Indian universities in the top 100. According to a study on the importance of national rankings, a combination study of the national and international rankings of universities will help create better research policies and help universities become better. To quote the vice chancellor of JNU, M Jagadeesh Kumar who published an editorial in The Economic Times, "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."