Sunday, October 09, 2011

Indian Universities are no longer world class

A recent survey carried out by the Times Higher Education magazine ranked all the universities in the world. Sadly, Indian universities don't figure too highly. The best Indian university in that list is IIT Bombay. Its ranking is 301-350: no specific rank is given. One thing is for sure, IIT Bombay is worse than many small universities few people have heard about, like places in Turkey and Brazil.

Many years ago, I had written about how the IITs are not world class. When you venture out of India, you realize how bad they are. That article got a lot of pageviews, and lots of comments. Many IIT students wrote to say how deluded I was, in their own special way. Eat humble pie, my friends.

The Times Higher Education survey is quite comprehensive. You can look at the methodology details here. In short, they asked industry and education leaders for their views of universities. Universities were graded along a variety of factors: the number of citations for their papers, the amount of research funding, the impact of its research on industry, the teaching environment. The study looks solid: all income has been adjusted for purchasing power parity, so poor countries are not penalized for their lower cost of living. Also, there is a normalization across disciplines, so sciences where overall publication frequency is lower are not penalized for having lesser research output. The weight for research output is 30%, which is perhaps too low. They have an iPhone application which allows you to change the weights and see the impact on the ranking.

I don't have access to their raw data, but from reading about the study, their method looks sound. Ranking an institution is a difficult task, and this study is probably the most precise answer we have right now. A better study could look at the impact of graduates from the universities, or the difference between the capability of students with and without the education: thereby measuring the impact of the institution itself. Alas, such controlled studies are difficult to come by.

So where does this leave us? This leaves us in the sorry state of admitting that Indian educational institutions are really not that good. The Chinese are far ahead of us. The prestigious Tsinghua University in China is at position 71, ranking near well known universities Rice and Vanderbilt, both in the US. Among Asian countries, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore all fare very well. In fact, the top Asian universities are dominated by Japan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and Korea, and now the reasons are somewhat clearer. . These countries have made investments in education, and the results speak for themselves. Even between Brazil, Russia, and China, India spends the least amount of money on education, per student.

Admitting that our educational institutions have fallen behind is the first step. Only after we admit the problem can we find ways to rectify the situation.