Context:- The 6th edition of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) for higher education was released by the Union Education Minister on September 9 2021.This new edition of NIRF highlights more gaps between the best of the Institutes also.
As NIRF ranks only the top 100, around 935 universities, are bound to remain out of its purview. Each higher educational institution in the country undergoes the trauma of hope and despair, whenever the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Times Higher Education (THE) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings are published.
Rankings offer many advantages. It may help students, faculty, and prospective employers, to help them choose institutions for admission, to enhance chances for securing research funding, and target campuses for hirings respectively. It may generally promote competition among institutions, which result in an overall improvement in quality. As in the current policy, ranking leads to privileges like getting autonomy, authority to offer open and distance mode programmes, and permission to enter into collaboration with foreign universities among others.
The ranking can serve one of the most useful purposes i.e.- to identify areas of improvement and then proactively work to overcome the necessary deficiencies, thus ensure quality and promote excellence. This would mitigate the currently existing difference between the best and the rest of the Higher Education Institutions. After all, no nation can afford a few ‘islands of excellence surrounded by the sea of mediocrity’, and condemning them to eternal inferiority.
Basis of metrics
The Universities need to offer quality skills, knowledge, and application orientation, but in order to attain excellence, they must make a seminal contribution in research, publications, patents and innovations too. Since performance of universities can’t be measured by a single indicator, and ranked on a metric of measures.
As most of them give considerable weightage to research output, quality and impact-
The ARWU ranks universities solely on the basis of their research performance.
THE and QS, accord 60% and 20% weightage to research respectively.
NIRF accords 30% weightage to Research Performance and Professional Practices (RPP).
This is measured through-
The combined metric of publications (PU, 35%),
Quality of publications (QP, 35%),
IPR and patent (IPR, 15%)
Footprint of Projects and Professional Practice (FPPP, 15%).
After analysing this context, we come to know that even the top 100 universities in NIRF, present a very dismal picture which requires urgent attention.
The NIRF 2020 ranking reveals that-
The best university in the country scored 92.16% on research performance.
The 10th best university score declined to 60.52%.
The 20th and the 50th best universities, scored 50.32% and 28.69% respectively .
The 100th best university, the RPP declined to as low as 4.35%.
It is not difficult to guess the state of affairs of the remaining 935 universities in the country.
On salaries and research
NIRF does not disclose data on the total number of teachers but includes the total expenditure on salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff bunched together plus the total number of PhD students enrolled in each of the ranked universities. Using the above two as proxy for the size of a university in terms of the faculty members and research staff, they were transposed against the Research and Professional Practice (RPP) ranks grouped in 10 categories.
The data disclose that on an average, the more the expenditure on salaries of the staff, the higher is the ranking of the university. So is the case with respect to the research scholars.The more the number of research scholars, the higher the ranks of the universities in terms of RPP. What was already known intuitively is now proven by the data also.
To conclude, the fund and the faculty, the two most neglected areas, are critical not only for research performance but also for the overall ranking, as the two bear a high degree of positive correlation.