By Pradyut V. Hande:
In what can be construed as a blatant testament to India’s fractured and feeble educational system, the latest QS World University Rankings does not feature even a single Indian University or higher education institution in the top 200. Optimists may point to the fact that 11 Indian institutes feature in the top 800, but surely that is no reason for jubilation.
The highest ranked Indian institute happens to be IIT Delhi at 222. While IIT Bombay at 233 and IIT Kanpur at 295, just about make the top 300. IIT Madras features at 313, while IIT Kharagpur makes an entry at 346. Our fabled institutions have fallen short on the selection criteria – Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty – Student Ratio, Citations – Faculty Ratio, International Students and Faculty. If one thought that the bad news ended there, one would be sadly mistaken. Closer scrutiny reveals that India’s premier educational institutions have actually fallen down the rankings over the past year. This appears to be a greater cause for concern.
For a country that has always prided itself on its rich educational tradition and history…and places such great importance on the procurement of a quality education; these rankings are a scathing reminder of our systemic failures and lacunae. An emerging socio-economic powerhouse such as India can ill afford to let the dearth of world class educational institutions impede its ascent on the global arena. What is worrying is that even though these rankings have put things into perspective (yet again), these are ground realities our policy makers are well aware of. The sector is in dire need of widespread reform, influx of capital, infrastructural improvements and periodic curriculum related overhauls. The emphasis ought to be on the provision of quality education to greater sections of the society as a logical step towards greater inclusion and not on offering sub-standard education restricted to certain pockets. This has to begin at the grassroots level, i.e. primary education. Only then can we hope to mend the system, up the ladder.
Countries such as the USA, UK, Germany and France feature 144, 69, 42 and 40 institutes/universities in the top 800. One may argue that these are developed nations with sound educational foundations and a healthy R&D culture propelling the job market; but India would do well to take a leaf or two out of their books. It is not that we don’t possess the ability or wherewithal to breathe new life into the currently decrepit system; it is just that we have thus far lacked the vision, motivation and political will to drive positive change. A nation’s progression can be measured in terms of its holistic educational system quality and depth. Unfortunately, that is one among many parameters on which India finds itself wanting.
There is an urgent need to revamp the entire system in a phased manner. No longer can we afford to “compartmentalise learning”. The need for standardisation to ensure greater uniformity and consistency in the quality of education imparted is also critical. Mushrooming private educational institutes across the country do not guarantee a concurrent rise in the standard of education. The accent must be on equipping students with marketable skills rather than on purely theoretical knowledge that contributes precious little in an increasingly competitive and contracting job market. Will this latest glaring report awaken our policy makers from their voluntarily induced reverie? The optimist in me sincerely hopes that is the case. However, the realist leans on the edge of trepidation and resignation.