New Education Policy (NEP) has provided a huge platform to transform our Higher Education System with the objective of improving its global competitiveness – taking our country to the level of economic super-power.  Emphasis on inter-disciplinary framework, flexibility of curriculum with multiple-entry multiple-exit features, integration of skill development with mainstream academia, promotion of entrepreneurial studies – all these features of NEP constitute perfect recipe for achieving these objectives.  We do have a large network of institutions engaged in higher education across length and breadth of our country, our alumni have rich heritage of performing extremely well in academia and industries all over the world, even at present many of the internationally top ranked industries are headed by our alumni, top universities/institutes of the world have significant number of our alumni in their faculty – and, hence, we should not have much problem in implementation of this NEP.  Furthermore, we do already have established agencies like National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), National Board of Accreditation (NBA) and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) to help us out.

The process to make this happen should obviously commence with the initiative to inculcate the sense of belongingness and pride in every institute for the entire national higher education system.  The system, in its turn, has the responsibility of ensuring equity, inclusiveness and level playing field for every member – aided by appropriate policy of “equal opportunity” and “right member for right job at right place”.  Herein lies the problem as it stands now – and this happens to be the central theme of this article which concentrates on technical higher education.

As a representative example of the present scenario, one case study is presented below –

Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship (PMRF) – 2020, as advertised, had set the following Institute eligibility criteria for application.

(i) all IITs, (ii) all IISERs, (III) IISc, and (iv) Central Universities/NITs offering science and/or technology degrees which appear in the list of top 25 institutes in the NIRF ranking (overall) in the previous year.

The following information is worth consideration in this context –

NIRF ranks of top state universities.

University 2020 2019 2018
Calcutta University 11 12 21
Jadavpur University 12 13 13
Savitribai Phule Pune University 19 17 16
Anna University 20 14 10
Bharathiar University 21 21 20

The above five state universities ranked better than all but seven top IITs and all the IISERs in each of the last three NIRF rankings.

IIT Dharwad, IIT Jammu, IIT Goa, IIT Bhilai, IIT Tirupati, IIT Palakkad did not feature in the list of top 100 institutions (overall) in last three years.

IISER Berhampur, IISER Tirupati also did not feature in the list of top 100 institutions (overall) in the last three years.

NITs at Rourkela, Surathkal, Warangal, Jaipur, Allahabad, Silchar, Durgapur featured in the top 100 (overall) but was not included. Only NIT Trichi was considered for having a rank within top 25.

Universities / Institutes in private sector, some of which have been performing quite well, have been completely left out.

Research Institutes outside the purview Ministry of Human Resource Development, like Indian Statistical Institute, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Institute of Mathematical Sciences etc and CSIR Research Labs also have been left out.

Furthermore, following two tables are representatives of national research scenario –

Summary of S.S. Bhatnagar Award Winners in previous 3 years

Details 2020 2019 2018
IITs/IISc 4 3 7
State Universities / Institutes 1 0 0
Other Autonomous Institutes 6 7 5
Research Organizations 3 1 0
Industries 0 1 0
Total 14 12 12

Summary of INAE Fellow Awardees in previous 3 years

Details 2018-19 2017-18 2016-17
IITs/IISc 9 14 15
State Universities / Institutes 3 1 0
Other Autonomous Institutes 4 0 3
Research Organizations 4 11 7
Industries 3 5 6
Total 23 31 31

In this background, the efficacy of such restrictive eligibility criteria for PMRF-2020 can be under big question mark.  Similarly, the feeling of being left out even at the time of application can easily act as a huge demotivating factor for Institutes striving for better performance.

Let us now consider various constituents of our Higher Education System in broad perspective.

In accordance with All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) Report 2018-19.

Total AICTE approved technical institutions – 10,989
IIT – 23;           IISER – 7;         NIT – 31;          IIIT – 25;          Universities – 993

  • 993 Universities, 39931 Colleges and 10725 Stand Alone Institutions.
  • 298 Universities are affiliating. 385 Universities are privately managed.
  • 16 Universities are exclusively for women.
  • 548 General, 142 Technical, 63 Agriculture & Allied, 58 Medical, 23 Law, 13 Sanskrit and 9 Language Universities and rest 106 Universities are of other categories
  • 60.53% Colleges are located in Rural Area. 11.04% Colleges are exclusively for Female.
  • Only 2.5% Colleges run Ph.D. programme and 34.9% Colleges run Post Graduate Level programmes.
  • Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher education in India is 26.3%. GER for male population is 26.3% and for females, it is 26.4%.
  • About 79.8% of the students are enrolled in Undergraduate level programme. Less than 0.5% – PhD.
  • At Undergraduate level the highest number (35.9%) of students are enrolled in Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences courses followed by Science (16.5%), Engineering and Technology (13.5%) and Commerce (14.1%)
  • 40,813 students were awarded Ph.D. level degree during 2018 with 23,765 males and 17,048 females. The share of Ph.D. student is highest in State Public University (34.3%) followed by Institute of National Importance (21.6%), Deemed University-Private (21.6%) and State Private University (13.4%).
Universities Numbers
Central University 46
Central Open University 1
Institution of National Importance 127
State Public University 371
Institution under State Legislature Act 5
State Open University 14
State Private University 304
State Private Open University 1
Deemed University- Government 34
Deemed University- Government Aided 10
Deemed University- Private 80
Total 993

Thus, we have enough reasons to be enthused in taking our Higher Education System to a much higher orbit in global arena – through motivational involvement of every Institute.

Let us now try to understand where our Higher Education System stands today in international perspective.  For the sake of completeness, let us also have some idea about the positioning of our industries in global arena.

QS 2021 ranks (Top 500 – India)
Top 200: IIT Bombay (172), IISc Bangalore (185), IIT Delhi (193)
201-300: IIT Madras (275)
301-400: IIT Kharagpur (314), IIT Kanpur (350), IIT Roorkee (383)
401-500: IIT Guwahati (470)

Forbes 2000 Global companies from India
1-100: Reliance Industries (58)
101-200: HDFC Bank (146), State Bank of India (171)
201-300: ICICI Bank (255), ONGC (269), HDFC (279)
301-400: TCS (375)
401-500: L&T (443), NTPC (497)

These data substantiate the age-old notion about our country – while we do have many examples of individuals who have done exceedingly well in national and international arena in their own field of contribution, at the systemic level it is extremely difficult to find any Institute / organization within our country for consideration as role models for improving global competitiveness.  In fact, this aspect is probably the single most important parameter that differentiates a developed country from a developing country.

Relative decay of performance of our Institutes is explained by the following piece of data –

  QS2021 QS2021
NIRF2020 NIRF2020
Rank Institute Score Institute Score (Score/Top score)*100
1 MIT 100 IIT Madras 85.31 100.00
2 Stanford University 98.4 IISc Bangalore 84.18 98.68
5 University of Oxford 96.7 IIT Kharagpur 75.85 88.91
10 UCL 92.9 BHU 62.03 72.71
20 University of Edinburgh 85.8 Anna University 58.10 68.10
50 Technical University of Munich 73.6 King George`s Medical University, Lucknow 48.91 57.33
100 UNAM, Mexico 58.8 Mizoram University 41.80 49.00

Now, it is worth articulating several critical inferences based on these sets of data –

  1. Below-par ranking of our Institutes in global ranking is quite well known, It is even more concerning to note much more accelerated erosion of score of our Institutes (vis-à-vis global yardstick) as we go down the ranks within NIRF.
  2. Whatever representation we have in Top-500 global ranking, they all (except IISc) belong to the “family” of IITs. Situation is exactly similar if we look at the Top-10 list of Institutes in NIRF.  Internationally great Institutes, on the other hand, are all multi-disciplinary in nature.  Hence, top Institutes as per NIRF need not be best positioned for promotion of interdisciplinary academic framework – as suggested in NIRF.  This would also be a serious limitation for contributing to the “atmanirbhar” theme.
  3. Even in the domain of Information Technology where we feel comfortable, our top-ranked organization is ranked 375 in the over-all list of top global organizations.  Similarly, in banking sector, our ranking starts with global rank of 146 only.
  4. We do not have any representation from Manufacturing, Pharma, Auto and Agricultural sectors in the global list of Top-500 organizations.

Widening the base of good-performing Institutes has to be the primary objective while framing rules and regulations in Higher Education System – any kind of disparity within the system has to be addressed at the earliest.

Let us now document some more examples of glaring disparities without our Higher Education System.  Most of these practices will appear completely bizarre in any country with developed Higher Education System –

  1. Some Institutes (which are generally identified by the ‘family’ where they belong – irrespective of quality as primary metric) are kept outside the purview of regulatory authorities like UGC and AICTE.  In fact, some of these Institutions are even outside the purview of National Board of Accreditation as well.
  2.  Extent of reluctance generally observed against Institutes in Private sector while finding experts for adjudication of PhD dissertation.  Interestingly, in case of experts taken from Institutes outside India, the same criterion is not even thought of.  In fact, many academic administrators may not be knowing which of those Institutes are in the Public Sector and which are in the Private Sector.
  3. A comprehensive audit on the on the entry qualifications of the students at post- graduate and research level in top 10 Institutes (by NIRF) will clearly reveal almost near absence of any one with B.Tech. from those Institutes.  Study on similar fact finding in premier research-oriented organizations like ISRO, DRDO etc. will also result in similar inference.
  4. Almost near monopoly of representatives of IITs/IISs/IISER in the committees for selection of project proposals for distribution of funds.  It needs to be appreciated that just maintenance of transparency is not enough – perception about the underlying process is also equally (if not more) important.  Limitation of preferential selection of inclusion metric for submission of project proposal has already been explained through an example earlier in this article.
  5. Five initial IITs had been established within a span of about 12 years during 1950s and 1960s.  But, right from the day of establishment, all of them reached the same level of performance.  However, even after 12+ years of establishment, new generation of IITs are still clubbed as “New” IITs – thereby propagating the notion of their below-par performance vis-à-vis old IITs.
  6. As reported in media, seven old IITs had decided not to participate in THE global ranking.  Of course, it is entirely up to the Institute concerned to take a call on such an issue.  However, this kind of small group within a group raises concern about cartelization as sometimes observed in business sector.
  7. IISc, which always draws highest (by far) quantum of public money, does not have any undergraduate program excepting just one recently announced small program.  Practically every great Institute in the world (like MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge etc) has quite large undergraduate programs.  Hence, any logic suggesting likelihood of any fall in research level due to presence of undergraduate programs does not appear to be tenable.
  8. While public funded Institutes in the “developed” world (like PenState Univ, Michigan State Uni, Ohio State Univ, Tech Munich Germany etc) generally all have large number of enrolment (typically 35,000+), IITs which consume huge amount of public money, still have much less (typically 15,000-) enrolment.
  9. True to the philosophy for creation of RECs (in parallel with IITs) within 15 years of our independence, while establishing of new NITs (again in parallel with IITs), places like Hyderabad and Gandhinagar had been chosen for IITs and places like Mizoram and Nagaland had been chosen for NITs.  By act, NITs have additional responsibility of inducting 50% of intake from home state.  Hence, while taking note of the contribution of these new IITs in research, equal (if not more) emphasis needs to be made on the contribution of these new NITs in uplifting local society.
  10. In spite of being hugely starved of funding (that too, differentially), many State Universities have been doing commendable job in the field of higher education. Same situation may me ascribed to quite a few good-performing Institutes in the Private sector.
  11. Every Institute within a “family” has its own strength. Tendency to enforce uniformity across all the Institutes within a “family” acts as deterrent for good-performing members of the “family”.  Detailed study on the “family” of NITs – vis-à-vis corresponding practices in the “family” of IITs will substantiate this aspect further.
  12. Many academic institutions are outside the purview of MHRD.In fact, medical institutes are also outside MHRD.We are now in an era of convergence of social science, life science and computing science with technology as a driving force. Wholistic approach considering all institutions irrespective of the corresponding Ministry report to, is must for improving efficacy of our higher education system.

To consolidate, fragmentation of Institutes as Centrally Funded, State Funded, Private, Private Aided and so on and furthermore classifying them in terms of ‘families’ – and framing of principles for academic policies and distribution of fund on such metric (without consideration on performance as primary metric – stand alone and relative) has been by far the single most significant impediment in taking our Higher Education System to the level comparable with the best in the world.  Otherwise, the system is all set for this quantum jump – and has been waiting for an impetus.  This NEP together with “atmanirbhar” theme happens to be an ideal combination to serve as the trigger.

We all have to think logically, act rationally and be bold in implementation with openness of mind.  Every Institute has to be under the same set of rules.  For a wide variety of cars driving on the same road, no country can afford to have a different set of rules for some big cars irrespective of however efficient those may be.  If at all some categories have to be made, one and only one criterion has to be based on performance – and we do already have our own NIRF to help us out in this perspective.

Let us conclude with an analogy from the game of cricket which happens to be the passion of our country.  Since ages, we have produced great cricketers with phenomenal contribution at international level.  However, success as a team had been rare.  The scenario changed dramatically when the game got popularised at the mass level – even players form remotest of places and with very humble background started getting entry into our national cricket team.  This had a multiplier effect on increasing the motivation of everyone all around.  The result is now on display for the entire world.  We are now undisputed superpower in cricket.

Similarly, we have reasons to be optimistic with our Higher Education System as well – waiting for a day (which I believe should come soon) when even a small Institute situated in a remote village will attract students from all over the world.  NEP and “atmanirbhar” principle have created the platform – and together we all need to have the theme to work on “Equity, Inclusiveness, Level playing Field and same set of rules for every Institute”

Professor Swapan Bhattacharya
Former Director, NITK- Surathkal and NIT-Durgapur
Former Sr. Research Associate, National Research Council, USA
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