Education is one of the most important tools available to humans that can be effectively used to fight poverty. Although, some people argue that education has nothing to do with success, it is my belief that such assertions are baseless. In fact, there is evidence that there is a high correlation between quality education and success of individuals. Without a doubt there is a rush among students to seek quality education and make it big in life. However, the million-dollar question is how do we know where quality education is available, how do we know what parameters define quality education. This is where the genesis of University rankings began to take shape.
Let’s rewind to the past and look at the making of some of the worlds best universities also sometimes referred to as World-Class Universities. Let’s take a few examples of universities like Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Stanford. None of these universities aimed at becoming world class not they had any interest in rankings. They evolved over a period of time by introducing best practices in teaching, learning and research. They also became pioneers in new pedagogic methods, which to a large extent changed the face of higher education. Many of such universities were governed by a board of trustees with social good as the only interest. So, what was so different about these universities and why they got classified as World-Class University. What mattered to these universities was high end research and teaching. At all times doing what was right for students and the academic community.
Let me try and make a distinction between rankings in India vs the rankings outside India. I think this is an important aspect to understand as it will define the purpose of rankings and how they are used. In the United States there are several rankings of universities and colleges and such systems exist in United Kingdom as well as the European Union. Let me come to rankings in India a little later so that the context is understood.
There is a lot of disagreement on whether University and college rankings are scientific or not. There is also disagreement about the parameters that are used in rankings and whether they capture the true essence of quality education. Despite all these challenges and difficulties, there is no one who is willing to say that these rankings are forged or have been placed at a certain rank due to commercial consideration by the ranking body.
Most of these rankings are done scientifically based on the parameters identified. So, much of the disagreements that we have with foreign rankings and not finding a place in the world top 200 universities, is based on our argument that the parameters used do not capture the quality considerations of Indian Universities. To some extent this argument may have some weight but is certainly not a sufficient condition to harp on it.
Let’s now see what is the impact of ranking on the choice that students make in selecting universities to study. There is conflicting information about the influence of college rankings on prospective college student choices. A 2012 survey by Art & Science Group reported that 66% of students considered college rankings in their college decisions. But the 2015 survey by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute found that only 20% of college freshmen said college rankings were very important for their choice of college. It was further noted by the Art & Science Group study which found only 17% of students strongly agreed that college rankings were very important, not much different than the 18% figure in the same year’s UCLA survey. It is reported that in the United States 2/3 of prospective college students look at college rankings, but only 1/5 consider them to be very important when deciding where to apply and where to enroll. They matter most to students with high admissions test scores who are seeking prestigious colleges and universities.
Let’s now turn to rankings of universities and colleges in India. The scenario is not that pleasing and its nothing less than a promoting university that pay to get rankings. Almost every agency including newspapers, magazines and other agencies are indulging in using completely unscientific methods and unauthenticated information provided by the participating universities. More over the rankings rarely include universities that refuse to participate. There is no process of verification of the information that has been provided by the participating institutions. Rankings in India are a business propositions and magazines and newspapers rely on large scale advertising in the editions that provide the rankings.
Needless to say, most of the rankings in India are forged to meet the commercial considerations of the ranking agency. In fact, many of these rankings are misleading and do disservice to the parents and the prospective students. If one were to make an assessment of the ranks assigned to universities and colleges, we find that the rankings are done on various categories. We have ranking that say; best emerging university, best university in north India, South India, best university in placements etc. It looks like almost every universities and college are ranked high on the basis of criteria that no one understands.
Under these circumstances the rankings are being purchased by Universities and colleges to create a perception of quality education which may not be true. Thus, majority of the rankings are used by the institutions as a marketing tool. The idea is very simple, every institution is just trying to create a perception of quality education where as the reality may be far from the truth.
Prospective students and parents need to use these rankings with caution. They should not be used a parameter in a serous manner. They should try and align their interest with the institution’s strengths. A final word of caution: It’s your career and life and choose wisely as you may be in for a surprise when its already too late. Always visit the campus and feel the pulse of the place, meet faculty and senior administrators to understand how student centric they are to start with. Ask difficult questions and see how the place smells to you after the visit. Its your life and you will need to do your home work to ensure that you are at the right place for higher studies.
Prof. Kamlesh Misra
Rishihood University, Sonipat