An article published in ‘World Population Review’ says that ‘education is considered to be a human right and plays a key role in human, social, and economic development. Education promotes gender equality, promotes peace, and increases a person’s chances of having more opportunities in life.’ We are well aware that education needs to be imparted well and not every institution measures up to this task. It is for this reason that we have, at every stage of our life as a learner, guidelines that ranks institutions.
During the mid-nineties when my wife was at the University of York as a Commonwealth scholar, I happened to talk to the student editor of the university magazine where one of my poems was published and asked, ‘How do students in UK choose their college or university?’
He replied, ‘That’s simple. Times Higher Education, Cambridge University, and a few other organizations rank courses, colleges, and universities.’ He then paused and added that some students prefer to visit their choice of college on open days and then decide if they like the place or not. ‘And for others it is the availability of scholarships or bursaries that matter,’ he said, and then smiled, ‘many of my friends wouldn’t want to be in York as the nightlife here isn’t as vibrant as it is in London.’
What matters and what doesn’t
Over the years, the system of rankings has become more accurate as survey segments are extensive, precise as parameters are worked and re-worked, and relevant as an aspirant needs to be sure of the choices he makes. A conversation with aspiring students tells me that the primary concern at the undergrad level hovers around the quality of campus life and is a major deciding factor. Given a choice, they would all want to be at a university that is in a bigger city than preferring one that has only a few villages in the neighborhood, or may want to choose a college that is in or near a happening part of the city. At the PG level, the choices have academic prowess built-in. For management students, for instance, it is the alumni network or the equity that the college enjoys that takes precedence over the university.
Allow me to explain the concept by looking at the need for conceptualizing a bridge. We have in India a large variation of thought processes within the country’s geographical perimeter and this includes using living roots of trees, large stones that float, boulders that connect, and even rubble placed in strategic ways. No, we aren’t discussing the way bridges are built but the variations in educated thinking that is a part of India and obviously adding to the development of education system here. We, in India, have had our own brand of gurukuls where the focus was entirely on the student-teacher equation and this contributed to the strong and powerful cultural depth. This has, of course, given way to the new ways in the world of education where the gurukul system is now missing. However, we can still stumble upon traces of this ancient system that has strategically placed itself right within the heart and art of the one that we have adopted from the West. This is the reason why knowledge and information sharing meanders along calmly with concepts yoga that are now classified under the ‘alternate’ systems. However, what I am trying to point out is something vastly different from this.
India is a country where multiple cultures coexist and if we take the methods used and the values taught, for instance, in the North East, they will be seen to have taken a different path as compared to the one adopted by those in the Southern parts. The end result is invariably the successful conversion of a student into a well-rounded personality ready to take on the world. The advantage that India has over other countries is that we have different mind-sets seeped in varying teaching methodologies mingling with each other and sharing well-tested and reasonable methods that have links to their past… this is the sort of creative educational churning that goes on continually in our country. This is the advantage that we need to be proud of and must work to make this confluence better.
The question that must be asked now is if this confluence is being encouraged or not. Has this confluence evolved at the right pace? What more is needed for things to go in the right direction? However, the aim of this article is not to talk about this educational flow but to understand what is happening with the system of rankings that are supposed to assist students reach the institution of their choice.
India’s past must help education evolve
In an article published in Deccan Chronicle in 2018, the author lamented the fact that we still stand at a lowly 37th position according to the World Education Forum. The report quoted places Singapore at the top for science and math, followed by Finland, Switzerland, Lebanon, Netherlands, Qatar, Belgium, Estonia, Hong Kong and the US. The author specifies that ‘the countries ranked up to 36 spent more than 6 per cent of their GDP on education against 3.3 per cent in India’.
It is only reasonable to wonder on these statistics if we consider the rich educational heritage that we have in the country. Experts believe that it is the influence of the western system that has promoted and nurtured a flaw over the years as we are hopelessly and helplessly bound in the present by an overwhelming focus on marks and grades. It is this focus that obviously needs a re-working and restructuring.
India’s glorious past in the world of education must again emerge and help our systems evolve. One necessary action that may catalyze this push is a healthy and non-biased system of ranking for our colleges, institutions, universities, and courses. Even multiple systems will help… and we do have more than one organization involved with the act of awarding ranks. One such governmental agency is the NIRF or the National Institutional Ranking Framework that comes under the MHRD or the ministry of Human Resource Development. Governmental involvement at some stage in the ranking system plays the role of not just putting things in the right perspective for aspiring students but also provides a benchmark for other private players involved with rankings.
This ranking framework came into being on the 29th of September 2015 and the parameters considered included ‘teaching, learning and resources’, ‘research and professional practices’, ‘graduation outcomes’, ‘outreach and inclusivity’, and ‘Perception’. The NIRF website explains that the parameters factored in student strength, faculty student ratio, the budget and utilization analysis, a contemporary and relevant metric for publications and their quality, and the footprint of projects and professional practice. Equally vital is the metric for graduating students admitted to universities for higher education, the percentages of women, students from other states, and encouragement to socially and/ or physically challenged students. So far as the parameters for perception are concerned, they include employers, research investors, academics, and even the public.
These sarkari rankings are for overall as well as specific grading and include colleges and universities and also for branches of study including engineering, management, pharmacy, law, architecture, and medical sciences.
In an article published last year in The Hindu, the writer voiced a concern and specified that ‘even among the 3,954 institutions that participated, there is a clear skew towards southern, southeastern and western India. Participation levels are inadequate: there were 40,026 colleges and 11,669 standalone institutions according to the HRD Ministry’s All India Survey on Higher Education for 2016-17.’ Such indications are enough to tell us that the process of ranking has to continually evolve and probably also include a lot of other private players to add to its efforts.
The relevance of labels
Labels matter. They tell us if we are looking at the right thing or the things that we would want to keep active in our choice horizon. Labels also inspire aspirations, help us jump over social and cultural barriers by giving subliminal calls, and make things more orderly. However, as Criss Jami wrote, when one looks at a person, ‘I see a person – not a rank, not a class, not a title’.
Written on 14 November 2019
Published in The Education Post – November 2019