All institutions of higher education funded by the Central government have been asked to participate in ranking made by international agencies, like the Times Higher Education and the Quacquarelli Symonds lists. Times Higher Education, for instance, released this year the world’s first ranking for “the BRICS countries and the other emerging economies”, where China topped the list as the “higher-education superpower”, with South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey and Russia filling up the top ten positions after China. Indian institutions account for 10 per cent of the list, with Punjab University doing best, overtaking the Indian Institutes of Technology and Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. Jadavpur University in Calcutta shares the 47th position with Madras IIT, and JNU is at 57.
Indian institutions must, therefore, be strongly encouraged, if not actually coerced, to participate in these rankings, so that the standards of excellence become truly international, rather than regional, as in this THE listing. Even within a narrower field of competition, what these lists show that local or national perceptions of the ‘fame’ of an institution may not be the same as objective evaluations of its standards of excellence. The IITs, JNU and Jadavpur University, for instance, all have a reputation within the country, or each in its own region, that might be somewhat at odds with how they fare according to less parochial criteria. Confronting this disparity, and addressing and understanding the gap, is the first step in evolving and maintaining a more professional, rigorous and realistic attitude to both excellence and competition. The important thing is that participation in ranking should not end up being a power tussle between the government and the institutions, and should be part of the latter’s own eagerness to be among the world’s best.