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NIRF : Unofficially, A Broken Lens

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Outlook India | 26 June 2016 | Arindam Mukherjee | Opinion |

The first ‘official’ ranking of professional ­institutes is a mess of poor planning and worse execution.

Every year, close to 15 lakh students appear for engineering entrance examinations in India. For most of these students, college rankings hold a special significance—they depend on them to make an informed choice. For over a decade, Outlook has been serving up rankings of professional colleges, which are considered top-of-the-class. Given the high stakes, everyone has welcomed the Modi government’s decision to rank engineering colleges. After all, everyone would benefit from a better ranking process to judge the worth of a college in engineering, management or a few other areas. But the government’s efforts to bring out a comprehensive “official” ranking of colleges—the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) introduced by the HRD ministry—have been clearly disappointing. It has been questioned, criticised and attacked by almost all sections of academia and the education ecosystem. The NIRF offering has inconsistencies and anomalies across all rankings. This even though, compared to media organisations like the India Today Group, Hind­ustan Times, Careers 360 and Outlook, which also do rankings, the government is in a much better position to source and dem­and data from colleges. The NIFR is a stellar example of bad planning and poor execution. The results are illogical and ske­wed in favour of government institutions, to say the least. Many deserving government institutions and private institutions do not even find place in the rankings.

Take the engineering rankings. The top five positions are unsurprisingly divided bet­ween the old IITs, but the survey looks a bit biased when one considers the position given to other government institutions. For example, the IITs at Ropar, Hyderabad and Patna, which are new and have much to prove, have been placed above IIT BHU, Varanasi, which is an established and acc­omplished organisation and deserves to be ranked higher. All the IITs, including the new ones, essentially make the top 25 list, which is not the case in other rankings. More surprisingly, the new IITs have been placed above the much accomplished National Institutes of Technology (NITs). Only the NITs at Trichi (Rank 12), Rourkela (19) and Surathkal (22) have made the cut. However, despite their presence in the ranking, their low ranks raise many questions as the colleges have always scored high in all surveys, including Outlook’s. NIT Surathkal, for instance, is ranked No. 9 in the 2016 Outlook rankings. In fact, not a single NIT features in the top 10 in the NIRF engineering ranking.  Among the private colleges, the biggest top-level omission is perhaps BITS Pilani, which does not figure in the top 25 list. The best private engineering college acc­ording to the NIRF survey is VIT Vellore, which, though a capable candidate, is not top of the list in most surveys.  The anomalies exist even in the NIRF business school rankings. While the top four positions are taken by the older IIMs, IIM Udaipur, a relatively new IIM and not on the top list of any survey, is seen at No. 5 and above IIM Kozikode, a more suitable candidate. Similarly, IIM Indore, much in the same class as IIM Kozikode, finds itself pushed down to No. 10, below both IIM Udaipur and IMI Delhi, neither of which deserves its exalted position. Also, one of the better colleges, S.P. Jain Institute of Management, Mumbai, is pushed down to No. 16 while Thiagrajar School of Management, Madurai—which cannot compare with S.P. Jain—is at No. 15. Again, like in engineering, here too, there is an attempt to accommodate all the IIMs, even the mint fresh ones, in the top 25 list, while a good 10-15 good B-Schools, regulars in the top 25 list of all other surveys, do not figure in the government list at all. Among the notables missing are IMT Ghaziabad, FMS Delhi, NMIMS Mumbai, Symbiosis Pune, Jamnalal Bajaj Mumbai, XIM Bhubaneshwar and IRMA Anand.

These omissions in the engineering and management rankings are unacceptable not just because the government has manifold resources and power compared to the private surveys. The HRD ministry more or less follows the same methodology as others (including Outlook). Clearly, the stark differences in rankings are not logical. To put it bluntly, the results cannot be so far apart unless there are instructions from the government to show some colleges in good light. This raises questions about how data has been collected from the colleges and authenticated to show such results.  Yet, many hope the NIRF rankings would inspire colleges to pull up their socks and perform better. “If one college gets a good rank, others will get INS­pired to do better,” says Dr A.N. Kowale, vice-dean, B.J. Medical College, Pune. “It will bring in competition among colleges. And by helping the government analyse the performance of those lagging behind, the efforts will be focused more on colleges that need help.” The NIRF rankings this year did not include medical colleges, but it could happen next year.

Interestingly, before finalising the NIRF, the government had approached some international agencies for India-specific rankings so Indian colleges could be brought up on an international institutional ranking platform. “The gov­ernment created the NIRF platform as int­ernational bodies refused to do som­ething for Indian colleges,” says A.R. Bha­lerao, principal, Bharati Vidya­peeth College of Engineering, Pune. “The gov­ernment had approached Times Higher Education (THE) and QS Ran­kings, which are known for their global col­lege rankings, to include some India-specific parameters in their rankings but they refused. So the government started NIRF, which is a good measure to judge Indian colleges.” Many feel the NIRF rankings will help the government decide on funding colleges based on their performance. “It will help the government take a calibrated approach,” says a senior IIT professor on the condition of anonymity. “A large number of government-funded colleges are rep­eatedly at the bottom of the charts. They pay little attention to factors like proper faculty or infrastructure, or upgrading their systems. These will come to light now. Once you link their funding to performance, they will have to improve their performance and that will reflect in their ranking.” There are, of course, many who feel a lot more needs to be done to properly streamline the NIRF rankings and make them logically consistent with the colleges’ comparative performance. Experts point at several anomalies in the approach followed in the first year that need to be corrected. That process may have begun. The government has now set up a panel to look into the rankings exercise so it can be imp­roved in next year’s edition. But unless some balance is brought in and the rankings present a logical picture, it will be an exercise in futility. The HRD ministry must tread carefully and do the right thing. We all know who the ultimate sufferers will be. –  Courtesy


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