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Insights into Editorial: Recast this apples-and-oranges ranking method



The ranking of State-run higher education institutions (HEIs) together with centrally funded institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science, the National Institutes of Technology, central universities, etc. using the National Institutional Ranking Framework, or the NIRF (a methodology adopted by the Ministry of Education, Government of India, to rank institutions of higher education in India), is akin to comparing apples and oranges.


About National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF):

The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was approved by the Ministry of Education (Erstwhile Ministry of Human Resource Development) in September 2015.

It is the first-ever effort by the government to rank Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the country. Participation in NIRF was made compulsory for all government-run educational institutions in 2018.


National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) Assessment on Five Parameters:

  1. Teaching, Learning and Resources (TLR)
  2. Research and Professional Practice (RP)
  3. Graduation Outcomes (GO)
  4. Outreach and Inclusivity (OI)
  5. Peer Perception.

Reason for launch for NIRF is the subjectivity in the ranking methodology developed by QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Ranking led India to start its own ranking system for Indian HEIs on the line of Shanghai Rankings.

NIRF is in its sixth year, but it continues to only rank Indian HEIs whereas Shanghai Rankings were international in character from the first year itself. The long-term plan of NIRF is to make it an international league table.


Why is NIRF ranking important?

The credibility of the education institute is built by the NIRF ranking. The ranks attained by the educational institutions help students choose the best college to enroll in.

Also, NIRF ranking promotes healthy challenge among different institutes to improve on their functioning and other aspects so as to attain a spot in this ranking.

NIRF ranking is taken a reliable ranking for it is brought by the Ministry of Education. The clustered parameters on which institutions are ranked are weight-based.

The public relations (PR) parameter has not been given much weight so as to avoid false claims and lead to credible ranking.


The outline, institute data:

  1. The NIRF outlines a methodology to rank HEIs across the country, which is based on a set of metrics for the ranking of HEIs as agreed upon by a core committee of experts set up by the then Ministry of Human Resources Development (now the Ministry of Education).
  2. The rationale to compare State universities and colleges with the Ivy League of India, to which the Central government is committed to sponsoring resources and infrastructure, is inexplicable.
  3. The Central government earmarked the sums, ₹7,686 crore and ₹7,643.26 crore to the IITs and central universities, respectively, in the Union Budget 2021.
  4. According to an All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20 report, there are 1,043 HEIs.
  5. A close study of this data shows that 184 are centrally funded institutions (out of 1,043 HEIs in the country) to which the Government of India generously allocates its financial resources in contrast to inadequate financial support provided by State governments to their respective State public universities and colleges.


Comparing state and central funded institutions: Deficiencies in State-sponsored HEIs is in the focus:

  1. The financial health of State-sponsored HEIs is an open secret with salary and pension liabilities barely being managed.
  2. Hence, rating such institutions vis-à-vis centrally funded institutions does not make any sense.
  3. Interestingly, no agency carries out a cost-benefit analysis of State versus centrally funded HEIs on economic indicators such as return on investment the Government made into them vis-à-vis the contribution of their students in nation building parameters such as the number of students who passed out serving in rural areas, tier-2 and tier 3 cities of the country and bringing relief to common man.
  4. While students who pass out of elite institutions generally prefer to move abroad in search of higher studies and better career prospects, a majority of State HEIs contribute immensely in building the local economy.
  5. Given the challenges State HEIs face in their day-to-day functioning, the NIRF seems to have taken cognisance of only the strength of institutions while completely disregarding the problems and the impediments they encounter, hence, disallowing a level-playing-field to State universities and colleges vis-à-vis their centrally funded counterparts.
  6. It must be noted that 420 universities in India are located in rural areas. Scare resources and the lackadaisical attitude of States preclude such institutions from competing with centrally sponsored and strategically located HEIs.


Ranking parameters needs to calculate on appropriate mechanism:

To take stock of the situation, let us first analysetwo important NIRF parameters in the context of State HEIs.

  1. Teaching, learning and resources includes metrics viz. student strength including doctoral students, faculty-student ratio with an emphasis on permanent faculty, a combined metric for faculty with the qualification of PhD (or equivalent) and experience, and financial resources and their utilization.
  2. In the absence of adequate faculty strength, most State HEIs lag behind in this crucial NIRF parameter for ranking.
  3. Research and professional practice encompasses a combined metric for publications, a combined metric for quality of publications, intellectual property rights/patents and the footprint of projects, professional practice and executive development programmes.
  4. As most laboratories need drastic modernisation in keeping pace with today’s market demand, it is no wonder that State HEIs fare miserably in this parameter as well while pitted against central institutions.
  5. As quality research publications and the number of patents filed in State HEIs are contingent on well-equipped laboratories, modern libraries and generously funded infrastructure, it is imperative for policymakers to reorient financial allocation strategies towards State HEIs.


Correcting measures required: Where State HEIs struggle?

State HEIs are struggling to embrace emerging technologies involving artificial intelligence, machine learning, block chains, smart boards, handheld computing devices, adaptive computer testing for student development, and other forms of educational software/hardware to remain relevant as per the New Education Policy.

The most useful purpose that the ranking can serve but ignored so far is to identify areas of improvement and then proactively to work to overcome those deficiencies and thus ensure quality and promote excellence.

This would mitigate the huge difference that presently exists between the best and the rest of the Higher Education Institutions.



Therefore, when these two are put together, ranking HEIs on a common scale purely based on strengths without taking note of the challenges and the weaknesses they face is not justified.

It is time the NIRF plans an appropriate mechanism to rate the output and the performance of institutes in light of their constraints and the resources available to them.

To conclude, the fund and the faculty, the two most neglected areas, are critical not only for research performance but also for the overall ranking, as the two bear a high degree of positive correlation.

After all, no nation can afford a few ‘islands of excellence surrounded by the sea of mediocrity, condemning them to eternal inferiority.