The skill set required for the 21st century student is vastly different from when we started the Best Colleges survey 20 years ago. Then the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic were paramount. Now it’s the four Cs—critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication. Institutions of higher learning need to provide an education that keeps pace with an increasingly modern workplace where global protectionism and advancing automation are making jobs redundant and changing the notion of leisure time.
I am happy to report that our Best Colleges survey has been able to provide the emerging student with the tools to choose a smart future. From the generic top 10 ranking and two streams—engineering and medicine—the survey now covers 13 streams, which include media, fashion technology and fine arts. For arts, science and commerce, the survey now spans 18 cities. Instead of focusing on the overcrowded and overextended Delhi University, where cutoffs for certain subjects like economics have gone up to 100 per cent, it encompasses new hubs of learning such as Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad. And it also takes note of the deepening of competencies with private engineering colleges doing better, in some cases, than IITs—the top 10 honours are shared equally between IITs and private institutions. Clearly, even the government realises the importance of maintaining and raising standards, which is why the Union ministry for human resource development started the National Institutional Ranking Framework in 2015, which is, however, still in its infancy.
The percentage of youngsters between 18 and 23 who actually opt for higher education is still troublingly low—24 per cent compared to 50 per cent in advanced countries—but the figure is rising. So is supply. India now has 39,000 colleges, 11,000 standalone institutions and over 760 universities, according to data from the HRD ministry. Our survey was equally robust. The Nielsen Company did it in various stages, with a comprehensive list of more than 2,965 colleges, assessed by a combination of primary fieldwork and perception analysis of 1,236 experts, including principals, vice-principals, heads of department and deans. Those who refused to give data were not ranked, and we can only say to them, you can’t win the game if you don’t play it.
Some interesting trends have emerged from the 21st edition of the survey, put together by Senior Associate Editor Kaushik Deka. Bengaluru has emerged as a rising star in education, with colleges from every stream (except medicine) improving in their ranking. Unlike in the past, when top colleges meant only those based in metros, in arts, science and commerce, the top 40 institutes are now spread across 10 states; geography is no longer the barrier it once was. In six streams, there has been at least one surprise winner among the top 10, indicating the gradual emergence of a new generation of institutes. Yet, questions remain. Quality has to be given attention. India has a poor record of training doctors and health professionals. India has a doctor-patient ratio of 1:1,674 against the WHO norm of 1:100. As for engineering, the National Employability Report 2016 by evaluation company Aspiring Minds suggests more than 80 per cent of engineers in India are unemployable. This is shocking.
A country’s development is directly linked with the quality of education it delivers to its citizens. Quantity is not enough, quality matters. That is why continuously evaluating our educational institutions is of vital significance. I hope two decades of our surveys ranking institutions have helped upgrade our educational scaffolding. Peer pressure spurs improvement like nothing else.