Poor rankings of Indian varsities exemplify the rot in education
Once again exemplifying the lacklustre quality of education in the country, no Indian university has featured in the top 300 in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings. In fact, Indian higher education appears to have receded with the highest ranked Indian varsity – IISc Bangalore – falling from the 251300 bracket to the 301-350 category. Although the total number of Indian entries went up from 49 to 56 this year in the overall 1,300-university list, only six universities made it to the 300 to 500 rankings.
In contrast, China has seven of its universities in the top 200 and its Tsinghua University – ranked 23 – is the highest ranked Asian university. This is the result of China’s focussed and sustained investment in education. Interestingly, despite being a communist regime, China realised the importance of quality education in nation-building and moved to implement global best practices for its universities. India, however, continues to view education through the prism of patronage. This has enabled a highly bureaucratic set-up that allows little autonomy to universities. Additionally, India’s socialist streak has handicapped higher education through instruments such as reservations and deep suspicion of foreign investments in the sector.
Until this tendency to micromanage is discarded things will only go from bad to worse. For meritocracy to flourish, a shift has to be made from control to market-oriented standards and independent accreditation. Government must know that it can’t mandate quality educational institutes by fiat. If it is unable to drop heavy regulations for political reasons, an alternative approach would be to set up special education zones free of them, and invite top foreign universities to set up there. This will lead to competition among varsities and raise overall standards. Otherwise, lacking employable skills, India’s demographic dividend is bound to turn into a demographic time bomb – a process that has already begun.