Thursday, August 25, 2011

Congratulations, I guess?

Some time ago, I met a Chinese gentleman at an international conference. After the initial introductions, I was curious to know where he went to school. Once he told me, my first reaction was, "Oh, you are the guys who judge the academic world  with rankings, don't you?!". With an embarrassed smile, he said yes, but added that he was not very proud of this sole claim to fame, that his Alma mater enjoyed. But, he had added that every little bit of publicity helped, since the journey is long, and the destination is never quite in sight. That rather philosophical comment, might have been influenced by Confucius.

The Shanghai Jiao Tong University, has once again done what it is quite good at doing - ranking all the universities in the world using a very objective system. You can find it here.

The more I look at the way these guys keep doing it, year after year, the more I get impressed. There are no surprises here - Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Berkeley and Princeton, vie for the top ten rankings. This year, Harvard got the cake. The highest ranked non-American University is Cambridge at number five, which is impressive. The top ranker from Asia, is the University of Tokyo, at twenty one. Not bad really!

I know, I know. You want me to cut the crap and get to the information you need. Does Desi-land find a mention? Is there a Desi university in the top hundred? Nah. Two hundred? Nahin Saab! Three hundred? Kya baat karte hain Saab?! 

Ok, final call. Is there an Indian university in the top five hundred? Haan Jee!

In the rank 301-400 group, the "crown jewel of research" in India,  the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), does find a mention.  Ranked a notch above Purdue if that makes you happy.

And where are the IITs? Since our Harvard educated HRD minister Kapil Sibbal saab ji, took a personal interest in the IITs, the only ranked IIT from last year, IIT-Kharagpur, has dropped out of the list. Big surprise! I had written a post before, supporting Mr. Jairam Ramesh on his comments about the sorry state of research in IITs. You can find it here. Looks like, Mr. Ramesh and I, were both right. And, I am not really proud to say it. I wonder what else is Mr. Sibbal going to try and fix next.

So, what should I say? Congratulations to the IISc, I guess? For not falling out of the list?


  1. I'm trying to figure out what someone who wishes to make a modest yet serious attempt to change the scenario and raise the standard of education in India could do. Any ideas on how to get started and be effective?

  2. IIPM is furious.
    and i thought pressure cookers we were bred in,when pados ki aunty was ever inquisitive to set her son against me in maths.

  3. desibabu ji : it is no fair. iisc is in top 100 in engineering and top 50 in chemistry. pl. take a look at the web site u gave. pl. give credit when someone deserves it.

    about iit I agree. Sibal ji should not try to fix any more things.

  4. Seriously??? I had good regards for IIT Desi Babu!!!

  5. Dear AV: Thanks for your very kind comments on my other post. The real way to fix education in India, in my opinion, is to reduce the government's stranglehold on it. Public-private partnerships may be a good place to start: a case in point is ISB in Hyderabad.

    Anon 1: I like the comparison to "student-like competition"! Many universities around the world spend a substantial amount of money to get their rankings up. All this, is indeed serious business.

    Anon 2: My apologies for missing out on the department specific rankings for IISc. You are right, they do perform significantly better in engineering and chemistry.

    Dear Daran: As much as I hate saying it, the IITs have ended up being undergraduate factories. Now, even the top ranked ones are not considered as places from which, good research can originate.

  6. It would be unfair to even compare our universities with those of west's. The very basic criteria for rankings is 'research' which our universities have never focused onto.

    The reason being huge fundings.
    Had it been on the quality of students and faculty then I bet our rankings would be much higher !
    So it all depends on what basis you rank universities.

  7. @Pathfinder,
    In my opinion too, funding is the key issue. However, instead of stopping at saying the comparison is unfair, one needs to see why funding does not happen.

    The driver for funding in research is defence. This is lucrative enough for 'sarkar' to not allow the private sector (and the funding + research, + collaboration with tech-institutes that would follow).

    The way the current process works is that:
    a) Pvt Sector is not allowed to bid citing security.
    b) Pvt Sector is allowed to bid but someone like BHEL bids lower.
    c) Pvt sector is allowed to bid, but later cancelled out due to lack of experience (of course they don't have experience, hence the research & partnerships. The public companies experience is of no consequence).
    d) The public company gets the bid, they simply import the equipment, repaint it and put their sticker, and give it to the defence forces.
    e) If the item is low tech, it goes to the Ordinance factories (owned by Govt and heavily unionised), who work when they want to, and produce absolutely shoddy stuff, which has cost the lives of many soldiers.

    Another style goes like this - Our artillery desperately needs guns (the last guns, Bofors were bought when I was a little older then my son now). Every time a (sham) trial is held, which the Bofors gun wins, because it is the best. This is rejected, since the Congress does not what to touch Bofors (though it is a new company with new management from Rajeev Gandhi’s time).

    Bofors had earlier agreed to transfer the technology, but this never happened because the firm was blacklisted, although India paid the full amount for the transfer. Now Mahindra’s formed a joint-venture with Bofors to manufacture the gun in India, but they are just not being allowed to go ahead.

    Meanwhile, all kinds of imports keep happening to upgrade our obsolete artillery, and DRDO keeps announcing that they will build a new gun.

    It has started changing a bit, but it is too slow, and only when ‘sarkari’ pockets are not affected.

  8. Sir ji, I dont know why you are discussing on defence and bofors.

    Lets see this,

    India invests around 1 percent of its GDP on R&D while US invest 3 percent. And out of that 1 percent very less in universities. So it is very obvious that universities don't rank in the world lists.

    The reason for such a less investment is apparently because we spend more in other sectors like social, health etc altogether.

    I said unfair because ours is a newer democracy, while those in west are as old as more than 200 yrs. We need to give some time. We Indians always seem to be in hurry of being on the top.

  9. Pathfinder ji,
    I discussed defence and Bofors, because till the defence industry opens up, funding for research will simply not come - even if we stop all the funding in other sectors (Much of USA's civilian research is an offshoot of defense programmes - where did the internet originate from)?

    Why did USA become the focal point of higher education and research after WW-II (which Britain was earlier)? Britain could also have leveraged WW-II toward research in higher education, but it went bankrupt.