Since government universities offer highly subsidised higher education they are more affordable for the great majority of the country’s 260 million households. Hence they are preferred by the majority of school and college leavers – Summiya Yasmeen
Though with their expansive state-of-the-art campuses, high-quality faculty and new-age study programmes, India’s new-genre globally benchmarked private universities are emerging as the preferred option of the best and brightest school-leavers entering India’s higher education system, the country’s Central and state government universities can’t be written off.
According to latest data (2021) of the University Grants Commission (UGC), currently 425 state and 54 Central government, 125 deemed (government and private) and 375 private varsities are providing higher education to 37.4 million students in higher education. Of them, 32 percent are enrolled in government universities. More important, the country’s 425 state government universities affiliate over 38,000 junior and undergraduate colleges within their jurisdictions, prescribe their syllabuses, sanction new study programmes and conduct examinations.
Therefore last year, the annual EducationWorld India Higher Education Rankings, which were initially restricted to ranking private universities, introduced separate league tables rating and ranking the country’s 150 best reputed Central and state government varsities. With government institutions offering highly subsidised higher education, they are more affordable for the great majority of the country’s 260 million households. Although attractive, private universities levy tuition and other fees that are astronomical relative to government universities. Hence, the latter are preferred by the majority of school-leavers and deserve to be ranked separately inter see.
To conduct the EW India Government University Rankings 2021-22, the highly-reputed Delhi-based market research and opinion polls company Centre for Forecasting & Research Pvt. Ltd (C fore, estb.2000) interviewed 4,141 sample respondents comprising 2,122 faculty, 1,136 final year students of 154 universities, and 883 industry representatives in 25 cities countrywide.
These respondents were persuaded to award public universities of whom they have sufficient knowledge scores of 1-300 on ten parameters of higher education excellence, viz, faculty competence, faculty welfare development, research and innovation, curriculum and pedagogy (digital readiness), industry interface, placements, infrastructure, internationalism, leadership/governance and range and diversity of study programmes. Higher weightage is given to the critical parameters of faculty competence (150), research and innovation (300) and infrastructure (150).
“The EW Government University Rankings 2021-22 are based on a mix of objective criteria and perceptions of sample respondents. Objective research data published in refereed journals and number of citations was obtained from secondary sources such as Scopus. Simultaneously, a perceptual survey was conducted among knowledgeable stakeholders including faculty, students and industry representatives to rate the most well-reputed government universities on the selected parameters of higher education excellence. The scores awarded by sample respondents under each parameter were totalled to rank government universities inter se,” says Premchand Palety, founder-CEO of C fore, explaining the institutional rankings methodology.
Unsurprisingly, the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru (IISc) is again ranked India’s #1 government university with top scores under a record eight of the ten parameters of higher education excellence including research and innovation, given highest weightage (300). Promoted in 1909 through a generous land grant from pioneer industrialist J.N. Tata who founded the Mumbai-based Tata business empire, IISc currently has an enrolment of 4,750 students, including 2,594 doctoral scholars, mentored by 530 highly qualified faculty. Widely acknowledged as the country’s premier science and technology postgrad institution, IISc is hugely dependent on an annual grant awarded in the Union budget (Rs.621.65 crore in 2021-22) and regrettably lacks public accountability.
Numerous requests for a celebratory interview were denied by director Dr. Govindan Rangarajan, on the ground that the EW rankings survey is “not authorised” by government. Last year, Rangarajan, then chair of the division of interdisciplinary research at IISc, had deigned to send a terse email to EW: “Though we are honoured to have been ranked #1 in your rankings, as a matter of policy, we officially participate only in government of India rankings or those designated by GoI.” Evidently ignorant about this publicly funded institution’s accountability to the public, he obviously equates government with the public.
Be that as it may, the seating arrangement at the top table in 2021-22 is substantially unchanged. The Centrally-funded Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, is ranked #2, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi #3; University of Delhi #4 and Anna University, Chennai #5. However, beyond the Top 5, there’s been a substantial realignment of seats with several hitherto modestly-ranked universities given handsome promotions by this year’s sample respondents. The Delhi state government-promoted Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) has leapfrogged to #6 (#27 in 2020-21), National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru promoted to #7 (11), jointly with Delhi Technological University (19), the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru to #8 (15) and NIMHANS, Bengaluru to #9 (11). The promotion of these institutions to the Top 10 table has resulted in Jadavpur University, Kolkata, ranked #9 (7) and Panjab University, ranked #10 (6) ceding rank with the University of Mumbai (UoM) retaining its 2020-21 #10 ranking.
One of the country’s three oldest universities established in 1857, UoM has been awarded high scores under the parameters of range and diversity of programmes, placements and internationalism. “We are delighted that UoM has again been ranked among India’s Top 10 universities. UoM has always been a frontrunner in providing affordable industry-aligned and market-driven higher education and research. We are highly ranked in the QS World Graduate Employability Rankings and are the only Indian university ranked among the ‘Top 10 Global Universities shaping most billionaires’ by Forbes magazine for nurturing 20 billionaires. In a quiet manner, we have been digitising our teaching and evaluation and early this year successfully conducted online examinations for final year degree students and declared results on time. Currently, we are adding to the diversity of our study programmes —your respondents have given us a high score under this parameter — with the launch of our Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Research Centre which will introduce new social justice and humanities courses,” says Dr. Suhas Pednekar, vice chancellor of UoM, himself an alum with postgrad qualifications from Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, USA. Prior to his appointment as VC of UoM in 2018, Pednekar served as principal of Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai for 13 years (2005-2018).
Further down the league table of India’s best public universities, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, has risen greatly in public estimation and is promoted to #11 (#28 in 2020-21). The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram at #12 (64), Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Allahabad #14 (23), Punjab Engineering College (Deemed University), Chandigarh #16 (26) and National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal #19 (46) have all recorded substantial advancement in EWIHER 2021-22.
Although Bangalore University ranked #18 (20) has recorded a modest improvement in its ranking, Dr. Venugopal K.R, vice chancellor of Bangalore University (BU, estb.1964), is “humbled and grateful” that the EW sample respondents have ranked it #5 in Karnataka.
“BU, which had grown too large and unwieldy, was trifurcated in 2017. Obviously this restructuring initiative has worked because since then, we have been steadily rising in all media ranking surveys. Given our location in the Silicon Valley of India, BU enjoys accessibility to excellent educational, business and digital resources. Moreover, I’m especially satisfied that your respondents have given us high scores on the parameter of range and diversity of programmes because BU offers more than 75 study courses ranging from agriculture, entrepreneurship, biotechnology to forensic science and Tibetan literature,” says Venugopal. A polymath alum of BU, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and IITMadras, with “11 academic degrees, two Ph Ds, 1,000 published papers and author of 72 books”, Venugopal served in several leadership positions at BU for over three decades before his appointment as VC in 2018.
As the success of the trifurcation of Bangalore University indicates, a major cause of the academic stagnation of India’s 522 public universities is the affiliating system under which hundreds of undergrad colleges fall within the administrative purview of every state government university (except for Delhi University, Central universities are prohibited from affiliating undergrad colleges). It’s now abundantly clear that this system has massively increased the administrative and conduction of exams load of affiliating universities to the neglect of research, syllabus upgradation and institutional reforms.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, presented to the nation on July 29 last year, offers hope of breaking this logjam. It has proposed abolition of the affiliation system and “gradually phasing out the system of ‘affiliated colleges’ over a period of 15 years through a system of graded autonomy, to be carried out in a challenge mode”.
Meanwhile, beyond the Top 20 table of the EW 2021-22 rankings, there has been a major reshuffle in the seating order. Several public universities have risen high in the public esteem. Among them: The Homi Bhabha National Institute (Deemed University), Mumbai, which has leapfrogged to #31 from #100 last year; Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak to #39 (107); Kakatiya University, Warangal to #51 (101) and Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University Educational and Research Institute (Deemed University), Howrah to #56 (114). In this connection, it’s important to note that universities modestly ranked nationally in the 158-strong EW India Government University Rankings 2021-22, are often heavyweights in their host states, some of which are as populous as European countries.
For instance, National Law University (NLU), Jodhpur, ranked India #40 is #1 in Rajasthan (pop. 68 million), MS University, Baroda India #25 is #1 in Gujarat (65 million). Similarly, the low-profile Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, ranked #54 nationally is #1 in Odisha and the slowly progressing Nalanda University, Rajgir, India #73 is already Bihar #1.
Although somewhat overshadowed by new millennium private universities mushrooming countrywide, public/government universities nevertheless play an important role in national development. They provide affordable tertiary education to India’s lower middle and working class youth whose workplace productivity is critical for Indian industry, agriculture and government. By proposing to reduce their administrative workload and establishing new standards and regulatory authorities, NEP 2020 offers hope of rejuvenating and modernising the country’s languishing public universities.
Also read: India’s Top 300 Universities 2021-22