India: QS University Rankings

*Wall Street Journal Asia

By Shanoor Seervai

May 15, 2014

In a survey of 300 Asian universities released this week, Indian schools — even the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology — once again failed to reach the top of the ranks.

Delhi’s IIT is the first Indian institution to surface in the latest Quacquarelli Symonds rankings, but not until way down in the list at number 38. Not far behind is IIT Bombay at number 41.

How is it that the place with the world’s toughest entrance exam and an alumni list which includes some of the world’s top executives and academics is outshined by Japan’s Nagoya University and City University of Hong Kong?

Only two Indian universities were ranked in the top 50, leaving the world’s largest democracy far behind Japan which had 13 in the top 50, China and South Korea which had 9 each and Hong Kong and Taiwan with six each in the top 50.

Tiny Singapore nabbed the first spot, with the National University of Singapore moving up from second place last year.

While China was home for 73 of the top 300 universities and Japanese institutions accounted for 68, India only had 17 names on the complete list. Its performance this year was an improvement from 11 last year.

India’s Manipal Institute of Technology, the alma mater of the new heads of Microsoftas well as Nokia, wasn’t even in the top 150.

The London-based Quacquarelli Symonds says it polled over 50,000 people to rank Asian universities on nine indicators including academic and employer reputation, international faculty and students, and research citations and papers.

Indian schools get rave reviews from scholars and executives, but their grade point average plummets as other parameters are added.

The University of Delhi — the first non-IIT to make the list at number 81 — was ranked in the top 25 in Asia by employers, and the top 40 by academics, but its overall ranking was much lower because of its large size and small number of international faculty and students.

“The academic and employer reputation surveys are the indicators in which the IITs do best,” said Danny Byrne, Quacquarelli’s senior editor of its website “Their performance in the other areas we measure, such as research citations, student-to-faculty ratio and internationalization, tends to be significantly weaker.”

The biggest challenge for Indian universities hoping to fare better in international rankings is research, Ben Sowter, head of research at Quacquarelli told The Wall Street Journal.

“They’re pure teaching environments,” he said, adding that although a lot research happens in India, much of it is outside the university system.

Another reason IITs rank surprisingly low is that they are technology-focused which does not look well-rounded when compared to top national universities like the University of Hong Kong which is ranked third in Asia and Peking University in China which was number 8.

“Specialist institutions are disadvantaged in the academic reputation survey because we ask academics to tell us about the best institutions in the fields in which they are experts,” said Mr. Byrne. “Therefore institutions that excel in a wide range of fields theoretically have a better chance of doing well.”

Indian institutions also lose ground because they are blessed with so many students, which hurts their professor to student ratios and weighs on their research budgets.

“Indian institutions are working so hard on the demographic challenge,” said Mr. Sowter.

While some big brains at IIT will tell you there is no more elite establishment in the world, they are smart enough to admit that there is always room for improvement.

“A major reason why we lag behind other Asian institutions in the overall score is the (small) number of international students and faculty,” said a spokeswoman for IIT Bombay. “The number of citations per paper is another area where we need to improvise.”

Follow Shanoor and India Real Time on Twitter @shanoorseervai and @WSJIndia

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*Results of Press Relations campaigns for QS Asian University Rankings, 2014