Numbers Behind Numerics: Facade of University Rankings

By Muhammad Tahir 

IN NIRF-2021 (National Institutional Ranking Framework) rankings, University of Kashmir has received an overall score of 44 points, and accordingly ranked at 76th position among the universities and higher education institutions all over India. But in near identical media headlines, which appear more like public relations, emphasis is placed on the part that Kashmir University has been adjudged as one of the top-50 universities. On 10 September, the Valley’s largest English newspaper, Greater Kashmir, wrote: “The [Kashmir] University has ranked at 48th position among universities assessed under NIRF-2021.” In truth, the story is a bit different, and complicated.

In NIRF, there are 5 key parameters: Teaching, Learning and Resources (TLR); Research and Professional Practice (RP); Graduation Outcome (GO); Outreach and Inclusivity (OI); and, Perception (PR). These broader parameters are further divided into 15 sub-parameters. And it is here the story becomes more complex.

The KU has performed reasonably well with respect to 6 sub-parameters: student strength, faculty-teacher ratio, faculty with PhD and experience, university examinations, women diversity, and facilities for physically challenged students.

However, the university’s score on 8 out of 15 sub-parameters has been quite poor. For Intellectual Property Rights and Patents, it has received zero. For sub-parameter Economically and Socially Challenged Students, its score is 0.86 out of 20. Its Peer Perception ranking is 2.18 out of 100.

Perception component is measured by NIRF “through a survey conducted over a large category of Employers, Professionals from Reputed Organizations and a large category of academics to ascertain their preference for graduates of different institutions.”

Comparatively, Perception ranking of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) is 20.25, while for Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) it is 27. Private institution, Lovely Professional University, has a Perception ranking of 20.70.

In some media reports, KU’s NIRF-2021 ranking has been hailed as “continuing…march towards academic excellence.” A top KU official has been quoted as saying, “Besides the top research, KU has been improving in every aspect to provide advanced and quality education to its students.”

In truth, in many aspects KU needs serious rethinking and strategic planning to improve. March towards academic excellence is nothing but a cliched marketing line. Based on the NIRF assessment, KU’s research performance is not at par. Out of the score of 35, KU has received just 7.34 score for Publications (PU), and 10.30 score for Quality of Publications (QP). For the sub-parameter Footprint of Projects and Professional Practice, the university has received a 1.86 score out of 15.

In comparison, PU score of AMU is 15.84, while its QP score is 20.94.  JMI’s PU score is 16.60 and QP score is 19.93. In NIRF-2021 rankings, Lovely Professional University is ranked at 81st position, while Kashmir University is ranked 5 points ahead at 76th. But even LPU has a slightly better score in Research parameters than Kashmir University. LPU’s Publication score is 7.47 and Quality of Publication score is 10.98.

Similarly, Pondicherry University is ranked at 87th position in NIRF-2021, but its PU and QP scores are far better than KU at 13.45 and 15.23. In fact, Pondicherry University has scored 1 out of 15 in Intellectual Property Rights and Patents, while KU has scored zero, despite Pondicherry University having lesser resources and fewer faculty (339) than Kashmir University (552).

In the financial year 2019-20, while KU received over 36 crore rupees (actual amount 364048918) on account of sponsored research, PU received only 9 crore (actual amount 91337282). KU paid over 250 crores in salaries to teaching and non-teaching staff, PU paid 137 crores. In the same period, KU spent over 27 lakh rupees on Seminars/Conferences/Workshops, while PU spent 16 lakhs. For new equipment for laboratories, KU spent over 9 crore rupees, while PU spent only 2 crores. In terms of financial resources, KU definitely fares better than PU, and yet on research parameters a new university like PU (established in 1985) has better performance than KU.

In some of my columns published in these pages, I have highlighted the broader issues besetting research at KU, particularly in social sciences. Instead of threatening a critic with a legal suit, it would serve the KU admin and faculty well if they take constructive criticism in the right spirit and focus on the areas that need restructuring and redressal. You will know the problems if you see them, but if you choose to bask in a false glory (of being among the top-50) decay awaits you. The NIRF-2021 has provided an assessment of KU’s overall performance, and there are more than 8 parameters that need immediate attention. Public relations is fine, but finding imaginative solutions to the problems is what takes institutions forward and makes them leaders and harbingers of change and progress.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stand of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is an independent researcher 

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