Monday, 17 September 2012

Why no Indian Institution is in the top 200 in the QS global rankings?

Why no Indian Institution is in the top 200 in the QS global rankings?
Gautam Barua, IIT Guwahati
QS has recently released its 2012 global University rankings. Since QS markets its product in India, there has been quite a bit of press on the rankings. The fact that no Indian University has come in
the first 200 ranks have made “news”.  There have been many reasons given by various people, ranging from a lack of research, inadequate funding, excelling in undergraduate education only, and indifferent academic administrators. Rankings are done on the basis of a number of parameters which the ranking organisation decides upon. Let us look at the ranks in QS 2012 of the IITs and examine the basis of their rankings. The details of the ranks of the IITs are as follows (the scores of MIT are given for comparison’s sake):
Academic Reputation (AR)
Employer Reputation (ER)
Faculty: Student Ratio (FS)
Citations / faculty (CF)
Intl faculty (IF)
Intl students (IS)
Total Score


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All scores are relative, with the number 1 ranked institute in that category getting a score of 100.  As can be seen, there are five parameters with different weights assigned to each parameter. The category CF refers to the average number of  times a published paper is cited by other papers in which the original authors are not authors. The number of citations of all papers over five years (2007-2011) were totalled and divided by the number of faculty in the Institute in 2011. If a paper is cited often, it is assumed that its quality is good. Unfortunately, the “citation index” depends on the size of the research population and so it is difficult to compare across disciplines.  We note the following:
1.      All IITs are at a disadvantage on the international faculty and students issues. We are not allowed to take international students at the B.Tech level (other than through JEE). With so much demand within the country, there is pressure not to have too many foreign students. There is scope for increasing the number of foreign PhD students. But even here there is a restriction, as Govt. Assistantships can be given only to Indian citizens. We are trying to get this restriction lifted. Without aid, it is difficult to attract good international PhD students. Hiring international faculty on a regular basis is  not allowed. They can be hired on contract upto five years, but only if the salary is  at least $25000 annually (only Profs  are allowed effectively). The moot question remains: is the internationalization of campuses an important parameter for excellence? The Western countries are clearly at an advantage here.
2.      50% of the weightage is based on “reputation” (AR: 40% and ER: 10%). This helps QS a lot. They are now aggressively marketing their products through which institutions can enhance their “reputation”. Thus we have been invited to advertise in their “QS Top University Guide 2013” (with discounts if we opt to advertise in more than one language) and in other publications, to attend seminars and conferences (with registration fees of course), and so on. Can we rely on reputations primarily to decide ranks?
3.       AR and ER have a weightage of 85% for international responses and 15% for domestic responses (the country the institute is).  Academics all over the world are asked their opinion of the top institutions globally and in their country. The chances of getting an IIT’s name included by a US professor are quite slim.  Alumni in academics may help the IITs as they know about them, but the number of alumni in academics in the US is a small fraction of the number of alumni in the US. This is a legacy of the past. Young institutions like IIT Guwahati without sufficient alumni, are at a particular disadvantage. The number of respondents is proportional to the number of institutes available for selection in that country. So the responses are heavily weighted in favour of responses from the developed countries. Respondents are not asked to give their inputs for each of the listed universities (it may be impractical to do so, as there are a large number of them). Instead, each respondent is asked to give a list of 5-10 Universities he or she thinks are globally well known, and well known in their country. This method perpetuates the existing ranks.
4.      Let us now look at the category FS. IITs have not done well  in the faculty to student ratio, and it is well known that there are many vacant faculty positions. But even here, the methodology is not clear. MIT states in its web site that it has a faculty to student ratio of 1:8. It also states that the total number of students is 10,894 students. The number of faculty is given as 1018, whereas 1362 are required to meet the above ratio. Then the number of “senior lecturers, lecturers, and Professors emeriti” are given as 540 (most of whom are on contract for temporary periods. Possibly 1362 is reached after deleting the “Professors Emeriti”.  But how are scores calculated?  Consider this: MIT with a 1:8 ratio gets a score of 99.9, while IIT Guwahati with a ratio of 1:13.3 (as per QS) gets only 35.5. I am not able to figure out how this score was arrived at. In any case, is this a fair marking system? Shouldn’t an ideal ratio get full marks and other ratios be given lesser marks in slabs?
5.      Finally we have the category CF. This  gives the average number of citations for the papers published in the last 5 years. The assumption is that the number of faculty has remained more or less constant (generally true for “old” institutions). But IIT Guwahati had 291 faculty in 2011 but only 191 in 2007. So its numbers clearly cannot be compared with institutions like Cambridge and Oxford. Further, since a five year average is taken, one or two “star” papers can make a huge difference to the numbers. For example, a review paper “The Hallmarks of Cancer” authored by two professors from UC San Francisco and MIT has about 10,000 citations. This paper alone will have boosted the CF figure of both these institutions significantly. Is this the right way to judge whether an Institution is doing well in research? Isn’t the median number of citations of faculty a better measure than this (although even this has its pitfalls)?
So, what can we conclude from all of the above? Surely it should be clear, ranking of universities is not a simple task. We have only scratched the surface as has QS. There are so many other aspects of an educational institution that QS has not even touched upon. The same can be said of the other global ranking systems like THE and  ARWU.  Many of these aspects are qualitative in nature, and it is very difficult to quantify them. This is not to say that Indian Universities do not need to improve in many ways. They do, and we may have to come out with our own ranking system to get a proper comparison among universities in India. But if Society wants Indian Institutions to get higher QS rankings, then Institutions must do the following: a) aggressively market the Institute among academia and Corporations in the US and Europe (and QS is there to help you! For a price of course, and we need to set aside a part of our budget for them!), b) Substantially increase the number of foreign students ( why not scrap JEE and admit only foreign students? Our income will rise, and our ranks will soar!), c) hire a large number of temporary “teachers” to boost the FS number (which counts the number of “academic staff”), d) create a network among Indian Institutions to encourage citations of papers of other Indian Institutions (scratch each others’ backs, as some other countries seem to be doing), and e) and of course try and improve the quality of research, teaching, education, etc.!


  1. You forgot to mention the fact that IIT G (my insititute) has professors who wont give any sort of support(monetary or otherwise) to students who want to do something new.

    1. This is not true at all, sorry if some things happens with you or not. but iit guwahati is supporting all kinds of innovations, which students, facilities, come up.

    2. This is not true. I always feel support rendered by IITG faculty much better. Yes, as Sonesh Kumar has rightly pointed out, most of the faculties here are highly supportive and give moral, monetary and other support as well. And this is not my individual opinion, many of my batchmates at IITG have been feeling this.

  2. Sir, Recently I had been to an European university and met a professor, while introducing me to his other colleagues he used the words " he comes from SOME university called IIT". I felt really bad and offended. And believe me, many of his colleagues did not know about IITs, which was quite surprising.

    I may be slightly biased in saying these word, but I felt that, in all aspects so called good education standards: way of teaching, project work, interaction of professors with students etc., IITs are far better than many good ranked institutes. I don't want make generalised statement here that IITs are better than all good ranked Universities.

    But certainly I agree with you Sir, that there are many things which we (IITs) need to learn and improve.
    1.We need to improve collaborations with foreign universities.
    2. Invite foreign faculty: Faculty exchange programme, similar to that of student exchange should be started between the IITs as well as foreign universities, where faculty from two institutes will change seat for certain time.
    3. Foreign students should be invited to carry out research in IITs and Govt. should pay scholarship for those students.
    4. Original research from IIT students should be encouraged with incentives and it should be made compulsory to attend conferences and/or publish journal papers for all Masters and PhD students. Etc etc…,

    And finally as you have rightly pointed out, it is the "Aggressive Marketing" of the IITs that is needed.

    Thank you GB Sir, for the wonderful article.

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    1. Saswata sir,

      Some of the things that you have done as a faculty here are appreciable, commendable even. For example, your direct F if caught cheating is something that I felt was lacking the last four years and I feel that it is a move in the right direction.
      What I don't understand is why you have the incessant need to feel hated by the entire student (and perhaps faculty) community at IIT Guwahati.

      Sure, some students are absolute idiots. Even we acknowledge that. But the way you generalize things about ALL students in general is wrong. If it is sarcasm, it's gone overboard (And that's an understatement). If not, I seriously hope that you change your outlook towards the student community. Your current attitude is neither good for you nor for your students.

      I am being utterly serious when I say this: Perhaps you should have a couple of sessions with a counselor to find the root cause of your problem. I hear that the IITG counselor if fairly good and I'm sure that the counselor will be able to help you.

      I wish you all the best for your future and genuinely hope that you are able to change your attitude.

      A Concerned Student

    2. Saswata sir,

      Don't waste your time here. Go to MIT.

      Once swami Vivekananda said, if u can't love your own mother then how you can love others mother. It is good that you want to do something new for this IIT but you are not the only person thinking so. Faculties like our director sir continuously doing it from last 10-15 years. Giving lecture is very easy but running an institute like IITG is not easy. It is not a one day job that you decided something today and the next day everything will change. Everything needs some time. Yes, I agree with you that our PG students are not world class and also not our UG's but that does not mean that you throw your frustration like this. It seems you like nothing in this IIT. If you have watched “Swadesh” (hindi movie) then you may remember one line , “Ji nahi main nahi manta ki hamara desh duniya ki sab se achcha desh hain….phir vi hame apne desh se pyar hain”. By reading your comment I can remember few of my NRI friends who always say “ess desh ka kuch nahi ho sakta”. Yes, we know we are not perfect but those dialogs (of my NRI friends) will not change our country too. Sir, few steps you have initiated in IITG are really appreciable and I am not against of them. If you want do something good for this IIT then we all are ready to help you. But don’t insult IITG like this. First love IITG and then try to do changes.

      A Research Scholar

  5. I would also like to add that the "discipline rankings" of QS in which the IITs have done better, are all based only on "reputation". So we should not read too much into those results either.
    @biliangidi: Yes, indeed, IITG is opening up to the outside world. This year, about 17 foreign students joined in M.Tech and PhD programmes. We are hoping to increase this number substantially in the years to come. We have MOUs with about 30 Universities / Institutes world-wide. We have had some success in interactions in Europe, but we have a lot more left to do.
    We are trying to make the PhD programme attractive. We are shortly going to introduce a travel support scheme and an IITG fellowship for PhD students. Recommendations of the Kakodkar committee to give a boost to the PhD programmes in IITs are going to be supported by the Govt. soon. This will include travel support, fellowships, exemption from GATE qualification for B. Tech students from centrally funded institutions (CFTIs).
    As I have said already, there is a lot more to be done, and everyone in IITG has to contribute. It is easy to find fault, but it requires hard work to produce results.

  6. NICE BLOG!!! Education enrich a person with wisdom and knowledge.Education in India should need some sort of reforms to attain good knowledge in students in a better and simple way. Thanks for sharing a fabulous information.
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  7. some person college in angola or somalia must also be writing such a blog upon seeing the list! and must be getting likes and good comments from jingoistic students! which must be making his ego swell with pride lol! i wish there was an MIT guy commenting on this post! looking at the way our indians are begging other countries to allow them to give visas and study in foreign universities inspite of racist attacks and our companies falling on feet of a person with a foreign Ms degree... and number of indian nobel prize winners and leading scientists from foreign universities ... i dont buy you argument at all!!

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  8. I am not a good supporter of IIT but the only problem with all IITians is they just care about numbers . No matter how intellegent you are but if you are not in iit then you are not up to the mark .

    Selection procedure of IITs are totally biased based on one exam not based on school performance .Exams system is very bad .

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