India's tryst with world class universities

Higher education reforms are critical for the future of India. Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar will be immensely benefited by the experiences from China and other countries in Asia for promoting the idea of world class institutions in India.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Chinese government created a vision for establishing world class universities supporting nine top universities (C9 League) out of their over 2,000 universities. This official state policy gave phenomenal results for China. More recently, on November 5, 2015, the Chinese State Council released a statement which was designed to lift the status and standing and international competitiveness of China’s higher education system.

President Pranab Mukherjee through his vision and leadership as the Visitor of 115 central institutions and more recently, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) have articulated a vision for nurturing world class universities. This culminated in the announcement of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech a innovative policy that will enable 10 public and 10 private universities to receive autonomy and resources to become world class institutions. While this is a welcome and much needed step, a number of issues need to be urgently addressed.

Internationalisation and mobility: World class universities are also universities that have become more international. There are at least 10 aspects of internationalisation that need to be promoted in Indian universities in partnership with overseas universities – joint teaching initiatives, joint research projects, joint conferences, joint publications, student exchange programmes, faculty exchange programmes, dual degree programmes, summer and winter school opportunities, study abroad programmes and joint executive education programmes.

No world class university can achieve its status without a substantial focus on internationalisation. The experience of newly emerging world class universities in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan is based upon a significant institutional commitment that will promote internationalisation leading to mobility for faculty and students.

A report from the US-based Institute of International Education’s Project Atlas has recognised that China hosted nearly 3,30,000 international students in 2012, with only the UK and the US home to larger international students in higher education. What needs to be recognised in India is that China’s market share of globally mobile higher education students was hardly anything to report in 2001. However, by 2012, its 330,000-strong international student enrolment represented an 8% share of the global market.

Rankings and accreditation: It is important that Indian universities embrace the international rankings framework as well as international accreditation processes. This can benchmark Indian universities with the world class universities in many countries. Today, the Times Higher Education World Universities Rankings, QS World University Rankings and the Shanghai Jiatong Rankings have become part of the institutional aspirations for many universities and higher education institutions in India.

We need to take this to the next level and not take a step backward by focusing on changing the methodologies for assessing Indian universities or creating purely national rankings frameworks that does not take into account what China or Singapore or South Korea did to establish and nurture world class universities. It becomes even more important for us to take into account these experiences as the new generation of world class universities have emerged in Asia just in the last few decades.

Russia’s innovative initiative - Project 5-100: Russia has 11 of its universities in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings 2015, an improvement from seven universities in the last year’s top 100. There is a significant impetus for capacity building in Russian universities with a view to improving their quality and to promote excellence in all aspects of university governance.

In this context, Russia has embarked on an ambitious initiative entitled: “Project on Competitiveness Enhancement of Leading Russian Universities Among Global Research and Education Centres”. Project 5-100 is a new initiative of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation government with a view to supporting the best universities in Russia that will envisages at least five of the universities enter the top 100 of the global university rankings by 2020.

A new imagination
The release of the Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings 2016 has demonstrated the need for a stronger and sharper attention to issues of quality and excellence. The 2016 Rankings have given new insights into the performance and contribution of universities among the BRICS and emerging economies.

The results of the rankings have shown that out of the top 10 universities, there are  five universities from China, an improvement since last year when there were three universities; one each from Taiwan and Russia, and two from South Africa. There is not a single Indian university in the top 10 among the BRICS and emerging economies with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore ranked 16, an improvement from the last year when it was ranked 25 in the list.

This year’s rankings have once again demonstrated the extraordinary progress achieved by Chinese universities. Last year’s ranking of leading research universities in emerging economies had 27 Chinese universities in the top 100 and China has maintained it this year as well. The leading universities of China – Peking University and Tsinghua University – have the first and second place, with China having five of the top 10 positions and 13 of the top 50 positions.

This is a defining moment for the Indian higher education sector with the political leadership aligned with institutional aspirations. With substantive and sustained regulatory reforms and significant funding made available to the Indian higher education sector, we can realistically hope that the next decade can have a few Indian universities to become truly world class.

(The writer is Founding Vice Chancellor, O P Jindal Global University and Director, International Institute for Higher Education Research & Capacity Building)

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