IISc must strive to enter top league

The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, has achieved an important distinction with its inclusion in the list of top small universities in the world. The Times Higher Education Rankings, an international ranking system, has placed the IISc eighth in its list released last week. Small universities are those with a student strength of less than 5,000. This is the highest rank any Indian university has achieved in any system of international evaluation. The Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, and Savitribai Phule Pune University which figured in the top 20 in the list last year have slipped down the ranking this year. The IISc’s position is 152 in the QS rankings of all universities, big and small. The top positions in both the rankings were held by American universities like the MIT and Caltech. Some universities in Asia — from China, South Korea and Singapore — also find place in the list, but lower down in the rankings.

The IISc is India’s premier institution for study and research in science and engineering. It has held that pole position for more than a century. Some of the country’s best scientists and engineers have studied or taught in the IISc. While the IISc’s performance is creditable, it is also important to find why the ranking is not higher and why other science and engineering institutes in India rank much lower. The IITs are way down in the rankings and figure only in the top 500. That is shameful for a country of India’s size and standing. There is no dearth of talent in the country. Some of the best students, researchers and teachers in the world’s universities are from India. The question why we cannot build world class institutions has been asked many times and answered in many ways but the colleges and universities still remain where they were.

The basic requirements for excellence are adequate infrastructure, a committed and well-qualified faculty and functional and financial autonomy. The IISc has these more than other institutions and that is why it is a cut above them. But that has not been enough to take it to the top league. If the higher education institutions have to improve, the changes have to start from the schools at the lowest level. There should be an environment right from the primary school level to the research labs, in which students’ talent and creativity can develop and blossom. Bureaucratic and political control of the system and the institutions have done much harm to the cause of excellence. A country without a top class educational system cannot aspire to be on the world’s frontline. This is India’s major challenge.

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