×
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
How not to improve the quality of higher education

How not to improve the quality of higher education

Many higher education institutions (HEIs) have also improved their ranking in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) and received higher grades in the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), with a larger percentage now achieving ratings of A or higher.

Follow Us :

Last Updated : 05 April 2024, 00:18 IST
Last Updated : 05 April 2024, 00:18 IST
Comments

Higher education institutions in India are steadily climbing the ranks and improving their standing in national and global assessments and accreditations. For instance, in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, the number of Indian institutions appearing at various rank positions has surged to 91 in the 2024 edition (published in 2023), up from 75 the previous year and just five in 2014. Similarly, in the QS World University Rankings, the count of Indian higher education institutions securing positions has risen to 45 in 2024, compared to 41 in 2023 and 14 in 2016. This includes at least two institutions among the top 200 and 10 among the top 500 universities worldwide.

Many higher education institutions (HEIs) have also improved their ranking in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) and received higher grades in the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), with a larger percentage now achieving ratings of A or higher.

Is higher education in India undergoing a quality revolution, and what factors contribute to this trend? Does the increase in rankings and accreditation scores genuinely reflect a significant improvement in the quality of higher education and institutions imparting higher education?

Going by the whispers in the corridors of HEIs, ranking and accreditation scores cannot be taken as a proxy for quality. There is growing scepticism about the efficacy and effectiveness of the ranking and accreditation processes. Students often feel disillusioned when using these metrics to make decisions about where to study. 

Yet, HEIs are increasingly investing in national and global rankings and accreditation, often opting for multiple accreditations. This investment involves significant financial costs and consumes faculty and staff time that could be better utilised for teaching and research. 

Regrettably, the emphasis on ranking and accreditation has also led to unethical practices in the higher education system, including data manipulation and distortion to improve scores. Institutions appear to have decoded the dynamics and mechanism of scoring and use reverse engineering to score as much as they can. They are driven by the desire to attain rankings and grades that would grant them immunity from regulations, particularly those that restrict revenue maximisation. In fact, engaging consultants and hiring professional services to fudge data and enhance scores has become common.

Furthermore, the focus on research and publications for the purpose of rankings also has a corrupting influence. Let’s see how.

The publication of statistics is propelled by the inner urge of a select group of faculty members. Guided by their passion, they pursue research voluntarily. But why do they do so? Although a precise answer eludes us, they willingly walk extra mile at their discretion and without expectations of any formal reward. They do so despite bureaucratic hurdles. Such faculty members may be in the minority, but their research output is substantial and genuine. 

Yet another set of faculty members publish for financial gains and tangible rewards. Many HEIs, including some declared as Institutions of Eminence and Institutions of National Importance, and a section of private universities desirous of enhancing their quality quotient, entice their faculty members by offering lucrative sums for publishing high-cited papers. Guaranteed and earmarked financial support for paper presentations at national and international seminars and conferences and dedicated allocations for collaborative research also help. Nothing motivates better than money, but it also occasionally lures some to violate research and publication ethics and integrity. 

A bulk of the faculty members publish either under compulsion or for intangible or tangible rewards. They want to accumulate enough scores in their Academic Performance Indicator (API) to become eligible for appointments and promotions. It is, thus, the API that nudges them to publish. 

As a prerequisite for the submission of theses, research scholars, too, must publish a certain number of papers. As faculty members share authorship in such publications, they keep nudging them to publish more. In the process, some develop a fervour for research
and become truly engrossed in research and publication. 

Some, if not a vast majority, however, are essentially focused on collecting publication points. Some in the higher education fraternity suspect that this encouraged plagiarism, and rampant violations of research/publication ethics and integrity could be attributable to this. It was this argument that UGC did away with the publication requirements by the research scholars. Such tendencies become particularly pronounced when promotions and research funding are linked directly to citations, the H Index, and i10 scores. The practice becomes institutionalised when importance is solely attached to ranking and grades by making institutional support, public funding, academic autonomy, and other privileges conditional upon their ranks and grades. 

With increasing awareness and advancement in technology, publication and citation fraud and plagiarism are getting unearthed much faster than before, and publications are redacted in large numbers. But by the time that happens, the damage is already done: rankings and grades are computed and put in the public domain, and rewards are monetized and cashed. 

Given these challenges, there is a need to revisit the fundamentals of higher education. This includes increasing public funding, enhancing the quantity and quality of faculty. Presently, the average Faculty-Student Ratio (FSR)
of 24 is not favourable. Teaching positions have not kept pace with the rising enrollments. Besides, nearly half of the faculty positions stay vacant, making dependence on part-time, contractual, guest, and visiting faculty more of a norm than an exception. 

There are concerns that merit has taken a backseat in the selection and appointment of teachers and academic leadership. Expedient acceptance of lower standards in terms of academics, ethics, and integrity may also seriously dent their quality.  Such a perception may not be without basis because a UGC guideline, Mulya Pravah 2.0, itself has raised concerns about favouritism and discrimination in hiring, performance appraisals, and promotions. 

(The writer, a former adviser for

education in the Planning
Commission, is a professor in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)

ADVERTISEMENT

Follow us on :

Follow Us

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT