National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF): A critique

Recently National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). According to this report, six out of the top ten colleges are in Delhi. Out of the other four, one is in Kolkata, two in Chennai and one in Tiruchirapalli.

This clearly shows an asymmetric distribution of places of quality higher education in the country. It is a worrisome scenario too.

The issues involved

If centres for academic excellence exist only in Delhi and a few other cities, this means that students in the rest of the country can only get a second-rate education in universities and colleges.

It is also important to note that investment in infrastructure and pedagogy is mostly centred around a handful of universities. Even some prestigious universities such as Osmania University, Allahabad University etc. barely have any modern amenities to facilitate modern higher education.

Science labs, outside of the elite colleges and IITs, have terrible infrastructure and barely any safety equipment.

In smaller universities, even the bare essentials for labs are largely unavailable.

Do we really need ranking? Or, more investment?

In such a scenario, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has said that educational institutions performing well in the annual ranking will be awarded with more funding, enhanced autonomy and various other benefits.

But, this may create a vicious circle, in which those colleges and universities who have the infrastructure do well, and get more funding; and those who don’t have any facilities continue to do badly, and yet receive no financial help.

This approach will only strengthen those institutes that already have the best benefits available to them.

What is required is not a government-funded ranking system, but more government investment in education and allied infrastructure; and more attention to smaller, state-funded universities.

Bodies such as the UGC need to make sure that non-top-rung universities in the country too have the basic necessities to ensure that students can get a decent opportunity of higher education.

As more and more private universities, some of them with questionable credentials come up, government universities and colleges have a responsibility to provide affordable, good quality educational opportunities to everyone, especially to those living outside prominent metros.