The Best, the Brightest: How the NIRF Education Ranking Could Better Help Students

The National Institutional Ranking Framework and the Ministry of Education recently released their India Ranking 2022. The ranking lists the top ten Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in separate subjects and overall.

IIT Madras tops the overall list. Miranda House topped the college rankings for the fourth consecutive year; Indian Institute of Science was number one among universities and IIT Madras topped the ranking of engineering institutions, while IIM-Ahmedabad topped the list of managers. The NIRF has also published subject lists for HEIs in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, law, and architecture.

What do these rankings really mean for students? How do they contribute to college and university admission? As the new school year has just begun, does the ranking give a clear picture of the establishment you have chosen?

Business Standard helps you understand.


The NIRF commits to five preliminary parameters to assess each educational institution: teaching and learning, weighted at 30%; research and professional practice, also 30 percent; the result of graduation, worth 20%; awareness and inclusion, 10%; and perception, weighted at 10%. Each of these five criteria has more specific criteria – total number of publications, student-teacher ratio, support for students in economic and social difficulty – which define these parameters and are weighted in the same way. NIRF places more weight on easily quantifiable data. This contrasts with global rankings dependent on perception and internationalization.

As the NIRF Explainer says, in a large higher education system like India’s, quantifiable data provides a more reliable basis for constructing a ranking matrix, compared to perceptual data, which can be ” misleading and liable to be manipulated”.

The use of quantifiable data presents an outcome or output-based approach to defining the “best” colleges and universities. The ranking is useful for evaluating institutions based on what they have achieved in the last year, such as higher number of academic publications, better faculty-student ratio, higher or more lucrative internships, population regionally more diverse student body, etc.

Miranda House, the college, is ranked as the best college for the past four years as it has managed to improve its total score. This even though college performance in individual parameter categories has varied and often declined. For example, Miranda’s score dropped in both the “Financial Resources and Utilization” matrices as well as the “Publications” matrices, among others. However, the college performed much better in the matrices for the “median salary” received by students on internships and the “Regional diversity” sub-metrics.

The second-ranked Hindu College, which climbed seven rungs from ninth position in the NIFR 2021, recorded improved scores in all areas. In particular, it showed a marked improvement in the “Publications”, “Placement and higher education” and “Awareness and inclusion of students in economic and social difficulty” sub-parameters.

So, a student looking to decide between the two top-ranked colleges should research the in-depth breakdown of each parameter and sub-parameters to understand where the colleges stand on the individual aspects most relevant to the student.

N Ramaswamy, national head of education and skills development at KPMG, said it was worth spending a few hours looking at specific metrics and comparing colleges with the help of the NIRF.

NIRF does not facilitate this process. A breakdown and explanatory accompanying the rankings cite complex formulas used in the calculation rather than simply spelling out how the data translates into day-to-day practices at the institutions they examined and ranked. For example, does a higher number of publications imply institutional support for the mentorship, guidance and infrastructural resources needed for research publications? In the same way, how does “Awareness and inclusion of students in economic and social difficulty” translate in the field: reservations in hostels according to the financial history of students, meal vouchers, scholarships?

The process becomes even more complicated when a student extends their search to more institutions and down to lower-ranking HEIs. It’s tedious to sift through hundreds of institutions for their individual scores in each metric, especially during the heat and rush of admissions season. The process only becomes slightly manageable in the shorter NIRF subject rankings, such as those for dental, architectural, and pharmaceutical institutions.

The National Board of Accreditation, in charge of NIRF research and rankings, did not respond to questions from Business Standard on this aspect.

“A #1 college is not necessarily true as it actually better reflects how well the criteria are followed and how well they are reported and reflected by the institution,” said a Delhi University professor. .

The professor added that it was necessary for students applying for a place on the basis of rankings to be vigilant and not be guided by a ready-made exam/ranking. “While they may be opting for the best, they may miss a gem that has failed or is non-compliant despite strength and intrinsic qualities.”

Ramaswamy also pointed out that “the ranking should not be the only data on which she [a student] can choose a university.

What is needed in the NIRF

After the new National Education Policy in 2020 and the impact of pandemic-related restrictions, the NIRF has included a separate sub-parameter for “online education” under the “teaching, learning and resources” parameter. Other than that, the ranking stayed true to its usual parameters for evaluating participating HEIs. The revisions have also not been uniform, with the only major revisions coming in 2021 for the ranking of research and medical institutes. Are other changes needed?

Ramaswamy said changing the settings often isn’t a good idea: “If the baseline changes every year, how do you know if a particular HE has been consistent or not?”

“When there is a significant external trigger, the metrics should reflect that. Also, the credibility and veracity of the data presented in the NIRF should improve.

We should have a single source of higher education institution data for accreditation, ranking, compliance reporting, funding applications, etc. Regarding credibility, while a central review for all institutions could be costly, time consuming, etc. a review could be considered.

With the NIRF’s emphasis on “objectively quantifiable” data, one wonders if the ranking process could have played a more active role for students. Would an institution-wide multiple-choice questionnaire have helped capture student perceptions of course quality, infrastructural resources, diversity?

“An investigation makes the whole process long and costly,” Ramaswamy said. Setting up such a survey system is not easy. According to the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-2020, 38.5 million students are pursuing higher education in India at 1,043 universities. The volume of data to be exploited would be enormous. “And even after that, the investigation cannot include the subjective questions of everyone involved. How do you define the quality of the course material? How do we know what material has been rated for the topic? In addition, there will be claims and counterclaims,” said the KPMG specialist.

About the students

So is there another way to incorporate student feedback? Dr. Raghu Raman, Dean of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, believes that the current perception survey conducted by NIRF among industry peers may include a student component. “I think it’s a must. The ultimate goal of an HEI is to serve the students. Their feedback is very important. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) conducts similar surveys of students, but within HEIs rather than at all levels. Surveys are conducted by the institution and anonymous student responses are then returned to NAAC, which then tabulates the results. I think a similar pattern can be followed, with some layering and tweaking so that we have responses from a multidisciplinary pool of students,” he said.

Dr Raman, who has spent nearly seven years with global ranking agencies like Times Higher Education index and QS, said the NIRF is unmatched not only in the depth and breadth of its research, but also in the transparency . He suggested expanding three main areas: internationalization, multidisciplinary teaching and research universities (MERU) and entrepreneurship.

Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan also emphasized the inclusion of a section on innovation and entrepreneurship. The NEP’s emphasis on MERUs, such as Amrita Vidyapeetham, also requires that the ranking include an assessment of the HIE entrant’s scope and strength as a MERU.

Finally, if we want to attract international students to our HEIs, NIRF should also consider internationalization as a salient parameter, Dr. Raman said. This parameter could count for the mobility of our students and professors abroad, collaborative projects, scholarships and articles. This would clearly indicate which Indian universities are most willing to welcome and foster the training and research of international students.

The DU professor advised caution in this approach, saying, “Data is not everything. The ranking system seems to suggest so.

“Although the (current) criteria are all very good, they can by no means sum up everything that is important in the process of imparting education. It is more important to consider the infrastructure an institution has to offer, the content and quality of course materials, and best teaching practices. Even student surveys will not provide a definitive solution, as they too are mired in extra-academic limitations. »

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