Deciphering the NIRF Rankings

Last year the Government of India released NIRF (National Institute Ranking Framework) rankings, claiming it to be a step towards improving the Indian higher education ecosystem. It collected the data within a couple of months and released the first edition of “India Rankings” on April 1, 2016. Being the inaugural version, the ranking did have some issues, however, on closer examination of the parameters, it was found that ranking parameters were very reasonable.

The data used for the rankings has been supplied by the institutions themselves, but has not been verified by NIRF itself. However, NIRF mandates that institutions display the data submitted to the NIRF on their website. To desist the institutions from reporting erroneous data, they plan to randomly cross check their submitted data, though it has not happened yet for the inaugural ranking.

Overall, IITK ranks 5th among the other IITs. Some notable parameters for IITK are Teaching Learning and Resources (student strength, faculty size, faculty experience), where it has a whopping 10 points less than that of IITKgp and behind other IITs as well. In fact, it ranks 16th in India in this category, below institutions like National Institute of Technology, Meghalaya. On the other hand, IITK tops the rankings in Graduation Outcomes (placements, higher studies, and entrepreneurship among graduates).

It was mentioned that IIT Kanpur performed poorly in research domain of the QS ranking previously. However,  IITK ranks well in NIRF ranking in terms of the Research and Professional practice (quality of research and publications in short), coming in at 3rd overall.

But when a closer look is taken at these numbers, a picture similar to the QS ranking emerges. In terms of the quality of research output, IITK again lags behind in terms of the number of citations (similar to that in QS) as well as a number of papers (contrary to QS where IITK was at the top). As for the number of patents, IITK performs competitively to IITD and IITKgp but still is a long way behind IITB and IITM.

Another major issue is the number of faculty members, that can clearly be seen when compared to other IITs. Due to this reason, IITK has a much lower total teaching experience in years. This has arguably the greatest impact on our rank with this parameter having 30 % weight. It also has an effect on the number of PG students. Compared to around 2500 PG students enrolled at IITK in 2016, the corresponding figures at IITB, IITD, and IITM are around 6000, 4000 and 4200 respectively. A lesser number of PG students hurt IITK’s ranking since NIRF has a separate weightage for the number of doctoral students. Lesser Ph.D. students also means lesser research output and this might be the reason for us lagging in the QS ranking in the research parameter.

Coming to consultancy projects, it was found that IITK significantly lags behind IITB, IITD and IITM. These three IITs have consistently outperformed IITK the in amount of money received from consultancy projects year after year. Similarly, IITK again lags in the amount received from sponsored projects with IITB leading the pack. The three-year average (2013-2015) for the sponsored projects at IITK stands at around 68 crores compared to 205 crores for IITB, 106 crores for IITD, 115 crores for IITM and 67 crores for IITKgp. Even if we adjust the projects for the number of faculty members, we still lag behind IITB, IITD and IITM, with IITK having sponsored projects per year per faculty worth Rs 1.7 million, as compared to 1.9 million for IITD, 3.7 million for IITB and 2.1 million for IITM.

Graduation outcome (based mainly upon placement, higher studies and mean salary) brings some much needed respite, as IITK tops the scorecard. Though the figures suggest that IITK exhibits mediocre performance in average placement strength (4th in 5) and average salary (5th). The silver lining here is the significant improvement in the average salary of IITK, with the institution reporting an average salary of 1.1 million in 2014 as compared to 1.0 million for IITD, 0.89 million for IITB, 1.1 million for IITM and 1.2 million for IITKgp for the same year. The figure below represents the corresponding data averaged over three years.

Outreach and inclusivity are yet another parameter in which IITK fails to create an impact. The diversity factor, after spoiling the faculty analysis scorecard (in QS), haunts it in the student category too. As mentioned in the last part, IITK has quite a low proportion of PG and Ph.D.  students as compared to UGs among both males and females. The sex-ratio, however, remains poor in all the IITs with IITM and IITD having a slight edge over the others.

This brings us to some final conclusions that our analysis leads to. First of all, even though there is a large variation in the citations reported in the three year period (which might be due to erroneous data collection), a negative trend is still evident in the research indicators and an introspection is necessary. Secondly, IITK has not been very successful in attracting students to its PG programs. That IITB has around 2.5 times more PG students than IITK is astonishing. This reflects poorly in our research output. To improve our academic and research output, we should prioritize strengthening the total faculty strength as well as our Ph.D. and Masters intake. Another pressing matter is to increase our industrial collaboration as the amount received from sponsored research and consultancy projects is quite low (around half) compared to IITB and IITD.

Even if we assume that the data is accurate, it can be seen at places that rankings, be it NIRF or QS, have their limitations. This may be due to erroneous data or not-so-perfect methodology or due to the inherent subjectivity. However, rankings do tell us a bigger picture of the overall situation. It is in this spirit that these rankings should be interpreted. Rankings are increasingly starting to shape the perception of the universities. Like it or not, the trend seems to be here to stay. So, we should try to improve our performance in the segments we are lagging. Whether we are successful in improving our rankings or not, we certainly will become a better institution in the process.

Written by Siddhartha Saxena, Bhawesh Kumar, Rahul Agrawal and Siraj Singh Sandhu