Thirty-three Indian Varsities Plummet in Global Rankings: Academicians, Students Weigh in on Crisis

Center for World University Ranking's Global 2000 list reflects a mixed bag for Indian institutions: 32 climbed in rankings while 33 experienced declines.
Representative Image
Representative Image

New Delhi: Recent findings by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) showcase India's impressive presence, with the country's 65 universities and institutes securing positions within the prestigious top 2,000 globally. The Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, has topped the list — setting a shining benchmark for academic excellence.

However, this is overshadowed by a disheartening trend. The joy of recognition is marred by the pressing reality that India is struggling to maintain its standing on the world stage, raising concerns about the future of its academic institutions.

The rankings, meticulously crafted from a comprehensive analysis of 62 million outcome-based data points, shed light on four pivotal factors: education quality, employability, faculty caliber and research output.

Despite the noteworthy achievements, the stark reality reveals that seven out of India's top 10 institutes have witnessed a decline in their standings. This includes prestigious institutions like IISc, IIT-Bombay and IIT-Madras, among others, signaling a pressing need for introspection and strategic reforms.

“This is because of incessant exploitation of students and scholars, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), in absence any proper regulatory body to take care of the mental health of students,” a PhD scholar from IISc to The Mooknayak.

With a visible sense of anger, she further added this leads to "exploitation" by professors for an "unrealistic number of publications to up their own careers".

The 'mental health crisis', which the researcher talked about, has been a "silent killer". In a deeply concerning revelation, data presented in the Rajya Sabha by the Ministry of Education in April 2023 showed 33 students have died by suicide across the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) since 2018. This tragic statistic sheds light on the immense pressure and struggles faced by students at these prestigious institutions.

Over the period from 2018 to 2023, a total of 61 student suicides were reported across the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). The IITs, often seen as the pinnacle of academic achievement in India, accounted for over half of these heartbreaking losses with 33 suicides. The NITs reported 24 cases, while the IIMs had 4.

The student also highlighted that the stipend and fellowships for higher education in India is extremely low as compared to other universities. This, she said, disregards the fact that a lot of marginalised students also opt for higher education.

The IISc scholar also pointed towards the gender aspect. Women, she said, are not given enough incentives and are subjected to misogynistic statements.

“Why are you pursuing higher education when you will eventually get married?” is a question very frequently posed to women pursuing higher education in these institutions, she said.

Professor Maya John of the Delhi University said, “India's HEIs saw a dip in their rankings. It is a clear fall out of the government's focus on divestment from education.”

She criticized the current government, pointing out that the decline in rankings must be understood in the context of ongoing interference with the research agendas of higher education institutions (HEIs) and the undermining of their academic autonomy by the ruling party.

“Politically driven research on subjects like astrology and gaumutra (cow urine) has been aggressively promoted,” she added, saying, “Consequently, academic autonomy has been compromised, public funding has been reduced and fewer students have access to quality public-funded education. This has led to a significant decline in the inclusiveness and rigor of Indian HEIs, impacting their competitiveness and overall development.”

The professor also questioned the ranking criteria. She noted that the recently released CWUR rankings are based on criteria that are not inclusive. The IIMs, IITs, NITs and IIITs, which dominate the institutions listed by the CWUR, receive nearly 50 percent of the funding grants from the Union government, yet they enroll only about 3 percent of the total higher education students in India.

In contrast, other HEIs receive less support from the Central government and the University Grants Commission.

Professor John further pointed that the UGC funds were cut by more than 60 percent, continuing the trend of reducing financial support for public-funded universities.

“These systematic funding cuts have led to a decline in teaching and research quality and have excluded a significant number of students from accessing quality public-funded higher education,” she said.

Rooprekha Verma, a Dalit academic and former professor from Lucknow University, voiced a poignant observation that the decline in university rankings was, sadly, inevitable.

Echoing the sentiments of Professor John, she explained in recent years, universities have been plagued by a disheartening lack of proper academic discussions and intellectual engagement.

Verma expressed deep concern over the erosion of vibrant academic discourse, which has significantly contributed to the deteriorating performance of these institutions in both national and international rankings.

The absence of rigorous academic debates and scholarly activities, essential for fostering a rich and stimulating educational environment, has severely impacted the universities' reputations and standings. This decline is not just about numbers, it's about the loss of a once-thriving intellectual spirit that nurtured curiosity, innovation and excellence.

“Campuses now are seeing a decline in quality education, and cases of discrimination on religious grounds are increasing,” continued Verma.

“It is of utmost importance that students and teachers critically discuss issues, but that is also not happening. Seminars and lectures of professors with liberal thoughts are being cancelled,” she said.

Sharing a personal anecdote, she recounted her visit to Bhim Rao Ambedkar University earlier this year. During her visit, she was disheartened to find that the university did not provide a space to celebrate Phule Jayanti, an important event commemorating the birth anniversary of Jyotirao Phule, a social reformer and activist.

Speaking about the increasing governmental interference in university campuses, Verma expressed concerns over the current state of academic freedom.

She noted that even faculty appointments are being influenced by a specific ideological agenda, with teachers being selected based on their alignment with the government's views.

This ideological vetting affects what can be taught and discussed within the university, as only topics that align with government-approved narratives are permitted. Furthermore, Verma highlighted that the celebration of anti-caste icons, who are pivotal in the fight against social inequalities.

“I am not even surprised that the rankings are declining,” expressed the former professor in a straightforward manner.

Ashutosh Bouddh, president of the Ambedkar Students Association at Delhi, highlighted that the New Education Policy (NEP) also bears significant responsibility for the current issues plaguing educational institutions.

According to him, the policy's emphasis on rampant corporatization is exacerbating inequalities, forcing many marginalized students out of the educational system. This corporatization prioritizes profit and efficiency over inclusivity and accessibility, leading to a notable lack of diversity within academic spaces.

Bouddh further pointed out that, apart from the exclusion caused by these economic barriers, students from minority institutions are experiencing additional challenges.

They often face humiliations and discriminatory practices that undermine their educational experiences and personal dignity. This hostile environment makes it difficult for students from marginalized communities to thrive, adding on to the already significant barriers they face in accessing quality education.

Baadal, a student leader and president of the Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch, added an interesting but contrasting perspective to the discussion. She pointed out that many regional colleges, which serve a higher proportion of students from marginalized communities, often fail to meet the criteria required to be included in prestigious university rankings.

These institutions typically lack the resources and infrastructural support needed to compete with their more affluent counterparts.

With heartfelt conviction, Baadal emphasized that "the universities appearing in the rankings often have significant private investments, which help them secure funding and achieve high positions in these lists."

This revelation explains the inherent inequality perpetuated by the current system, where well-funded institutions have the means to enhance their facilities, conduct groundbreaking research, and attract top-tier faculty, thereby bolstering their ranking metrics.

Meanwhile, regional colleges, despite their invaluable contribution to uplifting marginalized communities, continue to languish in obscurity, their voices drowned out amidst the clamor for prestige and recognition.

Nevertheless, amidst the gloom, rays of hope emerge as some institutions demonstrate resilience and improvement. Noteworthy mentions include the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and the Academy of Scientific & Innovative Research, showcasing India's potential for academic resurgence.

Ranking of International Institutions:

In the latest Global 2000 rankings, the United States saw a mixed performance, with only 90 institutions improving from last year, 23 maintaining their positions, and 216 experiencing a decline. Similarly, the United Kingdom witnessed modest progress, with 28 universities advancing, seven holding steady, and 57 slipping in the standings.

Meanwhile, Germany, boasting 69 institutions on the list, showcased a notable presence, led by the University of Munich at number 46. However, the country also faced an overall decline, with 55 universities dropping in the rankings.

Contrastingly, China emerged as a standout performer, with an impressive 95% of its universities demonstrating improvement from the previous year.

Tsinghua University led the charge, securing the 43rd position globally. In Asia, the University of Tokyo claimed the highest spot, ranking 13th globally.

At the pinnacle of the global rankings for the thirteenth consecutive year stood Harvard University, reaffirming its reputation as the premier educational institution worldwide.

It was closely followed by other esteemed private US institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University.

Notably, the United Kingdom's Cambridge and Oxford universities secured the fourth and fifth positions, respectively, underscoring their status as the top public higher education institutions globally.

Rounding out the top ten were prominent private US universities, including Princeton, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Yale, and Caltech, further solidifying the dominance of American higher education institutions on the global stage.

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