Rankings, and the realities of higher education – on National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) | 29th June 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It analyses the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF).


  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources;
  • Essay;
  • Prelims


  • The eighth edition of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was released recently.
  • A scrutiny of this 2023 edition as well as some of the available data on higher education raises some important issues warranting policy attention.

What is the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF)?

  • The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was launched by the Ministry of Education (then Ministry of Human Resource Development) in 2015.
  • The NIRF evaluates institutions on five parameters:
    1. teaching, learning and resources;
    2. graduation outcome;
    3. research and professional practices;
    4. outreach and inclusivity; 
    5. perception.
  • Ranks are assigned based on the sum of marks secured by institutions on each of these parameters.
  • Higher education institutions are ranked in five categories — overall, universities, colleges, research institutions, and innovation — and eight subject domains — engineering, management, pharmacy, medical, dental, law, architecture and planning, and agriculture and allied sectors.


Low participation:

  • As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2021, there were 1,113 universities and 43,796 colleges in 2020-21. Out of these, only 5,543 participated in this edition i.e. just 12.3%.
  • In other words, there is credible information on the remaining 87.7% of higher education institutions.
  • If we want to reap the benefits of the rich demographic dividends, we must address this concern.

Low number of intuitions in rural areas:

  • The list of top 100 colleges shows scant presence of colleges from rural areas.
  • AISHE data show that about 43% of the universities and 61.4% colleges are in rural areas.
  • The lack of participation of institutions from rural areas raises questions on the inherent urban bias of the ranking framework, reinforced by the choice of parameters.

Incongruence between quantity and quality:

  • Of the top 100 colleges ranked by NIRF, 35 are from Tamil Nadu, 32 from Delhi, 14 from Kerala, and the remaining are from the rest of India.
  • According to AISHE, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of colleges in the country, followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka.
  • The list of top 100 colleges does not feature a single college from U.P. It features three colleges from Maharashtra and two from Karnataka.
  • The fact that 81% of high-quality colleges are in three States highlights the need for a mission to improve quality across the country, with both the Union government and the States earmarking substantial funds in their respective budgets for this.

Public vs private:

  • In the overall rankings, the highest rank secured by a private institution is 15. In the university rankings, the highest rank secured by a private institution is six.

Correlation between faculty strength and rankings:

  • A comparison between the top 100 and remaining institutions shows vast differences in this regard.
  • The average number of faculty in the top 100 universities is 645, while for the remaining universities it is only 242.
  • In the case of colleges, it is 173 for colleges in the top 100 list and 71 for the remaining institutes. Needless to say, quality education cannot be provided with brick and mortar alone.
  • Even in the case of engineering, where the ranking is often advertised by the institutions, only 33.98% adhere to the AICTE-prescribed faculty-student ratio of 1:20.

Way Forward:

  • The rankings underscore the urgent need for quality enhancement in the higher education system. If rankings are to serve the purpose of being an input for informed evidence-based policy decisions, then budgetary outlays for higher education needs a quantum jump in India.

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