June 12, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the NIRF ranking system is credible. We also look at the tobacco-free villages in J&K, among other news.


Is the NIRF ranking system credible?

The summer sneaks up on you on the heels of 12th grade. Amidst the ensuing frolicking, you apply to your dream colleges and remember to check out some safety schools too. With the former, you know what you’re doing. The latter option, however, demands some help. Which colleges within your safety net rank higher than the other? Several organisations publish higher education rankings. Who do you go to?

The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) appeared on the scene in 2016. Since the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) introduced it, NIRF has become the most sought-after ranking system. Yet, it’s not without its problems. Experts question its methodology, assessment criteria, and its year-on-year variability. Given its shortcoming, is the NIRF still a credible source to understand the higher education tournoi?


It’s not only students and parents who benefit from a reliable higher education ranking system. Sure, they can step into their future with certainty. Universities ranked higher have benefits to look forward to. The University Grants Commission (UGC) deems them as institutes of eminence (IoE), a title under which they enjoy academic and administrative autonomy.

It means that the highest-ranking and accredited universities are at greater liberty to offer courses of their choosing. Faculty members at IoEs have greater control over the syllabi they curate. Public IoEs can avail of external funding too. Universities with a NIRF rank within the top 100 are eligible to establish off-campus centres.

All this is to encourage academic excellence and award those who demonstrate it. It’s one way to achieve the National Education Policy (NEP) goal of turning all higher education institutions into multidisciplinary institutions by 2040. But there are some roadblocks India must tackle first.

One would be that centrally-funded higher education institutions perform much better on academic indicators than state-sponsored institutions. It’s simple. The centre has a generous budget. It can afford to shell out more. There’s also a cyclic factor at play.

You see, the more the centre nurtures an institution, the more likely it is to perform on these ranking indices – and the fewer chances of other state-sponsored institutions climbing up the ranks.

India’s ranking and accreditation system is the other concern for academia in India. They don’t seem to take into account the inequities of resource allocation. They tend to prize size more. The larger a faculty cohort, the greater the research papers produced – the higher its rankings. Institutions that produce quality research, despite their smaller size and lower funding, fall behind.

It’s not just the newer NIRF that suffers from this. It’s an affliction of the entire ranking and accreditation system. They’re often under the radar for using amoral accreditation tactics and letting bribes manipulate rankings.

This includes the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), which grades and accredits Indian institutes. Established in 1994, it uses seven parameters to assess the quality of educational institutions, including curriculum, teaching, research, infrastructure, student support, governance, and financial well-being.

The NIRF is frequently measured against other global measurements. Take the QS World University Rankings. In 2023, none of the Indian higher education institutions made it to the top 100. India’s premier and Bengaluru’s pride, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), appears at the 155th spot.

Is the Indian ranking system simply inflating the egos of older, better-placed institutions? Could it do better? After all, ranking systems play a crucial role in the distribution of resources.

VIEW: It’s the best of the lot

The NIRF has a lot going for it. The reason we’re able to discuss a standard Indian system of ranking is all due to the NIRF. Sure, before it came to be, we had NAAC and the National Board of Accreditation (NBA). While accreditation and rankings are related, it makes sense to constitute a body dedicated to the annual rankings of Indian institutions. NIRF filled a vacuum. Apart from it, we only have a few non-governmental rankings in the fray, like The Week and India Today’s assessments.

The NIRF is everybody’s go-to higher education ranking system. The reason for its popularity is not just that it filled a vacuum, but also that it’s set up by the MHRD. Its affiliation with the government gives it credibility. People can trust it without worrying about illicit connections. It’s the most transparent method we have.

Government affiliation has other benefits. Since public universities rely on the centre and state for financial support, it’s unlikely that they’ll snub such an assessment. It means that the NIRF is at present best placed to embark on a comprehensive assessment. It’s fairly new and it could go a long way in improving academic performance and India’s place in global rankings.

COUNTERVIEW: Merely a numbers game

The NIRF would’ve filled a vacuum had its results and methodology displayed any symmetry with the NAAC and NBA. What we have now are a bunch of disparate methods, criteria, and assessments from different bodies. Universities that do well in accreditation sometimes appear at the bottom of NIRF rankings. There are also huge variations between the annual rankings, raising concerns over its robustness.

The NIRF hides as much as it shows. Its rankings are weakened due to its quantity-over-quality bias. As discussed before, NIRF rankings favour larger higher education institutions that already appear in the top tier. The ones with historical advantages and continued support from the centre. It’s why institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) continue to top the NIRF charts while they slip in global rankings. The NIRF might not show the whole truth of Indian academia. The most it can do is help students make informed decisions, not change the face of Indian academia.

It’s unclear why a government-affiliated body was necessary in the first place. It’s usually not the government’s job. NAAC, an autonomous body, was already releasing quality assessment reports. The problem with rankings is that it’s more likely to turn into a numbers race than, say, accreditation, a thorough, peer-reviewed process. In ranking systems, universities learn and perfect the art of furnishing positive numbers. Such approaches fail to capture learning outcome indicators.

Reference Links:

  • Centre announces new guidelines for granting deemed university status – The Hindu
  • 41 Indian varsities make it to QS’ global ranking, six more than last year – Businessline
  • NIRF ranking does not give full picture of higher education in India – The Indian Express
  • Why it’s hard to trust India’s university rankings – The Times of India
  • Panel formed to develop roadmap for National Accreditation Council – The Hindu
  • DU, JNU, Jamia slip in QS World University Rankings – The Indian Express

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The NIRF ranking system is credible.

b) The NIRF ranking system isn’t credible.


For the Right:

No more dog whistles, please

For the Left:

Time to shed White Mughal mentality: Why Dalrymple must stop running with Indian hare while hunting with British hounds


Tobacco-free villages (Jammu & Kashmir) – The state health department will declare 20 villages as tobacco-free by the end of this year. The announcement will come under the “Tobacco Free Village Campaign”, launched on May 31. The campaign focuses on preventing tobacco use among youngsters. The department will identify villages and select two from each district.

Why it matters: The criteria are that there’s no tobacco use inside the village and no tobacco products are sold inside the village area. Signages will be placed on the boundary walls and entrances to prohibit the sale of tobacco. Per the 2016-17 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS-2) by the government, tobacco use in rural Kashmir is 78.5%.

Stalin’s attack on BJP (Tamil Nadu) – Chief Minister MK Stalin criticised the BJP ahead of Amit Shah’s visit to Chennai, saying the national party’s popularity has declined. He warned the party cadre that the BJP, with its defeat in Karnataka, may hold early elections, and Shah’s rally in Vellore was a sign of that.

Why it matters: Stalin criticised the Centre for not speeding up the construction of AIIMS in Madurai while they were being built in other states. Shah will meet local industrialists, booth community members, and constituency functionaries. The party is eyeing 11 Lok Sabha seats, including Chennai and Coimbatore. It remains to be seen if the BJP continues its alliance with the AIADMK.

Promoting cottage industries (Jharkhand) -The Santhal Pargana Chamber of Commerce and Industries (SPCCI) and the State Bank of India (SBI) held a workshop for the artisans of Deoghar who make lace bangles. This was part of an initiative to help promote their products and provide them with access to finance and marketing. Among the participating artisans, 21 applied for loans. SPCCI will be a liaison between the artisans and officials to help them market their products.

Why it matters: The Centre wants to promote and develop similar cottage industry products. Part of this includes bringing artisans to local exhibitions and fairs to sell their products. SPCCI president Mallick said the village comes within the Deoghar municipal corporation’s limits and the corporation can allow them a space to showcase their work.

Camel rescue hub (Rajasthan) – The Anil Agarwal Foundation (AAF), the philanthropic arm of the Vedanta group, is working with the state wildlife department to help rescue and rehabilitate camels. They’ve already donated ₹1 crore to the Ranthambore national park to buy surveillance vehicles to help carry out rescue missions. The foundation’s Animal Care Organization (TACO) will help in this cause.

Why it matters: The camel population in the state has been declining. Part of this is due to the fact that families that used to traditionally own camels no longer do. Hence, there have been several reports of stray camels in the state. One of the places the foundation is concentrating on is Barmer which has a large camel population. They’re looking to set up a camel centre here.

New education model (Assam) – The state cabinet approved the Olympic Values Education Programme (OVEP) in 250 government and private schools in and around Guwahati. The initiative is to tackle the sedentary lifestyle, lack of concentration, and school dropouts among adolescents. The new model involves an agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Abhinav Bindra Foundation Trust. The training programme will be conducted on school campuses for the next three years.

Why it matters: The government hopes OVEP will help the state’s schools improve in sports. The new initiative is based on the Olympic philosophy of learning through the balanced development of the body and mind. The programme will help inculcate a values-based curriculum to help youngsters achieve all-around development.


89.5 million – India saw 89.5 million digital transactions in 2022. According to MyGovIndia, this ranks India first among 5 countries in digital payments.