Introduction to NIRF
The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was founded in 2014-15 by a 16-member Core Committee, appointed by the MHRD, under the chairmanship of Secretary (HE). It was then approved by the MHRD and launched by the Minister of Human Resource Development on 29th September 2015.
The India-centric ranking framework provides an overall ranking with institutes having student population more than 1000. It also provides separate rankings for different categories of institutes in their own respective peer groups- universities, general degree colleges and discipline-specific ranks in the disciplines of Engineering, Management and Pharmacy as well as three new discipline-specific ranks in Law, Medical and Architecture. The few India-centric parameters that makes NIRF fairer to Indian higher education institutions are regional diversity, outreach, gender equity and inclusion of disadvantaged sections of society.
NIRF uses five broad clusters of parameters to determine university/institution rankings: 1) Teaching, learning and resources (TLR); 2) Research, Consulting and Collaborative Performance (RPC); 3) Graduation Outcomes (GO); 4) Outreach and Inclusivity (OI); and 5) Perception (PR).
NIRF is stated to be different from other popular rankings in the media because it utilises objective criteria and metrics and the rankings are based on extensive factual data gathered from third party sources (like Elsevier Analytics etc) and from the institutions themselves. As of 2018, data regarding perception is collected from peer institutions, while collecting data from public has been discontinued.
The necessity for NIRF
Indian institutes rarely secure ranks in world university rankings such as Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (the Shanghai Ranking) because, as argued by many higher education experts, international ranking systems are insensitive to the higher education scenario in countries like India where more efforts and resources are required to improve access to higher education, through means like building new institutions in remote places or through caste-based reservations. It is only recently that improving the quality of education has also featured in the list of priorities.
On the other hand, QS rankings tends to weigh the presence of international students and faculty, and reputation more where Indian universities are weak. These international rankings also don’t pay enough attention to social inclusion, ethnic diversity and social make up.
In the third year, a total of 2809 institutions – 301 Universities, 906 Engineering Institutions, 487 Management Institutions, 286 Pharmacy Institutions, 71 Law, Institutions, 101 Medical Institutions, 59 Architecture Institutions and 1087 General Degree Colleges.
NITT was ranked as 11th among engineering colleges and 31st in the overall category. This year too, NITT emerged as the top among all NITs.
Performance of NITT
Here is a brief study of the performance of NITT with regards to the 5 clusters of NIRF parameters used for judging and ranking institutions –
- Teaching, Learning and Resources (TLR) – This parameter accounts for 30% of the final score. It calculates scores based on – Student Strength, Student – Faculty ratio with emphasis of Permanent Faculty, combined metric for Faculty and Experience, and the Total Budget Utilisation by the institute. This parameter is helpful to introspect about the academic diversity and teaching capacity of the institute. NITT achieved a score of 66.49, an improvement from last year’s score of 56 in 2016 and 62 in 2017. This score can further improve after the recruitment of new faculty members.
- Research and Professional Practice – This too accounts for 30% of the final score, and has 4 sub divisions – Metric for Publications, Quality of Publications, IPR and Patents, and Footprint of Projects and Professional Practice and Executive Development Programs. Our Institute scored a paltry 46.44 in this category, and is only a marginal improvement from last year’s score of 46.27, while we scored 80.37 in 2016, whereas colleges around us score around 55-60 in this parameter this year. One notable fact is that we scored zero in the IPR and patents division, meaning no patents by the institute were granted and licensed. This parameter is an eye opener and shows the need for our college to focus on research practices.
- Graduation Outcomes – This parameter accounts for 15% of the total score and contains 4 criteria – Combined % for Placement, Higher Studies and Entrepreneurship, Metric for University Exams, Median Salary and Graduated PhD students. Our institute scored 72.02 in this parameter and has been on the decline from the past 2 years’ scores of 81.50 and 74.38.
- Outreach and Inclusivity – This parameter, accounting for 15%, judges the diversity of the institute and has 4 divisions – Percent Students from other States/Countries, Percent of Women, Economically and Socially Challenged Students and Facilities for Physically Challenged Students. One score worth looking at is the dismal 4/20 in inclusion of Economically and Socially Challenged Students. This parameter has also seen a decline over the past 2 years, with a massive drop over the last year (65 in 2018, 75 in 2017, 79.5 in 2016).
- Perception – Perception takes a 10% weightage in judgement criteria and consists of 4 divisions – Perception of Employees, Perception of Academics, Public Perception and Competitiveness. This parameter has seen drastic changes for many colleges outside the top 3, who have had 90+ scores. After a massive drop 92 to 45 in 2016 and 2017, there has been an increase in perception to 59 thanks to the institute’s constant efforts to improve the college.
Expert Opinions on NIRF
It is mandatory for all centrally aided institutions to participate in the NIRF ranking. The MHRD might make NIRF compulsory for public higher education institutions in the future.
One positive outcome of NIRF is that people and educational institutions have started to appreciate the value of having good data with them. They can discover their strengths and deficiencies more clearly.
Even though this ranking balances quality of education with community engagement and inclusion, many experts feel without more incentives, institutes will not take NIRF seriously because Indian institutions are little known to compete with each other or hire star faculty.
Further, the NIRF ranking methodology is met with criticism because it considers the size of an institution, making it biased to higher funded bigger institutions as compared to smaller but high performing institutions. Furthermore, since the data is submitted by the institutions themselves, it is feared and argued that institutions, private ones especially are more prone to submit wrong data.
The NIRF Committee takes in all submitted feedback and keeps updating and tweaking its parameters to provide a fair and competent platform for all institutions. While the NIRF ranking is a handy tool for students during admission season, the goal of NIRF – to encourage institutions to improve quality of higher education still needs to be examined in the near future.
INTERVIEW WITH DR. MINI SHAJI THOMAS ON NIRF RANKINGS
Team Feeds had the opportunity to interact with our Director Ma’am. Here, she reflects and shares her thoughts on the performance of NITT ranking till date and also discusses prospects for the future.
Q: What is the significance of NIRF for an institute like NITT? How does it add to the value of NITT?
Director: Everybody looks at NIRF, especially the Ministry, the students, the faculty, especially now that it has been 3 years. People are aware that such a ranking exists and you see flexboards everywhere, especially private institutions proclaiming their ranking. It will also attract good faculty, as recently we had faculty recruitment. So I think if the institute is ranked better, it will attract good faculty. We recruited 48 new faculty and 35 have already joined. All NITs opened recruitment at the same time and we were the first to complete it. I was skeptical that many of the faculty would join the NITs of their home state. But many of them came and told me that though they received offer letters from other NITs, they preferred NIT Trichy. So that shows that the ranks matter. With the ranking, I hope we will get better students and public perception, as our ranking is quite low compared to IITs because our perception is a little low, and other parameters also.
And in the future, even now, we have filed an MOU with MHRD, which is mandatory, and shows that the government is serious about the rankings and we need to perform, and so the funding and future expansion will also depend on the ranking.
Q: What are the current parameters used for judging the ranking? Are they sufficient?
Director: The Indian Ranking depends on 5 parameters, and they have done a lot of research before zeroing on these 5 parameters. That’s what I got to know from the chair of NIRF Prof. Surendra Prasad when he visited the institute back in October. So from his discussions regarding the ranking announcement, we realised that they have derived it after looking at many other international rankings, and they have come out with these parameters that they think are very relevant to India because some of the International rankings don’t exactly suit the Indian Institutions. So they feel that these are the best 5 parameters and they are tweaking it every year, and they have asked for our inputs also, so they are improving it so I think it is a good start.
Q: What is the students’ contribution in improving the ranking and how can we further improve our ranking?
Director: As such the parameters are Teaching, Learning and Resources, as to what all resources we have, especially the money and the faculty. If we improve faculty with Ph.D and if we spend more money per student we get more points. So, there are finer aspects to it. So basically the students can contribute in 2 aspects. One parameter which is quite significant is Graduation Outcome, which includes how many students have been placed, have gone for higher studies and taken up entrepreneurship. NIRF considers data of the last 3 years. But, we have not been able to track properly. We don’t want to give any figures without proper documentation. We scored 72 out of 100 last year, which I think is not the realistic number. I am sure more students have gone for higher studies or they are doing jobs or they are entrepreneurs. We are not able to track them properly because we don’t have a proper database of the past 3 years’ alumni because some of them may go for higher studies next year or the year after. We need to have a system by which we need to track them properly such that we can improve this parameter. Last year, the Dean’s Office tried to collect data while registering students for convocation. But students change their phone numbers, Email IDs, and we have no documentation or follow-up. So students can help by giving their actual number, so that our score increases and therefore our ranking and perception. In perception, our score is around 60, which is more than other NITs, of course. Now they have removed public perception, so now it is other institutes and industries ranking us. So the people taking up jobs must perform well and when they gets the email from NIRF, they should respond and we should come in the top 10. Then, research needs to be taken care of as well. If undergraduates and Ph.D scholars perform better, then of course, 30% is given to Research and Professional Practices, so we can improve that score also. So students can contribute a lot.
Q: With regards to our geographical location, far away from Trichy, do you think it somehow affects the NIRF ranking? If yes, how can we change it?
Director: I have worked in Delhi for 30 years, and of course location matters because IIT Delhi is on top, not only because they have great students, faculty and research and everything but location also matters, as far as placements, festivals, and participation are considered. You can bring more people to a metro – international speakers, international collaborations and such. But then, NITs are designed to be located remotely, so we can’t complain. Now that connectivity is increasing, with flights to Mumbai and hopefully flights to Bangalore, we should take advantage of this and try to bring more people to NIT Trichy, because I feel NIT Trichy is much better than what the perception is, when you actually come here. So the only way to do that is to bring more people here. So, when recruiters come are we showing them around the campus? Are we showing them the facilities we have? Similarly, lot of experts come for PhD vivas, M.Tech vivas, so we are making it a point that they are taken around for at least 15 minutes, show them the facilities. And this time for interview, I called around 100 senior professors from the vintage IITs. So once they come here, their perception changes. Similarly, I have requested all the departments to organise an International Conference, this year and next year, like half the departments in 2018 and the other half in 2019. So that we get lot of international speakers and researchers to the campus, so that we overcome this.
Q: We are the first ranked NIT as far as the NIRF ranking goes for the third year in a row. How has this been achievable over these years?
Director: I think I must thank the faculty, the researchers (students) and the alumni. Because in Teaching, learning and Resources, even though we had very few faculty full time, somehow we managed to have good infrastructure and then good faculty who could actually produce good research papers. So, then, our research and professional practices score is pretty good. We have been doing consistently good research work, and our Graduation outcome has also been quite good. As I previously mentioned, we are not able to track the students and alumni properly. Perception wise, REC Trichy was also famous, so NIT Trichy has that best perception among other NITs. In terms of outreach and inclusivity, NIT Trichy has larger percentage of girls and larger percentage of women faculty. So, this is an advantage. NIT as such is built to have 50% students from outside the state, and inclusivity means diversity. We are diverse. We have 23% girls, 25% women faculty and 50% from outside the state and obviously through DASA quota. We have foreign students as well, so all these contribute to rank. But, then, now we have tough competition from other NITs, we are just keeping our fingers crossed. We need to improve our research and we need improve our perception to comparable levels. This is so that even if others do better, we are not that far behind.