Context: The top five Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science have all dropped in this year's QS World University rankings. 

More about the news:

  • Only the newer IITs in Guwahati and Hyderabad were able to show improvement.
  • The total number of Indian institutions in the top 1,000 global list has also fallen from 24 to 21, despite the Centre's flagship Institutes of Eminence scheme, launched two years ago in a bid to boost the Indian presence in these global rankings.
  • The top seven IITs had jointly decided to boycott the Times Higher Education rankings earlier this year, questioning its methodology and transparency.

Key takeaways


  • IIT-Bombay still maintains its position as the top institution in India in the QS rankings, but has slipped 20 places from 152 to 172 in the global list. 
  • IISc overtook IIT Delhi to make it to the second place, but still dropped a rank to 185. 
  • IIT Delhi fell more than 10 places in the rankings to 193 rank, while IIT Madras is at 275. Both IIT Kharagpur and IIT Kanpur crashed out of the top 300.
  • IIT Roorkee maintained its ranking at 383, while IIT Guwahati improved from 491 to 470. IIT Hyderabad entered the top 1,000 for the first time.
  • Private universities: Prestigious names such as BITS Pilani and the Vellore Institute of Technology have dropped out of the top 1,000 list, but OP Jindal Global University, a new entrant last year, has climbed to the 650-700 band in the rankings.

Poor score in Internationalisation: Out of the six parameters, Indian institutions get zero score on ratio of international faculty and students.

  • Reasons: The slight drop in rankings of some institutes is because of the parameter of internationalisation. India performs poorest on this parameter, while scoring well on research impact, measured through citations per faculty.
  • Action taken: Govt. has  formed a committee on how we can improve the perception of the premier Indian institutes abroad. The committee comprises IIT directors among others.

Poor score on faculty-student ratio: It is because IITs only count full time faculty, whereas American universities include Ph.D. students who are teaching or research assistants. IITs do quite well on the research impact parameter.

  • If a parameter comparing the cost of education to students was introduced, Indian institutions would be among the world’s top 50.

Govt. initiatives:

  • The Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan or the National Higher Education Mission to strategically fund higher education institutes in the country. 
  • The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was launched to rank universities and institutes in various parameters, including research. 
  • The ‘Institutes of Eminence (IoE)’ scheme, where GoI initially pledged to support 20 institutes to become world-class universities – of which six have already been announced and more than a dozen are awaiting the status upgrade. 
    • IITs receive funds under the IoE scheme.
    • The IoE regulatons are very clear that it is about benchmarking to global rankings. The same methodology used uniformly across the world. If you are an IoE, you have agreed to these terms. 
  • Prime Ministers Research Fellowship’: undergraduate and postgraduate students with a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of at least 8.0 from elite Indian institutes will be eligible for direct admission in PhD programmes of IITs and IISc. They will also be fairly compensated under the scheme.
  • Tenure track system: The IIT Council recently introduced the tenure track system for hiring and confirming assistant professors. The MHRD is planning to extend this system to Central universities and the draft National Education Policy has recommended its introduction in all institutions by 2030.

What is tenure track system?

Under this system, an assistant professor may be hired without the mandatory post-PhD experience requirement and her performance reviewed internally after three years. 

Based on an evaluation by an external committee at the end of 5.5 years, he or she may either be granted tenure (made permanent) and promoted to the next higher level of associate professor or asked to leave.


  • Imbalance of UG to PG courses in IITs: The IITs focused on undergraduate education initially..When Indian industry is looking at innovation-led growth, Indian institutions need to produce large numbers of PhDs in science and engineering.
  • Poor showing in academic peer review, poor research output, poor faculty-student ratio
  • Less or no international exposure for faculty
  • Students migrating, not staying on for research: IITs have been trying hard to persuade their best undergraduate students to stay on for PhDs but without too much success. These days, students prefer to work in India rather than going for PhDs.
  • Complaint against methodology: The top seven IITs had jointly decided to boycott the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings earlier this year, questioning its methodology and transparency.
    • The older IITs have lost out in the rankings because of the per-teacher productivity method that THE follows. Suppose you have 100 publications and 10 teachers, the per-teacher productivity is 10. If an institute has 500 publications and 250 teachers, the per-teacher productivity then becomes two, which is where the older IITs are falling behind
  • Better performance by foreign universities: Though India’s universities have dropped as a group this year, this is frequently because of other universities across the world making increasingly-intense efforts to enhance their educational offerings.

Way forward:

  • Kakodkar committee recommendations:
    • Increase strength in each IIT to 1,200, against a maximum of 500 in 2011(when the report was written).
    • Graduate one PhD student per faculty every year, bringing the total number to 10,000 per year by 2020, against 1,000 in 2011.
    • Identify, for each IIT, three to four areas of strength and fund research in them massively.
    • Work on large projects with many groups in areas of national interest.
    • Create parks within IITs for private companies to collaborate and do research.
  • Promoting Trans-disciplinary research:  It is a team effort of investigators from different disciplines to create new conceptual, theoretical, methodological innovations to address a common problem.
  • The girls will need particular attention to encourage them to pursue fields in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
  • Introducing Artificial intelligence: AI-based learning systems would be able to give professors useful information about their students’ learning styles, abilities, and progress, and provide suggestions for how to customize their teaching methods to students’ individual needs.
  • Equip students with employable skills: It can be done by promoting linkages between institutions and industry.
  • Role of institutions: In India, initially,  autonomous colleges under the University Grants Commission (UGC) can begin the process of initiating  research-integrated programmes in their three-year undergraduate courses. 
  • Inter-institute network of conferences: Bodies like UGC should initiate conferences where UG researchers can present their papers before their peers, so that it becomes a trial ground for them for larger, national or international conferences.

A strong commitment to faculty hiring and research, a focus on internationalisation, devotion to humanities and social sciences, and the drive to build our reputation through students and employers can help Indian institutions in performing better.