Straight Talk: Do College Rankings Matter?

17 Apr

Straight Talk: Do College Rankings Matter? [Part 1 in a 2 part series]
By Pushkar

Prospective students should not decide where to study based on college rankings alone.

College and university rankings have become a routine feature of India’s higher education landscape. Magazines such as India TodayOutlook and Careers 360 prepare all-India rankings on an annual basis – in various fields of study including law, the humanities, and social sciences. These rankings are a useful source of information for prospective students.

The question, however, is: How seriously should prospective students look at these rankings in making decisions about where to study?

It is easy to forget that world university rankings were introduced just over a decade or so ago by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU). Since then, of course, they have become both incredibly popular and influential the world over. However, many international higher education experts have correctly pointed out that there are several methodological problems in how rankings are determined.

India-level rankings, conducted by various magazines, are far less sophisticated than the world university or subject rankings produced by Times Higher Education (THE), U.S. News & World Report, or the SJTU, and are therefore even more partial and unreliable. More bothersome is the fact that several sub-par colleges and universities have at different times figured in the list of top 100 or so institutions in the country.

You, as a prospective student, should not go by rankings alone in making your decision to study at Excellent Engineering College or Brilliant Institute of Science and Technology. You should also not be impressed by various awards that have been conferred on the Global Institute of Minus Studies.

Recently, the entrepreneur Mahesh Murthy drew attention to a prestigious award handed out by FICCI to a private university in Gujarat. As it turns out, a family member of the institution’s founder was on the FICCI jury that selected the award winner! You can see the tweet here:

The now-discredited IIPM was once the darling of the media, winning several awards and making it to the charts of the same magazines which still bring you India-wide college rankings.

Of course, not all awards or India-wide college rankings are rigged. Nevertheless, many unscrupulous private institutions are known to lie about their “world-class” infrastructure and faculty and still break into the charts. If you are heading to college this coming year, you should know that you cannot fully trust rankings and awards – and must do a little extra research to help you make your decision on where to study.


Pushkar is a contributor on India’s higher education for Asian Scientist (Singapore). He previously taught at Goa University, McGill University, Concordia University, and the University of Ottawa. He is currently with the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa. You can follow him on twitter at: @PushHigherEd

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