Amidst the heat and noise of electioneering in Assam, a piece of news far removed from the hurly-burly of politics has brought quiet satisfaction to the State. For the first time ever, the Union government recently brought out the domestic ranking of institutions of higher learning. Right up there among the top ten varsities in India is Tezpur University, ranked at number five. In a State witnessing a large exodus of bright students every year to grab seats in the likes of Delhi University, Baras Hindu University, BITS Pilani and Aligarh Muslim University — it is highly gratifying that Tezpur University has put all these four premier institutions behind in the top ten list. For a varsity set up only 22 years back, it is bracketed with IISc Bangalore, JNU and Central University of Hyderabad in the top five. In his reaction to the media, Tezpur University vice-chancellor Mihir Kumar Chaudhuri put matters in perspective when he said that the varsity has a ‘clear vision’ on the research that needs be done, and believes in going about its work ‘without much noise’. Surely, such focus and quiet dedication were the traits that once distinguished seekers of higher education within Assam and elsewhere. It is encouraging to see such qualities back in the reckoning in a State which gets little good news otherwise, thanks to its corrupt, feckless politicians and administrators. It must be appreciated that in tiol Institutiol Ranking Framework (NIRF), the parameters to judge performance included teaching, learning and resources; research productivity, impact and citation; intake of students from other states, women students and economically backward students for inclusivity; outreach programmes to surrounding locales; graduation outcome and placement; and peer rating and perception.
Three other varsities from the State also figure among the top 100 — Gauhati University ranked 22nd, Dibrugarh University (74th) and Assam University (77th). With the list containing Central universities mostly securing higher rankings, it is noteworthy that Gauhati University stands fourth among regiol universities after Punjab University (12th), Bharathiar University, Coimbatore (14th) and Goa University (20th). Pointing out the administrative burden of 345 colleges affiliated under Gauhati University, its vice-chancellor Mridul Hazarika has bemoaned the ‘hand-to-mouth existence’ of the university due to chronic shortage of funds. This is hardly surprising, considering the Assam government’s failure in pro-actively supporting the regiol universities and lack of an overarching vision for higher education. Over 3,600 institutions participated in this ranking exercise, and significant gaps were found in the data furnished. Some education experts have found fault with the methodology used to rank institutions, which ostensibly yielded some unlikely results. The Union Human Resource Development ministry has however contended that the tiol Board of Accreditation (NBA) has been tasked with the ranking exercise, with Elsevier validating the data as third party. The criteria used for ranking was also put on public domain, imparting a welcome degree of transparency to the exercise. Filly, the ranking was done in four categories — general universities, engineering, magement and pharmacy institutions. Two other categories of general colleges and architecture institutes have been promised in the coming years. All said and done, the ranking exercise has set a benchmark with scope for improvement, which will surely help prospective students and guardians. With the third largest higher education system after US and Chi, the country has taken an initiative that was long overdue.