We are introduced to the concept of peer ranking in our schools. It is ironic that when it comes to ranking themselves, it is educational institutions that are the least forthcoming! Much has been said about the pros and cons of ranking and peer benchmarking. But even the worst critiques of ranking don’t argue for not having it – they in fact talk about how to improve the ranking process. It is in this backdrop that the ranking of B-schools – which are among the most sought-after institutions by youngsters today — becomes relevant.
Globally, rankings have been a recent phenomenon with universities. It started with Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s effort to have a global ranking system in their Center for World-Class Universities (CWCU). The first Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) was published in 2003. It was an annual affair and the intended purpose of ARWU was to find where the Chinese universities stood with respect to their global peers. This initiative caught worldwide attention and many more such global ranking systems came into existence such as Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings. These have been a great source of information and assistance for a wide variety of stakeholders.
These global rankings broadly look at academic excellence, faculty strength, research orientation, international outlook and placement. The weightages for different ranking systems vary based on the objective of the format and characteristics of the genre taken up for ranking.
It is appropriate that the National HRD Network (NHRDN) has taken up this important initiative of rating B-schools in India. B-schools have been much sought-after institutions for bright and upwardly mobile youngsters in this country. In the past few years, a multitude of business schools have come up to cater to this ever-growing demand. Even foreign universities who want to have a presence in India look at Business Education as the first port of entry. With low entry barriers to set up and run a B-school, it is important for the stakeholders — especially the students and faculty — to know about the B-school where they are committing their resources and career.
India, with its unique requirements, needs a customized and balanced rating framework. It is relevant to look at the factors that have been taken up by NHRDN in their assessment model. The basics are covered with student profile, infrastructure and student life. Academic aspects have been addressed with parameters such as ‘Academic Excellence’ and ‘Faculty Life’. The industry connect is covered through ‘Placements’, ‘Corporate Connectedness’ and ‘Alumni Strength’. These individual parameters also give an indication of the relative importance of each of these dimensions in the institutes. For instance, the one with a good score on Infrastructure and Student Life but low on Placements gives a different picture compared to another B-school which ranks high on Academic Excellence, but low on Corporate Connectedness. The students can pick and choose those institutes that suit their outlook and requirements.
An oft-repeated criticism of Indian institutions — especially B-schools — is the lack of differentiation. In the US, the recruiter would know where to go if she is looking for an analytical manager with quantitative skills. The startups will know where to look for profiles they need and so would the traditional industries. Over a period of time, the people they recruited have done pretty much what they had desired and this has reinforced the positioning of the institutions. Unfortunately, in India, it is undifferentiated and hence a common pool of managers gets churned and industry spends time in getting them into shape. Ratings can be a trigger point to get the institutions to find their positioning. The key factors to make this happen are data availability and transparency. Ratings should be looked as a means of feedback, to the benefit of the institutions. So if data is incorrect or absent, it not only distorts the overall picture, but also will not be able to provide meaningful feedback to the institutions.
No rating is flawless. It is a question of what we want to take away from the exercise. It is futile to find fault with the method and dismiss the result which is based on sound judgment and unbiased evaluation. We should rather use this opportunity to identify the areas of strength and deficit. Such concrete actions will show up in results, which will be reflected in the next rating cycle. This will help create a healthy environment and prepare us for global competition.