Could RUSA Enhance India’s World University Rankings?

Could RUSA Enhance India’s World University Rankings?

Jane Playdon

Updated October 3, 2023 Updated October 03

Ashok Thakur, Higher Education Secretary for the Indian government’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), recently announced a plan to create more public universities out of existing colleges in India, reports The Economic Times. The scheme, called Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), will increase the amount of Indian universities eligible for state funding, and could enhance India’s performance in the world university rankings.

Thakur told a group of higher education ministers that the HRD Centre “will be creating about 278 new universities and 388 new colleges [and] some of these colleges will be motivated to become universities". He cautioned against the creation of more private universities, saying it would be preferable to upgrade existing autonomous institutions with a good track record to universities, with the help of state (RUSA) funding.

The Centre has allocated Rs. 50,000 crore (US$8.1 billion) for higher education, half of which will go to RUSA and the other half to the University Grants Commission (UGC). RUSA will provide funding to a larger number of higher education institutions by including those that don’t fall within the mandate for UGC funding. This will be performance-based.

What does RUSA aim to achieve?

The announcement follows disappointment at India’s performance in the QS World University Rankings this year, which inspired one headline after another lamenting the lack of a single Indian institution in the top 200. India also fared worse than the other BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa).

While RUSA is not a direct response to the rankings, it does aim to “attain higher levels of access, equity and excellence in the State higher education system with greater efficiency, transparency, accountability and responsiveness”.

RUSA objectives include a target of 32% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) by 2020; adequate opportunities for deprived communities and the promotion of inclusion of women and minority groups; the improvement of state higher education quality by setting standards that need to be conformed to; stronger links between education and the job market; adequate availability of quality faculty members, and the promotion of research and innovation.       

Creating new Indian universities

According to Ernst & Young, “India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world, with 25.9 million students enrolled in more than 45,000 degree and diploma institutions”. However, demand for quality higher education in India still outstrips supply, with thousands of applicants competing to get into elite state-run Indian universities. Out of a population of over 1.2 billion, only 18% of the tertiary education-aged population are enrolled. The majority of those enrollments (almost 60%) are in private institutions, many of which are seen as not up to the standard of Indian universities run by the government.

Under RUSA, existing autonomous colleges and institutions that fulfill the specified conditions will be upgraded to university status, and clusters of colleges (usually between three and five) with a high-performing institution at the nucleus will join together to form a university. A prospective university will need to have a minimum existing enrollment of 2,000 students, with a proposed total of at least 4,000 in order to be classed as a university. It will also need enough land and facilities to support the additional enrollments. RUSA will also provide support for 5,000 faculty positions.

In addition to the creation of new Indian universities and colleges, Union HRD Minister M M Raju has said that there are already “306 state universities and about 8,500 colleges that can be covered under RUSA”.

Prioritizing access, research and student-teacher ratio

RUSA grants will be prioritized on the basis of factors that indicate a move toward widening access and participation, such as improving facilities for female students (hostels and toilets), and facilities and support services for disabled students and minority groups.

Further requirements for upgrading to university status include accreditation by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) at no less than an ‘A’ grade. Colleges will also need to demonstrate “credible research capacity”, “must be multi-faculty” and “should have a healthy student-teacher ratio (20:1)”.

All these requirements are categories that are looked at either directly or indirectly in the world university rankings. The QS rankings, in particular emphasize academic reputation, student-to-faculty ratio and research citations per faculty member, alongside employer reputation and international diversity of staff and students.

Since 2008, Indian universities assessed in the QS World University Rankings have shown improvement in terms of their reputation with employers and research citation levels, but have deteriorated in academic reputation, faculty to student ratio and international diversity of faculty and students. If RUSA is successful, it has the potential to make a favorable impact on the coming years’ results.

New ranking of universities in India and other BRICS countries

Meanwhile, India has a chance to shine in a new ranking of universities in India and other BRICS countries – the QS University Rankings: BRICS. This levels the playing field by dealing only with universities in these five emerging economies, and the methodology has been adapted from that used in the QS World University Rankings to reflect the BRICS countries’ major priorities. Without the pressure of competing with longer-established Western institutions, it is expected that relative strengths (and weaknesses) will be more apparent.

The first edition of the QS University Rankings: BRICS will be published on 17 December 2013. More than 400 universities across the five countries have been assessed, with just the top 100 being ranked for this pilot project.

Which Indian universities do you think will feature in the new ranking? Leave a comment below.

Image credit: Giridhar Appaji Nag Y

This article was originally published in December 2013 . It was last updated in September 2021

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Jane Playdon is a author and blogger.