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In Search of Excellence | Best Colleges of India

Arecent report by consultancy major Accenture estimates that India’s systematic skill gap will potentially result in a loss of approximately $1.97 trillion (Rs 1,37,57,000 crore) in ‘opportunity costs’. This means India will lose roughly two-thirds of its current GDP between 2018 and 2028. On the positive side, though, as Vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu said last month, rapid industrialisation and economic growth will create opportunities for a 250 million-strong skilled workforce by 2030.

This, in turn, will enable India to emerge as a global supplier of skilled manpower. And college education, across multiple streams, will have a pivotal role in unlocking this potential. The India Today Group’s annual college survey has for the past two decades authentically reflected the state and progress of the country’s colleges. The 23rd edition of the college special continues that tradition.

Like last year, the survey was conducted by Marketing and Development Research Associates (MDRA), a reputed Delhi-based market research agency, across 14 streams-arts, science, commerce, medical, dental, engineering, architecture, law, mass communication, hotel management, BBA, BCA, fashion and social work. Conducted between November 2018 and April 2019, 1,207 colleges participated this year, up from 988 last year. While undergraduate courses were evaluated across 12 streams, postgraduate courses were considered for mass communication and social work.

According to the 2018 HSBC Value of Education survey conducted among 10,478 parents and 1,507 university students in 15 countries, including 505 parents and 100 students from India, parents in India spent $1,853 (approx. Rs 1,30,000) annually on their children’s higher education. For this, 53 per cent curbed or reduced their leisure activities, 35 per cent took up another job and 49 per cent took fewer holidays.

Factoring in this apprehension over the high cost of education, colleges have been ranked on another parameter this year-with the lowest tuition fee. This is in addition to the return on investment (RoI) ranking of colleges. The RoI rankings aren’t an indication of best colleges, just of the maximum return offered in terms of salaries offered against course fee charged. From the point of view of investment in college education, they are the most valuable.

Significantly, and disturbingly, this year’s rankings confirm a trend that has become regular over the past few years-most of the top colleges are concentrated in a few big cities, with the national capital region of Delhi leading the pack. That explains the incredibly high cut-offs in Delhi University colleges and the nerve-wracking competition among students from across the country to secure a seat in a college of their choice. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has given it a political colour this Lok Sabha election, by demanding reservation for locals in Delhi colleges.

What sets the top colleges apart? India Today correspondents spoke to the heads of these institutes and a number of students to decipher the secret of their excellence. The answers were strikingly similar, explaining that the road to top is an eternal endeavour. There is no room for complacency; innovation is the way forward. “When students come here, they are good but we try to take them to a level where their skills and subject knowledge are enhanced,” says Professor John Varghese, the principal of St Stephen’s College, which has topped the arts stream six times in the past 23 years. At the Shri Ram College of Commerce, which has remained on top in commerce since the survey began, the focus is on holistic growth. “We adopt a very good methodology in creating holistic development of a student,” says Simrit Kaur, its principal.

Another yet-to-be-dethroned champion is the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which not only produces the country’s best doctors but also functions as a live laboratory of medical practices and management. With its massive footfall, it offers its students hands-on experience that few colleges in India can dream of. “We get to watch some of the best clinician-researchers in action, having plenty of opportunity to go out and explore,” says Lajjaben Jayesh Kumar Patel, an MBBS student. Yet director Randeep Guleria feels he has much more to do-from setting up new courses and departments to introducing digital governance.

It’s this drive to explore new horizons that has kept the Bengaluru-based National Law School of India University at the top 17 times since 1998. The alma mater of several top legal minds of the country, NLSIU, like toppers in other streams, also focuses on instilling value-based education. As Professor S.N. Venkata Rao, its vice-chancellor, explains, the success is the result of innovation in teaching, socially relevant themes and making legal education justice-oriented. That can be achieved when freedom to think and express is allowed and that’s what makes the institute unique. “I don’t think any other institute promotes such free thinking. Each student gets exposure to all facets of life apart from academics,” says Chandni Ochani, a final-year student pursuing a BA-LLB.(Hons) programme.

While most of the table toppers are a perfect blend of hard work and legacy, geography and economics often play a critical role in earning excellence. There is a disparity in the distribution of funds as 65 per cent of the University Grants Commission budget is utilised by central universities and their colleges while state universities and their affiliated colleges get only 35 per cent. It’s not just coincidence that colleges under DU-a central university-are regular toppers in our survey.

This lopsided spending apart, India’s expenditure on higher education as a percentage of its total budget has remained stagnant, hovering at an average 1.5 per cent over the past 12 years.

The task, then, is cut out for the new government that takes over on May 23: pump in more funds, improve infrastructure and quality of higher education and hold stakeholders accountable. Indians are more constrained by the circumstances they are born in than the citizens of five other large developing countries-Brazil, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria, according to a 2018 World Bank report. Government initiatives, therefore, will be crucial in scripting a turnaround.

HOW THE COLLEGES WERE RANKED

India’s higher education is highly competitive, with over 37 million students studying across about 50,000 institutes of higher education. For the past two decades, india today’s Best Colleges Survey has become a friend, guide and ready reckoner to all those students who have to make the challenging decision of what to study and where. The 23rd edition of this annual exercise, the survey was conducted in association with Delhi-based reputed market research agency Marketing & Development Research Associates (MDRA) between November 2018 and April 2019. Colleges were ranked across 14 streams-arts, science, commerce, medical, dental, engineering, architecture, law, mass communication, hotel management, BBA, BCA, fashion and social work.

During objective ranking, MDRA carefully attuned 112-plus attributes in each stream (performance indicators) to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons of colleges in their respective streams. These performance indicators were clubbed into five broad parameters-‘Intake Quality & Governance’, ‘Academic Excellence’, ‘Infrastructure & Living Experience’, ‘Personality & Leadership Development’ and ‘Career Progression & Placement’.

Moreover, to give more realistic, relevant and updated information, MDRA has evaluated colleges based on current year data. The ranking tables also give parameter-wise scores obtained by colleges to provide deeper insights on key aspects of decisionmaking by various stakeholders.

The ranking was done in multiple steps:

> An extensive desk review of MDRA’s database and secondary research was conducted to prepare a list of colleges in each stream. Only those colleges, which have been offering full-time, in-classroom courses and churned out at least three pass-out batches till academic year 2018-19, were considered.

In 12 streams, undergraduate courses were ranked. In Mass Communication and Social Work, postgraduate courses were evaluated. While the participation form inviting every eligible college to participate was put up in public domain, around 10,000 colleges fulfilling the criteria were directly contacted.

> Experts with rich experience in their fields were consulted to frame the parameters and sub-parameters for different streams. Indicators critical for establishing best colleges were meticulously determined and their relative weights were finalised.

> Comprehensive objective questionnaires were designed for each of the 14 streams taking into account these performance indicators and were put up in public domain-on the websites of india today and MDRA. The MDRA team directly contacted about 10,000 colleges fulfilling the eligibility criteria seeking objective data for verification. Attested hard copies and soft copies were sought and 1,207 eligible institutes submitted institutional data along with voluminous supporting documents within the stipulated deadline.

> After receipt of the objective data from participating colleges, MDRA verified the information provided by them. In case of insufficient/incorrect data, respective colleges were asked to provide complete, correct and updated information.

> Physical audits (verification) were conducted to verify the objective data provided by the colleges. Experienced researchers of MDRA visited 138 colleges and thoroughly examined each aspect of the details provided by them. Corrections were made wherever required.

> Perceptual survey about these colleges was carried out among 1,787 well-informed respondents (560 senior faculty members, 291 recruiters/ professionals, 381 career accelerators and 555 final-year students) across 24 cities.

North: Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Faridabad, Lucknow, Kota, Chandigarh and Ludhiana

West: Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Indore and Nagpur

South: Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kochi and Coimbatore

East: Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati, Patna and Raipur

National and zonal rankings were taken from them in their respective field of experience and were given 75 per cent and 25 per cent weightages, respectively. They also rated the institutes on a 10-point rating scale on each of the five key parameters.

> While computing objective scores, it was ensured that aggregate data alone is not used and hence data were normalised for fair comparison. The total scores arrived from objective and perceptual survey were added in the ratio of 60:40-for 11 professional courses-while a ratio of 50:50 was taken for academic courses-arts, science and commerce-to get the final combined score.

The MDRA core team, led by Abhishek Agrawal (Executive Director), consisted of Abnish Jha (Associate Project Director), Rajan Chauhan (Research Executive) and Manveer Singh (Executive-EDP).

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