In the Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings 2016, published last December, there was not a single Indian institution in the top 10. But the ranking once again demonstrated the extraordinary progress achieved by China. China has 27 institutions in the top 100 and five in the top 10, with Peking University first and Tsinghua University second.
We should not become too fixated by rankings. Policymakers and university leaders in the BRICS and emerging economies urgently need to recognise that not all universities need to be engaged with all aspects of institution-building. Not all need to be the kinds of research-focused institutions that do well in international rankings – as long as they are judged to excel in other areas.
But if a country such as India (whose top institution in the 2016 rankings was the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, at 16th) is serious about establishing globally excellent universities, there are several steps that must be taken. One is that universities should be differentiated only on the basis of their quality, performance and contribution. More resources should be made available for those that are performing exceedingly well, regardless of whether they are public or private.
Taking inspiration from the Russian Federation’s Project 5-100 initiative, which aims to propel five Russian institutions into the global top 100 by 2020, other BRICS and developing countries might also consider nurturing a substantial number of their top universities. Earlier this year, India took an important step towards enabling 20 universities (10 public, 10 private) to become world-class. China has also undertaken a number of such initiatives in the past two decades.
But success demands a substantial increase in the funding available for research in universities in the BRICS region. It is also imperative to re-examine the policy and management framework for disbursing research grants, to make sure that they are put to the best use. Relatedly, faculty members need to be given greater incentives to pursue research and publications.
Greater internationalisation of faculty members and students is also absolutely crucial, and is one of the major challenges facing universities in the BRICS nations. In a globalised world, knowledge creation and sharing cannot be limited by nationality and place of origin. World-class universities have always attracted faculty and students from around the world, and universities in the BRICS and emerging economies that aspire to join them need to do likewise.
As well as initiatives such as scholarships and fellowships for students and overhauled recruitment and career development policies for academics, there is also a lot that can be done with international partners. There are at least 10 aspects of collaborative internationalisation that need to be promoted in Indian universities. These are joint teaching initiatives, joint research projects, joint conferences, joint publications, student exchange programmes, faculty exchange programmes, dual-degree programmes, summer and winter school opportunities, study-abroad programmes and joint executive education programmes.
Such initiatives underlie the rise of newly emerging world-class universities in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. They led to China hosting 330,000 international students in 2012, according to the US-based Institute of International Education’s Project Atlas. What needs to be recognised in India and other emerging economies is that this global market share of 8 per cent – the third highest in the world – was up from virtually zero at the turn of the millennium.
But even more important than internationalisation is greater autonomy for universities from governments and regulatory bodies. This will require transformational change at every level of policymaking, regulation and governance. But this is what it will take if the BRICS and emerging economies are serious about seeking global excellence and, through that, higher rankings.
C. Raj Kumar is the founding vice-chancellor of O. P. Jindal Global University in India and director of the International Institute for Higher Education Research & Capacity Building at the same institution. The Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Universities Summit will be held at the University of Johannesburg from 30 November to 2 December.