Asia University Rankings 2016: India leads in South Asia, but its neighbours are closing the gap

Pakistan’s and Bangladesh’s institutions are hot on the heels of their regional rival, but investment in higher education remains an issue

June 20, 2016
Student waiting in corridor, University of Delhi
Source: Getty

Browse the full list of the top 200 institutions in this year's rankings

India is the strongest South Asian nation in the rankings. It is the only country in the region with representatives in the top 100 (eight) and boasts 16 universities overall, while its neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh have just three institutions between them in the bottom half of the table.

Javed Ashraf, vice-chancellor of Pakistan’s top-ranked institution, Quaid-i-azam University (in the 101-110 band), says that India’s success is partly down to its “stronger tradition of excellence” in academia, while its recent economic development has allowed it to invest more in higher education than its neighbours.

By contrast, he says, his institution is hampered by an infrastructure that “has not kept pace with the size of the student population”.

“We need more space. We need more funds for our laboratories, for our equipment, for our buildings,” he says, adding that the university relies on the government for 60 per cent of its funding.

However, he continues, the institution has “top-rate research” in the natural and biological sciences and its scholars publish in leading academic journals across the globe.

“The quality of the research being conducted at the university is one of our biggest strengths,” he says.

Top universities in South Asia

South Asia rank Institution Country 2016 Asia Rank
1 Indian Institute of Science India 27
2 Indian Institute of Technology Bombay India 43
3 Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur India 51
4 Indian Institute of Technology Delhi India 60
5 Indian Institute of Technology Madras India 62
6 Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee India 65
7 Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati India =80
8 Jadavpur University India =84
=9 Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur India 101-110
=9 Quaid-i-azam University Pakistan 101-110
11 Panjab University India 111-120
12 National University of Sciences and Technology Pakistan 121-130
=13 University of Calcutta India 141-150
=13 Savitribai Phule Pune University India 141-150
15 Aligarh Muslim University India 151-160
16 University of Delhi India 161-170
17 Amrita University India 181-190
=18 Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani India 191-200
=18 University of Dhaka Bangladesh 191-200

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This is reflected in the university’s high score for research influence: it would be in the top fifth of the table if ranked on this measure alone.

However, Jamil Salmi, former coordinator of the World Bank’s tertiary education programme, says that there is still much room for improvement for the region’s institutions, including those in India.

“India has talked a lot about excellence but has not followed through with large investments, except in the Indian Institutes of Technology subsector. Governance is also a preoccupation, as public universities face the same restrictions as all public institutions in the country,” he says.

“Pakistan had an excellent start in the 2000s, with significant reforms and higher levels of funding. Unfortunately, the political crisis of the past few years has also affected the higher education sector negatively.”

On Bangladesh, he says that the country “has not invested the levels of resources needed for competing internationally, not to mention the high level of politicisation of its public universities”. The main political parties “wage ideological battles through the professors and students’ syndicates”, which can result in frequent industrial action “that disturbs the normal course of studies and research”, he adds.

Ismail Badat, the British Council’s South Asia regional manager for higher and further education, agrees that South Asian universities need to “depoliticise the sector while raising standards of provision and quality assurance mechanisms”.

He adds that governments and industry in the region need to invest greater amounts of funding into research, noting that “while research capacity has been increasing, the proportion of South Asia’s research output compared with the rest of the world is extremely low”.

South Asia map (20 June 2016)

“In 2013, China produced 71,003 documents with international collaborations, compared to India with 17,484, Pakistan with 4,278, and Bangladesh with 1,566,” Badat says.

“Paradoxically while more countries from outside the region are looking to collaborate on research with South Asian universities, just 2.2 per cent of all international collaborations involve countries within the region.

“Greater research collaboration at a regional level could be a productive first step, in particular to reap the benefits through collaborating on projects that address common, region-specific challenges.”

Despite these concerns, Ashraf says he is optimistic that there will be visible improvements in all the universities in his country in the years to come.

“It is something we are striving for,” he says. “The Higher Education Commission [in Pakistan] has spent a lot of money to improve the academic credentials of faculty across the country.

“Some of our leading universities are already in the range that some Indian universities are at presently.” He adds: “I don’t think we match the very best Indian universities, but I think it is a direction that is plausible and doable.”


Print headline: The right direction

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