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WHEN Visva-Bharati got B-grade from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council in 2015, Bengal accepted it as obvious. It was taken as endorsement of Bengal intelligentsia’s opinion that Tagore’s university has been in steep decline. Bengal media mocked the university: it was more joy there than remorse at the decline of one of the few great institutions that Bengal has ever built.

However, a few voices had differed and within a year, the differing voices were proven correct by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) based first ever national university ranking in India published early this April. Visva-Bharati ranked 11th best among all Indian universities in the maiden ranking mechanism introduced by the Union ministry of human resources development (MHRD).

But it gave rise to a doubt. Whether, the all-India 11th position among 233 participating universities was managed to salvage the prestige of this Institute of National Importance and international fame.

Especially, when the ranking is from the MHRD that made the President remove Visva-Bharati Vice-chancellor Sushanta Duttagupta about two months ago.

Was the MHRD under pressure to show something good about the only university where Prime Minister of India occupies the chair of the Chancellor? This was the general mood of media while reporting the news about the ranking.

More so because, both the NIRF and NAAC took into consideration the performance for the same years 2012, 2013, and 2014 while arriving at their respective assessment.

In jest of putting things in perspective, the media missed many a points of the National Institutional Ranking Framework procedure, which tried making the ranking exercise a practice based on global and India-centric parameters.

True, NIRF had to depend on the data fed by the institutions themselves. But it ensured that international and national research and publication databases were extensively used. NIRF’s two-stage perception exercise among stakeholders and accomplished intellectuals to arrive at image understanding made the ranking a credible one.

Keeping this context in mind, a cross-check on the reasons for Visva-Bharati much improved show within a year will enlighten many a suspicious mind.

Since Visva-Bharati boasts itself as an international university, assessing its position in two broad global ranking areas of excellence in teaching, learning and research has been long overdue. Participating in the NIRF ranking despite the over a yearlong internal unrest for administrative transparency, when many of premier universities did not participate on flimsy grounds, gave Visva-Bharati that chance.

It was necessary after the NAAC debacle, which brought down morale of those facultt members whose achievements were not even presented to the UGC body for assessment.

Foremost global parameter of excellence is graduation outcome. NIRF included this parameter as “the ultimate test of the effectiveness of the core teaching / learning activity.” This measured “the student graduation rate and their success in finding appropriate placement in industry and government or taking up higher studies.” Visva-Bharati came first in graduation outcome parameters along with a few other universities that took part in the ranking exercise.     

Next, Visva-Bharati came 15th in research, professional practice and collaborative performance, another common group of global parameters. Here, faculty members’ proven contribution in making their knowledge and expertise available to benefit the society and industry is considered.

NIRF attempted “to measure the quantity and quality of research output as seen through international databases, intellectual property rights (IPR) generation, and interface with industry and fellow professionals.” To arrive at calculation for this, combined metric of publications, citations, and IPR were taken up. For this, NIFR did not depend upon university level data.

If NIRF had depended on Visva-Bharati supplied research and publication data, which mostly resembled the data provided to NAAC, the university would have fared equally bad in the maiden MHRD university ranking.

For example, in the KG to PG integrated university structure of Visva-Bharati, many Adhyapakas in the two schools of the varsity have commendable research citations. They get published in the best of the journals in the respective fields. Their works, along with many other by the UG and PG department faculty members were missing from in the submission made to NAAC in 2015.

But thanks to NIRF procedure, such a disaster did not strike Visva-Bharati second time. NIRF writes on its website: “the data on research publications and citations was taken directly from resources published by Elsevier (Scopus), Thomson Reuters (Web of Science), and the Indian Citation Index. We had little problems with data taken from these sources. These three databases were searched to determine the quantitative productivity of all 3,565 institutions who registered themselves for ranking in terms of research articles published by them and citations received by these publications in a span of three years, i.e. 2012, 2013, and 2014.”

Visva-Bharati’s 15th rank on this count shows the faculty members’ continuing contribution to make their knowledge and expertise available to benefit the society and industry.

This notwithstanding the fact that a large number of teachers in  Visva-Bharati are yet to  get the bare minimum facility such as a separate chamber with book shelf, computer / laptop with uninterrupted Internet connectivity, printer etc.

Students are yet to get dedicated departmental library facilities in several departments. Visva-Bharati coming a poor 70th on teaching, learning, and resources parameters reflects this reality.

NIRF introduced country-specific parameters relevant to Indian situation to access how far our institutions were connecting to communities, serving the disadvantaged by way of inducting women and socially challenged persons in student and faculty positions and contributing in development extension.

Outreach, university stay, and visit experience, and the memory of intellectual greats about a university are important aspects in creating perception about the institution. This reflects in the number of applications to seat ratio, a sure way of judging attractiveness of an institution. This also reflects in peer rating of the varsity.

NIRF’s call for student, parent, and employer feedback for all the participating institutions received nearly 1.5 lakh votes from 60,000 respondents. NIRF sent special letters to a select group of eminent and accomplished individuals from the academia, industry, R&D institutions, and other wings of the governments inviting perception feedback directly on its portal.

On both these counts ~ application-seat ration and perception feedback, Visva-Bharati came 18th which is not commensurate to its huge attractiveness.

With an extension network in 50 villages and attraction of the varsity among   enthusiasts from India and abroad since the days of Tagore, Visva-Bharati should have naturally done better. The university has to bring an inclusive mechanism of reporting so that it can avoid under-reporting.

Despite these gaps, Tagore’s university has surely taken the lead seat in Bengal in 2015-2016. Visva-Bharati’s overall score of 76.11 out 100 has narrowly robbed it a place in the top ten. With a regular faculty of 483, of whom 384 are PhDs, and with a women faculty strength of 115, the varsity still needs to improve its teaching, learning, resources, and perception to improve its tally the next time.

Among the other institutes in Bengal, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya has ranked 31st, followed by the elite Presidency University at 41st, and Kalyani University at 45th.

That the universities like Jadavpur and Calcutta, that got A-grade in the latest NAAC gradation, were not able to send data for the ranking exercise for their own reasons, cannot be a reason for belittling the NIRF ranking.

(Biplob LohoChoudhury is head professor Centre for Journalism and Mass Communication at Visva-Bharati. He lives in Santiniketan, Birbhum. Click here to read his previous articles.)

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