NIRF Rankings – How Reliable Are They?

MHRD’s National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) has come out with the rankings for 2018. After I had a look at the rankings, my first reaction was of confusion, which then turned into that of scepticism. I immediately went on to LinkedIn to see what the reaction of various Alumni was to these rankings. I came across a few people questioning the discrepancies between the NIRF rankings and those done by other agencies. In this article, I will try and answer the all-important question: How reliable are these rankings?

Why do rankings matter and what is NIRF?

Most Indian universities and management institutes do not feature in global lists. Former-PM Dr Manmohan Singh and Former-President Pranab Mukherjee have emphasized the importance of rankings and the absence of most Indian Universities from global rankings.

Rankings can help aspirants decide which institutes align with their career aspirations, and how reputed these organisations have been over the years. Rankings can also assist in the formation of partnerships between institutes. In fact, top ranking institutes were given awards by the President in 2017.

Under the Institutes of Eminence (IE) scheme, almost Rs. 1000 crores will be used for funding the top 10 institutes/universities under the NIRF. So very clearly, rankings are quite crucial – at least when it comes to the NIRF.

The NIRF is a methodology which was created by the MHRD to rank institutes of higher studies. The committee consists of 16 members which include directors of IITs and IIMs, amongst other esteemed members in the higher education field.

How does NIRF rank Management Institutes?

Management Institutes are ranked broadly on the following parameters:

Parameter Weightage
Teaching, Learning, & Resources 0.3
Research & Professional Practices 0.3
Graduation Outcomes 0.2
Outreach & Inclusivity 0.1
Perception 0.1

These include sub-parameters as well, which can be found on the NIRF Website.

How have the rankings been received by various institutes?

While most institutes welcomed these rankings, some were not so ecstatic. For instance, in 2017, IIT (BHU) Varanasi objected to being ranked 31st on the list, stating that NIRF rankings were based on incomplete data obtained from third-parties instead of obtaining it from the institute. As a result, the Institute was ranked 31st in 2017, as compared to 14th in 2016.

This year, I have even discovered certain individuals on LinkedIn objecting to low rankings of Institutes such as IIM Indore, XLRI, TAPMI, SIBM etc (An IIM alumnus has even called the rankings a ‘jumla’.). Even IIM students on Quora are aghast at the sheer inconsistencies in rankings of 2018.

So what is the problem with these rankings?

If you look at the reports from 2016-2018, you will find major inconsistencies as compared to rankings of InsideIIM and other MBA portals. Granted that InsideIIM’s rankings are based purely on brand perception, but this perception exists for a reason.

(The Engineering and University rankings are also being questioned.)

To elucidate how ridiculous the overall rankings seem, here are some examples of NIRF’s rankings of Management Institutes. I leave it up to you to decide if these make sense to you:

2018:

Since InsideIIM’s rankings are based only on perception, here I have taken into account the NIRF rankings based on perception only.

2018 MHRD-NIRF InsideIIM
SJMSOM 13th 16th
MDI Gurgaon 16th 13th
Great Lakes Institute of Management Studies 21st 42nd
SPJIMR 23rd 11th
NMIMS 32nd 18th
IIM Rohtak 33rd 23rd

 

2018 MHRD-NIRF InsideIIM
8th Anna University IIM Kozhikode
10th Loyola Institute of Business Administration IIFT Delhi
12th PSG College of Technology JBIMS Mumbai

Highlights of overall NIRF rankings for 2018:

  • IIM Indore and MDI Gurgaon do not even make it to the top-10 institutes. XLRI barely makes it to the 10th place.
  • Great Lakes Institute of Management Studies is ranked higher than SIBM Pune, NMIMS, SP Jain, IIFT, IIM Rohtak etc.
    KJ Somaiya is not even in the top 50 colleges, let alone top 20/top 30.
  • IITs and other government institutes seem to have some kind of preference, as most of them feature in the top 10 (above the likes of MDI, IIM Indore, SPJIMR, SIBM Pune, NMIMS). What is it that these institutes are doing so wrong?
  • There is a massive contrast between rankings by Graduation Outcomes, Perception, and Overall rankings. Most unknown institutes have outdone well-known and reputed institutes due to the parameter of  Outreach and Inclusivity, where institutes like LPU, ICFAI, Amity, Great Lakes etc. have done better than most top colleges.

2017:

Highlights of NIRF Rankings based on perception:

  • Vellore Institute of Technology and PSG College of Technology, for an MBA, are ranked higher than SPJIMR, MDI, NMIMS, IIM Udaipur and KJ Somaiya. According to this list, VIT happens to be in the top 10 institutes which are preferred by people to do an MBA. To give you perspective, MDI is ranked 21st.

Highlights of overall NIRF Rankings:

  • VIT is ranked above SPJIMR, NMIMS and KJ Somaiya. VIT is below MDI by only one position in the overall rankings.
  • When compared to 2018, the 2017 list under Outreach and Inclusivity is vastly different. Last year, most of the top IIMs (Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Ranchi, Udaipur, Bangalore, Trichy, Indore) have been included in the top-10, and somehow this year (2018) they are missing from the top-10 (barring IIM Bangalore and Udaipur). What has resulted in such a drastic change in rankings over the course of one year? Are IIMs inclusive or not? Is there enough diversity or not?

Note – I have not mentioned the Rankings for 2016 since that was the first time the MHRD released such rankings, and there were quite a few noticeable anomalies in rankings and assessment. In my mind, it would be unfair to judge them for the very first list that they came out with.

Questions that need to be asked:

  • Why are the rankings so skewed? How is it that elite and well-established business schools of the country are ranked below their upcoming and relatively less known counterparts? And how are there so many new entrants and variations in rankings from 2016 to 2018?
  • Do the parameters that have been considered even matter? How important is the Research and Professional Practices category to an aspirant? It is not as if one can conveniently ignore this parameter since it makes a major difference to the overall rankings.
  • Why does the report not include the quality of the incoming, current, and outgoing batch in all of these institutes? If taken seriously, the current rankings seem to nullify the hard work that most students put in to get into these top institutes.

My opinion of these rankings:

While I can understand that certain parameters can give a boost to various lesser-known institutes, I do not understand how they can do better even in terms of Perception. Peer perception holds 50 marks in this category. Which aspirant out there perceives VIT as better than SPJIMR? Why would anyone rank NMIMS lower than Loyola Institute of Business Administration?

Very clearly, the NIRF is a work in progress. I genuinely appreciate the MHRD’s and Mr Javadekar’s effort of formulating a ranking system which can be a credible source to aid decision making. In the future, I feel it can become the most credible source of information for aspirants and recruiters. So I will not completely write it off. However, in its current format and style of execution, the efforts are producing unreliable outcomes. If anything, this propagates further ambiguity in the minds of those to whom these rankings matter.

Unlike quite a few on the internet, I will not go to the lengths of saying that these rankings are spurious and have been bought off. However, I would not pay much heed to these rankings (except maybe the Graduation Outcomes parameter) simply because due to the adoption of a seemingly erroneous method of evaluation, these are not at all reliable.

So what is reliable then?

Your own research.
When I first came to know of the MBA institute rankings system, I was instantly lured into believing that rankings are a big deal. It was only later when I had a look at placement reports, and saw what the alumni on LinkedIn are doing, did I realize that my career would go downhill if I considered just MBA rankings.

You have to learn to question some things and then research enough to answer your own question.

E.g. We all know that IIM Ahmedabad is ranked No.1. For around 6 months, I had the ‘Keh rahey hain toh achcha hee hogaa’ attitude. After strafing through some Quora questions, I came across a few unconvincing answers. So I asked myself, “Why is IIM A the best? Is it really the best?“, and decided to take it upon myself to find out.  I referred to the placement reports, fees, saw the positions that alumni are currently in, understood the pedagogy, evaluated the recruiters which come to the campus and finally came to a conclusion.

As a result of my on-going efforts, by the end of this year, I should have enough knowledge on these important parameters of quite a few tier-1 and tier-2 Business Schools; enough to provide my unsolicited advice and review on Facebook groups. 🙂

Unfunny jokes apart, I feel the parameters I have considered are roughly the most important ones that you as an aspirant should consider, and not how regionally diverse an institute is. The question you need to ask yourself is: What is it that this college will give me, that I am so desperate to get into it? I suggest you also contact alumni on LinkedIn/Facebook to get a better idea of what you are about to get into/want to get into.

Finally,

Are rankings even that important?

I personally find most rankings apocryphal to an extent and feel that there is a lot more to consider when selecting an institute. However, research requires a starting point and rankings offer you that. You have to identify why a particular institute does better than another and more importantly, how does it align with your career aspirations?

For Further Reading/Viewing:

There are interesting NDTV debates on rankings that I came across a few months back. Have a look at them here and here.
For The Hindu’s review, click here.
To know more about the inception of rankings in India, click here.

Do you agree with these rankings?
It would be great to have opposing opinions and suggestions from you.
If you have any points to make, please do let me know in the comments below.

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