Seema Singh's post at Mint Blogs had this eye-catching title: IISc is India's Top Ranking Engineering/Technology Institute, so naturally I wanted to see what all the excitement was about.
The source of this excitement is the paper (pdf), Ranking of Indian engineering and technological institutes for their research performance during 1999–2008, in the latest issue of Current Science by Gangan Prathap (Director, NISCAIR) and B.M. Gupta (NISTADS).
Prathap and Gupta use two different metrics to rank institutions: (a) total number of publications during 1999-2008and (b) a new metric called the p-index, defined as (C2 P)1/3 where C is the number of citations received by the papers during a three-year window immediately after their publication.
Here are the top 10 by p-index:
I'm not really hot on the ranking part of this exercise; also, I know almost nothing about the p-index (other than the formula), or about why it's better than any other metric for assessing the quality of institutions. So I won't comment on those bits.
But I do want to comment on the validity of comparisons across very many different institutions without taking into account their type, size, age, funding levels, etc:
IISc is an oddball in that list. It's not a predominantly engineering/tech institution. In fact, its science departments are known to have a much stronger publication record than the engineering departments (Giridhar may be able to give some hard numbers to support this point).
So, a direct comparison between IISc and IITs may not be appropriate, unless one does one of the two things: (a) consider only the engineering departments at IISc, or (b) consider only those publications tagged with "engineering" in the Scopus database. Pratap and Gupta may have done (b), but their paper doesn't say so explicitly.
IISc is an oddball from another viewpoint: it's a post-graduate institution. Almost all the others have strong UG programs, with a correspondingly large teaching load on the faculty. Again, a direct comparison is just not right.
From the formula for the p-index, it appears to favour larger institutions with greater faculty strengths. Thus, IIITs (which are pretty small) compare poorly against larger institutions like IITs. I wonder how a normalized p-index data would alter that list.
While Prathap and Gupta have done a great job in collecting the quantitative data, I don't know what to make of (value-laden) statements like these:
Although the NITs have been around for a long time (earlier known as RECs), and have been upgraded to deemed university and institutes of national importance status, their research performance is still dismal. In fact, many Indian engineering and technological universities and private institutes are doing comparatively better in terms of performance. ... In addition, the research performance of the IIITs and NITs is disappointing when compared to that of the technological universities and some select engineering colleges. [bold emphasis added]
But the NITs got the INI status just a few years ago! Until then, they were similar to (at best) the university engineering colleges such as the Guindy Engineering College, Anna University or the Bengal Engineering College (which is now called BESU).
It is inappropriate to compare directly the research performance of an IIT with that, say, of an NIT. This is because NITs (and other engineering colleges) receive much less funding and have much poorer infrastructure.
In addition (and I think this is even more important than funding), the faculty strength at the NITs (and other engineering colleges) is far smaller than that at the IITs. In this post from 4 years ago, I discussed why faculty strength, by itself, is an important factor. Bottomline: If you are running an UG program and if you don't have at least 20 faculty members, you must be deluded to expect significant research output.