Over at University Ranking Watch, Richard Holmes says what sounds to me to be quite plausible: a few high profile, highly cited papers could make a huge difference to an institution with a small research base. He cites two examples from this year's THE-TR rankings: the Tokyo Metropolitan University and the Panjab University, and suggests that their high profile papers are possibly related to the LHC collaborations.
The high scores of Panjab and IIT-G vis-à-vis IIT-D could be explained by this. Panjab University's high energy physics group (and to a lesser extent IIT-G's) is part of global experiments at CERN and Fermi Labs, and papers from that project have very high citations. Thus, a small of group of international collaborations are providing a high score. Isn't the median number of citations per faculty a better measure than the average (there are other issues, for example, citations in the sciences are usually much more than in engineering)?
The global ranking exercises like THE-TR and QS rely on pretty dubious measures, including something called the reputation survey. Even on the so-called objective measures (such as citation metrics, which come with their own problems), they have screwed up -- remember Alexandria? Thanks to folks like Richard Holmes, we know how their "mistakes" and corrections and flip-flops have led to wild fluctuations in the ranking fortunes of Malaya over the years.
When a bunch of money-grubbing entities come along and tell the world that they will rank universities across the globe (irrespective of the vast differences among them), and end up doing a demonstrably shoddy job of it year after year, shouldn't we laugh them off the stage?
No! We treat them like they are superstars.
We welcome them to our living room, and have a tête-à-tête in which we ask them to "educate" us on what we need to do to get more Indian institutions in their top 200 or top 400 or whatever.
And we give their top-400 lists a privileged position in our higher-ed policies.
Forget about growing a spine -- it's time people grew some self-respect.