Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Is VIT Really a Top-10 Engineering College?

As VIT University gets ready to announce its undergraduate engineering entrance results by April 28th with counselling scheduled between May 19th to 22nd, the focus of the self-financing education world is once again on this South India based deemed university, especially since it enjoys the claim of being a top-10 engineering college, despite not being of the same stature as of IITs and NITs that conventionally occupy such lists.

All the current engineering seats are at VIT’s Vellore and Chennai campuses. Its Bangalore campus is still under construction and will take one more year to be operational.

According to VIT’s claim an estimated 1.93 lakh students had registered to write this year’s test. They will be competing for just 4197 seats, but counselling will be there for ranks up to 20,000.

One nagging doubt among VIT watchers is whether this self-financing setup is really a top-10 engineering college.

Despite being a Deemed-to-be University for some years now, VIT University is more famous for its graduate engineering program, and still competes fiercely in Top-10 lists of engineering colleges. In fact, it is inclusion into such prestigious lists that gave Vellore Institute of Technology the real fame.

But mind you, fame only. VIT was already successful, thanks to the vision of its founder G Viswanathan, a former Tamilnadu politician.

But inclusion into such lists proved handy, as competition was hotting up. Some State Governments were awarding ‘Private University’ status to whichever engineering college was asking for it (and probably paying for it too), and Central Government on its part was giving ‘Deemed’ status to many more bigger setups.

So, despite its early-mover advantage, VIT had to move up in the race, and that is where such rankings came in pretty handy. But there was one problem. The rankings that gave VIT plum positions were not by any respected academic alliance. It was by mainstream media houses.

It is nothing like Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), QS World University Rankings, or Times Higher Education World University Rankings. One can argue that the Times’ one is by a media house, but that is a specialist educational media, backed by Thomson Reuters which provides research citation database information on all universities.

It is a far cry from ranking attempts by a couple of mainstream Indian media houses. For example, take the most famous of these surveys by a leading English magazine. How should we regard their list of ‘India’s Best Engineering Colleges 2013’, that doesn’t include IIT-Bombay among its Top-25?

Mind you, not its Top-10 where VIT is featured, but not even in its Top-25 that includes the likes of SRM and Thapar, both self-financing universities.

Incidentally, IIT-Bombay is ranked overall #233 globally and No. 39 among Asian institutes in the highly-respected QS World University Rankings for 2013, which is a list where many in the ‘Indian Top-25’ would find it difficult to even get a mention.

Interestingly, other rankings by other Indian mainstream media houses, have featured IIT-Bombay ahead of all other IITs, but have conveniently left out some other IITs or NITs. Maybe they felt a bit embarrassed to leave out India’s second-oldest Indian Institute of Technology that produced multi-faceted achievers like Nandan Nilekani, Arun Netravali, Victor Menezes, Nitin Nohria, Jairam Ramesh, Manohar Paririkar, and Kanwal Rekhi, to name just a few.

But if they wanted, they could have always used a logic of rapid fall in standards at IIT-Bombay during the last few years, that prevents it from being featured as a Top-25 engineering college. That logic too would have got a few hundred believers, like any other idiocy.

But can anyone really fault VIT University for marketing its seats based on its No.8 position in ‘India’s Best Engineering Colleges 2013’, and other such lists compiled by Indian media houses? Not really.

Though it may appear incredulous for many to see VIT ahead of engineering heavyweights like IIT-Guwahati, NIT-Trichy, NIT-Surathkal, NIT-Calicut, NIT-Warangal, IIIT-Hyderabad, and BITS-Mesra, VIT can’t really be faulted because they used what was available to them. How can they use something international, which they don’t have access to?

VIT is also one of the best engineering colleges on many counts. Superior infrastructure is one count. Who can compete with VIT’s famed library? Placement success is another, with the likes of TCS taking in many from VIT each year. If you can get to study with good facilities and even hope to land a reasonable job, isn’t that a successful institute?

And finally, nothing succeeds like success. If VIT can charge as high as it wants - thanks to the deemed university status - and still get enough students, what else is success? Don’t take this last point lightly, as it is indeed an achievement considering the astounding growth of student intake year-after-year at VIT.

Universities like VIT have a nifty strategy too to even convince you about their quality. Though there is a sizeable management quota, there is a public entrance test through which rest of the candidates are chosen. The test is a huge hit among tens of thousands of students, with VIT attracting multi-times applications compared with their admission intake.

Critics might cite the easy nature of VIT’s test vis-à-vis IIT-JEE, but then the huge number of applications still make it difficult for students with absolutely no aptitude for engineering to get an easy seat at VIT. So, theoretically they get to take the best students, and there is the quality issue solved for you.

But only if life were that simple. Academic quality is intimately tied with, firstly, exclusivity and then academic rigour. That is how at least - forget Top-10 or Top-25 - but the world’s Top-1000 institutes ensure excellence.

Exclusivity is ensured by keeping admissions to each course very limited, and for that limited seats, the cream-of-the-cream among students, measured by way of their aptitude for that course, are carefully selected by way of a transparent international or national test, and subsequent interviews. Then comes the step of academic rigour, which is facilitated by some of the finest teachers teaching these students who have proven competitive aptitude for the course.

That is how all legends from Ivy League to IITs function. Incidentally, the global ARWU ranking is backed by Chinese Government as a means to know how Chinese universities have been improving against their best global peers. That is what is called pursuit of real quality.

But to VIT’s credit, Chancellor G Viswanathan is one of the world’s most accomplished edupreneurs, and VIT is one of the world’s most successful educational enterprises. Maybe they are also hoping that they can break into the real IIT league one day, by following this unconventional strategy. Or maybe they are content with VIT remaining an enterprise.

Meanwhile, they have the 8th rank in ‘India’s Best Engineering Colleges 2013’ to rely on. Will that make any student who plans to enter any of the IITs or NITs, opt for VIT? Nope. But will that make any student who can’t get into any reputed government-backed institute, consider VIT ahead of some of its private peers? Maybe, and that is what the rankings game is all about.


  1. author gives a fair idea about VIT without losing his WIT...thank you very much

  2. Good analysis!!!

  3. thanks we read much between the lines

  4. I agree with the views.
    Rankings are used or misused as promotional advertisements,mainly by Private Institutions.

    Prof.P O J Lebba

  5. You are absolutely right VIT above IIT Bomabay and IIIT Hyderabad. Ridiculous

  6. Hi, good analysis and valuable information for students



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