Following is a guest post by P. Pushkar, a former lecturer in international-development studies at McGill University who is now based in Gurgaon, India. A version of this post also appears in EDU, a magazine on Indian higher education.
The recent QS World University Rankings hold no surprises. Not one Indian institution made it into the top 200. While Western institutions continue to dominate the rankings, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan are also way ahead of Indian institutions.
It is certainly a matter of concern that a wannabe great power does not boast many world-class institutions. However, lost in the talk about world rankings are the key questions Indians should be asking: Is India the leader in disciplines that it owns? Who are the foremost experts in Indian history or sociology? Which are the leading centers of excellence for scholarship on Indian economics, anthropology, and languages? Where are they located?
To answer those questions, I examined the list of contributors to The Oxford Companion to Politics in India and India Review, a journal dedicated to “social-science research on Indian politics, economics, and society.” I saw that only a few of the scholars are based in India and a smaller number earned their Ph.D.'s here.
The two publications reflect a sad fact: There is a very small pool of experts in India to train and mentor the next generation of scholars in Indian political science, economics, and related fields.
The situation in the humanities is even worse. The noted author Gurcharan Das recently wrote in The Times of India that “an Indian who seriously wants to study the classics of Sanskrit or ancient regional languages will have to go abroad.” He quoted Sheldon Pollock, a professor of Sanskrit at Columbia University, to make his point:
If Indian education and scholarship continue along their current trajectory, the number of citizens capable of reading and understanding the texts and documents of the classical era will very soon approach a statistical zero. India is about to become the only major world culture whose literary patrimony, and indeed history, are in the hands of scholars outside the country.
The fact that Indian institutions are not leaders in disciplines related to India reflects poorly on the quality of higher education here. Every now and then, political leaders and higher-education officials express concern about the lack of world-class institutions in the country and outline steps that need to be taken to propel India’s institutions into the big leagues.
However, lack of vision, corruption, and politics present formidable obstacles. Perhaps they should begin by setting smaller goals, such as creating leading institutions in the world for Indian studies.
It is a matter of shame if leading scholars in Indian politics and history are not based here or if the most prestigious research centers for Indian studies are in the West. There can be no respect for India’s universities and research centers when they do not even count as leaders in disciplines that are their own.