India’s Path to Research Excellence and Societal Value: Accelerating Collaborations |

Feb 9, 2024

Jessica Turner, Chief Executive Officer – QS Quacquarelli Symonds has introduced several new performance indicators to assess the universities across the globe. She speaks to Education Times on the sidelines of the QS India Summit 2024 held in Chennai, about the new frameworks to assess digital maturity, employability and sustainability to help students make informed decisions.
What is the objective of QS India Summit.How will it help in exploring India’s potential in the world of academia?
The Summit connects the global and national sector leaders who see the development of higher education in India as a key priority, to foster greater understanding and share expertise to accelerate the progress towards the realisation of the NEP 2020 objectives, contribute to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for Viksit Bharat by 2047, and shape the future of Indian academia following national aspirations and global standards. QS serves as a global enabler and insights partner, a role we are uniquely positioned to fulfil, thanks to deep-rooted connections with India, initiated by our founder Nunzio Quacquarelli over 35 years ago. Our commitment to India’s higher education is also evidenced by our expanding presence in the country. Millions of Indian students trust our rankings to inform their research on institutions and last year we connected 27,000 students with global universities through our student events and counselled 100,000 offer holders. We have 30% of our global workforce in India with teams operating out of our offices in Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Delhi. This engagement reflects our dedication to nurturing and advancing the educational ecosystem in India, leveraging our extensive global network and expertise to support institutions, students, and the broader academic community in achieving excellence and global recognition.
This year’s theme focuses on unleashing the potential of partnership and collaboration in Indian higher education. What can India do to increase its value in the global academic market?
Our Summit’s theme, dedicated to unlocking the power of partnership and collaboration in Indian higher education, emphasises the pivotal role India can play in elevating and amplifying its presence in the global academic landscape. To capitalise on this momentum, Indian institutions can embrace collaboration with a targeted set of institutional and industry partners globally, translating research excellence into societal value and impact, and strengthening student collaboration, joint degree programmes and Transnational Education (TNE) opportunities.
Global partnerships need to be mutually beneficial to the students and faculty of both institutions, as well as the local communities they both serve and the economies within which they operate. The government can support this through targeted funding, simplifying administration and visas, hence facilitating a smooth exchange of ideas, resources, and talent.
How can India achieve its goals in terms of sustainability, internationalisation, collaboration, social impact, and community engagement?
The Sustainability Framework developed by QS, encompassing Environmental Impact, Social Impact, and Governance (ESG) provides higher education institutions a map and a compass for the systematic development and effective monitoring of their sustainability strategies. Our Sustainability Rankings align universities with the sustainability values that are increasingly important to students. Indian universities can make a meaningful difference in environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and ethical governance by weaving sustainability into the fabric of campus life, from courses and research to daily operations, inspiring both students and staff to champion sustainable living. In the latest QS Sustainability Rankings, while there are no national universities among the top 100 overall, India performed excellently in indicators related to environmental impact. In the Environmental Sustainability metric, which quantifies an institution’s commitment to, and implementation of, its sustainability and climate strategies, four Indian universities were placed among the world’s top 100, with the national leader, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), coming in 49th, tenth highest in Asia. Since assuming the G20 presidency, India has emerged as a pivotal leader in the global effort to combat climate and environmental challenges. Initiatives such as Mission LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) and advocating for green hydrogen technology are examples of economic progress in environmental stewardship. A significant stride in this direction was Prime Minister Modi’s announcement at COP28 in Dubai of the Green Credit Initiative, aimed at serving as an alternative to carbon credits, underscoring India’s proactive approach in the international climate action arena. India, as one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide, faces a formidable challenge and shoulders immense responsibility for meeting its commitment to achieve net zero by 2070. To align with the nation’s environmental commitments, universities need to amplify their research capabilities, foster diversity and inclusivity, and continue to invest in high-impact environmental research.
This strategic approach to climate action and environmental responsibility is mirrored in India’s diplomatic efforts to bridge the gap between the Global South and the developed world. A testament to these efforts is the successful inclusion of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20, a move championed by Prime Minister Modi. This achievement not only shows India’s role as a unifying force on the global stage but also signals its leadership aspirations within the Global South. Indian universities are uniquely positioned to support this vision by intensifying partnerships and collaborations with countries in the Global South. By leveraging their academic and research strengths, the Indian universities can contribute significantly to India’s ambition of becoming a leading voice for developing nations, reinforcing the interconnectedness of India’s environmental initiatives and its diplomatic endeavours.
Here are some more points to consider:
Opening doors globally: Expanding horizons through international partnerships and exchange programmes can enrich the educational experience, offering students and faculty a taste of global perspectives. Making campuses more welcoming to international students, through simplified visa processes and inclusive environments, would further incentivise them to choose India as a study destination.
Cultivating collaboration: By joining hands with industry, government, and community organisations, universities can spark innovation that addresses societal challenges head-on. Creating spaces for interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurial endeavours ensures that academic pursuits have real-world impact.
Fostering social justice: Universities have the power to drive social change through community service, advocacy, and nurturing socially responsible leaders. Embedding ethics and social awareness into the curriculum ensures graduates leave not just as skilled professionals, but as compassionate citizens ready to make a difference.
Community engagement: Higher education is not just about campuses and classrooms; it is about being a vibrant part of the wider community. Through volunteering work, outreach programmes, cultural events, and public lectures, universities can strengthen their bonds with local communities, enriching both academic life and societal well-being.
Democratising education through technology: Leveraging digital platforms to break down barriers to education ensures that learning reaches every corner of society. Online courses and resources can make higher education accessible to those who might otherwise be left behind.
Championing equity and inclusion: A commitment to providing equal opportunities for all, particularly for underrepresented groups, recognises the importance of building a diverse and inclusive academic community. Scholarships, support services, and flexible learning paths are key to opening doors for everyone.
Investing in faculty and educators: Supporting faculty development through global research collaborations, conferences, and exchange programmes not only enriches their professional journey but also elevates the quality and reach of Indian higher education on the world stage.
Implementing policy reforms: The government plays a pivotal role in shaping the higher education landscape. Effectively implementing the NEP 2020’s forward-thinking policies that encourage innovation, quality assurance, and accountability can create an environment conducive to academic excellence and societal impact.
There has been an uptick in the Indian student mobility in the past decade. How do you look at this trend?
The uptick in Indian student mobility over the past decade aligns with the increasing demand for tertiary education in India, fuelled by key economic factors such as a growing population of college-age students, a rising middle-income demographic, improved standards of secondary education, and a surge in domestic innovation. India is already on track to become the world’s third largest economy by 2028. According to UNESCO, between 2017 and 2021, the number of Indians studying abroad rose from 341,562 to 508,174 – an increase of 49%. In the same period, international student numbers worldwide rose by only 18%.
The global surge in Indian students studying abroad greatly benefits both the students and the countries they go to. These students gain valuable experience, knowledge, and skills while their presence benefits the host countries’ education systems and economies. This dynamic has created a virtuous circle enriching both the nations that welcome these students and the communities in India to which they return. The deep and rapidly expanding talent pool in India is a major draw for senior leaders from higher education institutions worldwide, who are keen on strengthening their ties with India. Their interest underscores the benefits of tapping into India’s rich reservoir of talent, fostering knowledge exchange and cultural insights across borders. The opportunity now is to create long-term sustainable partnerships that are mutually beneficial for institutions and communities within India and across the world.
The remarkable success of numerous Indian CEOs at the helm of global corporations can often be traced back to their educational journeys, which typically span both Indian leading institutions and prestigious universities abroad. This blend of domestic and international education has not only enriched their knowledge base but also equipped them with a diverse set of skills and perspectives, enabling them to lead and innovate on the global stage.
As the influx of Indian students seeking higher education on foreign shores continues to grow, they are confronted with a myriad of challenges, including concerns about personal safety, the increasing strength of the dollar, visa complications, and difficulties in securing housing in various countries. What are your thoughts on these issues?
At QS, our core mission is to empower individuals anywhere in the world to realise their potential through educational achievement, international mobility, and career development. We are deeply committed to the success of students embarking on their educational journeys abroad. This commitment is reflected also in our annual QS International Student Survey, which reveals that cost of living is the number one concern for 70% of Indian students considering overseas education.
A welcoming host environment is also essential, according to 53% of students, while 50% and 48% respectively highlight the importance of finding affordable accommodation and ensuring personal safety. Additionally, 36% of students seek comprehensive visa guidance from their prospective universities, highlighting the need for clear and accessible information on immigration processes.
Recently, changes in immigration policies by the governments of Australia, Canada, and the UK have influenced the flow of international students to these countries, reflecting efforts to manage net migration and address related challenges, such as housing shortages.
As we continue to observe the effects of these policy shifts, QS remains dedicated to providing prospective students with independent and insight-led tools, content, and counselling to make informed decisions about their future studies. Simultaneously, we offer universities and policymakers insights to shape their strategies and policies effectively, fostering a supportive and enriching environment for international students.
While the number of Indian students seeking international education continues to rise exponentially, there is also an increasing demand for more affordable educational pathways that still offer an international experience and curriculum. The recently introduced twinning degree programmes offer a cost-effective alternative to the conventional study abroad options. It is still early days to measure the impact of these programmes, which allow students to pursue international quality education while mitigating the financial burden typically associated with overseas studies, with part of the course delivered in India and part at the partner international institution.
Deakin University made history as the first international higher education institution to open its campus in India, closely followed by the University of Wollongong, both located in GIFT City. This development signals a potential influx of international universities contingent for which adjustments to the regulatory framework is necessary, particularly the current 10-year operational permit which has been a point of contention for potential investors wary of the limited timeframe and its implications for long-term infrastructure investments. Our QS India Summit fosters strategic discussions, transformative collaborations, and partnerships, driving innovative solutions for the enhancement of the national higher education system and the benefit of the Indian student population.
How can more Indian universities have a strong presence in international university rankings including the QS World Ranking?
India surpassed China in the latest QS University Rankings Asia, with 148 ranked institutions compared to China’s 133. In the 2024 QS World University Rankings, we find 45 Indian universities, making India the third most represented higher education system in Asia and the seventh most represented globally. The table below shows that in the past two years, India has significantly increased its representation among the world’s top 500 and the world’s top 1000.

India 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
Top 500 7 9 8 8 9 9 8 8 9 11
Top 1000 12 14 14 20 24 23 21 22 27 30
Overall 12 14 14 20 25 26 28 35 41 45
Top 500 29% -11% 0% 13% 0% -11% 0% 13% 22%
Top 1000 17% 0% 43% 20% -4% -9% 5% 23% 11%
Overall 17% 0% 43% 25% 4% 8% 25% 17% 10%

In contrast, Mainland China has seen a relatively smaller increase compared to India. This trend indicates that while the disparity between the world’s two most populous countries is still significant, India is gradually closing this gap, with the pace of convergence accelerating.

China 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
Top 500 18 25 24 21 21 24 26 26 28 29
Top 1000 27 30 33 39 40 42 51 53 59 57
Overall 27 30 33 39 40 42 51 58 71 71
Top 500 39% -4% -13% 0% 14% 8% 0% 8% 4%
Top 1000 11% 10% 18% 3% 5% 21% 4% 11% -3%

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