Representational image (university classroom)
Representational image (Source: Pixabay / Wokandapix)


  • BRICS education ministers agreed last month on the need for such a ranking
  • Say current rankings value the priorities and context of universities of the global north
  • BRICS leaders at their summit starting Tuesday may agree to launch the new rankings

Leaders of BRICS countries could agree to launch a new university ranking system during their summit starting Tuesday in South Africa. The education ministers of these countries had last month agreed on the need for a new global ranking, citing a lack of impartiality in the data that go into the current rankings.

A key theme of the summit, which brings together the world's fast-growing emerging economies, is redrawing the world order to reflect the new economic and political realities. A new global university ranking dovetails neatly into that aim.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to attend the summit hosted by South Africa in Johannesburg. Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend virtually. BRICS 2023 has 'BRICS and Africa' as its theme. Between them the five countries account for 43% of the world's population and 16% of global trade.

Last month, education ministers and delegates from the BRICS countries met in South Africa and expressed their commitment to developing an alternative system. The member states committed "to rethink and reimagine the global rankings for universities because it tends to be skewed towards valuing the priorities and context of universities of the global north, imposes indefensible costs on developing country universities and detracts from norms emphasizing cooperation, collaboration, sharing and solidarity," they said in a statement

"This commitment to develop an alternative system includes exploring the development of an evaluation system that emphasizes the quality (as opposed to quantity) of research outputs of universities and their diverse contributions to inclusive development of all humanity. Such [a] system would also seek to integrate cultural and indigenous knowledge of each country, respecting our member states' diverse cultures," the statement added.

The so-called bias in the rankings has long been a sore point with the IITs, India's premier technology institutes that every year see intense competition from global tech majors for their graduates. Several of the the score or more IITs also top the charts in local rankings but fail to make it to the global university rankings.

The issue became serious enough for seven IITs to announce a boycott of the popular Times Higher Education university rankings in 2020, citing "transparency" issues. They have continued to shun the rankings since.

"There is no improvement in the transparency factor in their process. Directly a rank is allotted to the institute," IIT Bombay director Subhasis Chaudhury told the Indian Express last year. "We should know what the process is. There is no reason to participate without knowing what exactly we are participating in."

It is this discontent the BRICS rankings will try to address.

But some Indian academicians say western universities top global rankings not because the parameters are skewed in their favor but because of the limitations faced by developing countries.

"Western universities are highly ranked as they are more student centric and tend to deliver education according to the needs and availability of the students," Gopenath T.S., an associate professor at JSS Academy of Higher Education & Research in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, told International Business Times. "Another major focus point in western universities is the level of inter-disciplinarity provided to the learners."

But he said "there is a need to relook into the global university ranking systems in order to consider the different levels of development and functioning of the education systems in developing countries compared to the well-established western universities."

Gopenath agreed that more universities would appear in global university rankings if the assessing parameters were different.

"There is no surprise that the BRICS nations would need a new university ranking system as these nations considerably differ from the western universities and their functioning. If a more inclusive approach and flexibility is adopted, we might witness a large number of institutions from the BRICS nations featuring in the global university ranking," he said.