|Top 10 Colleges of India
As colleges across the country gird up to take in another batch of students, an India Today- ORG- MARG poll identifies the centres of excellence.
By Vijay Jung Thapa
It's that first step towards adulthood -- and it is bewildering in its complexity. Enter any college campus at this time of the year and confusion smacks you between the eyes: red, brick buildings that look alike, over-crowded corridors, harassed counsellors, a variety of multi-coloured forms to fill and cafeterias that smell of stale food. The college world seems to swirl in an indifferent haze.
Let's face it -- trying to get into any old college in India isn't a problem. After all, there are 232 universities with about 9,500 colleges to choose from. But in a world where competition begins from kindergarten, students scurry around looking for the best colleges because of the gnawing fear that an incorrect choice could ruin their future. Identifying India's best colleges in various fields, however, is a difficult process. Simply because there are no established, authentic system to rate them, and anyway trying to assess quality is as simple as particle physics. In the West, colleges try and stand out, emphasising their uniqueness, trying hard to sell themselves. But here, instead of being provided with concrete and calibrated facts, students have to rely on myth, rumour and half-truths. It makes admission a nightmarish experience.
Last year, India Today made the first landmark attempt to identify the centres of excellence by ranking the country's top 10 institutions of higher learning. We had then commissioned ORG-MARG to speak to 145 principals in 10 major cities and bring out a list that identified the top 10 colleges of the country irrespective of the various fields. It was easy to see that we hadn't gone wrong. All of them were exceptional colleges whose styles of functioning are imitated, ideas adopted and examples followed.
This year the process has been refined further. ORG-MARG broke up the entire process of assessment into two phases. The first was an exploratory phase where a selected bunch of principals/head of departments were asked to work out attributes on which to evaluate colleges, the relative importance of each attribute and a list of colleges which they felt were the best in India.
These were then analysed to shortlist the right set of attributes, to calculate importance of scores for these attributes and work out colleges of national stature. Instead of just limiting the poll to general/medical and engineering courses, like the one last year, the general category was broken into arts/science and commerce, and even included law as a category. Care was taken to include specialised attributes for various fields like "kind of patients the hospital attracts" in medicine and "provision of legal practical training" in law. Finally, in the second phase, the net was cast wide and 300 principals (twice last year's number) and heads of departments were polled on a detailed questionnaire to work out the best colleges of 1998.
Let's hope it goes far in helping you to choose, instead of just getting chosen.
On top of the class
A consistent work culture makes St. Stephen's an attractive bet
ST STEPHEN'S, DELHI
If ever accosted at a party and asked "Were you at college?", the chances are that you are not really being asked about your educational qualifications. You are being asked, "Were you in St Stephen's?" To the Stephanian, St Stephen's is not merely a college, it is the college.
Perhaps the last repository of the Oxbridge culture in India, St Stephen's has often been accused of being a finishing school, a networking society and even a dilettante's paradise. Of course, it is all these. But underneath the public school veneer lurks a fierce work culture and competitive spirit. Stephanians love understating the atmosphere of excellence that permeates the college's corridors, but are nevertheless very conscious of it. With one difference: excellence is not measured in academic achievement alone.
This may be why the college comes alive after the formal teaching is over. When every day at least six of the two dozen or so societies -- ranging from the Shakespeare Society, the Wodehouse Society and the Informal Discussion Group -- meet. As Principal Anil Wilson puts it, "That's when the real education starts." There are day scholars and boarders, but in the college hierarchy "gentlemen (and, since last year, ladies) in residence" are the brahmins. And "residence" spawns its own sub-culture and breed of snobbery.
So too does the admission policy that dictates an interview even if the student has the requisite cut-off percentage. The idea is to select the right kind of student who fits into the Stephanian ethos. Every year there are protests in Delhi University about this unique admission policy, every year St Stephen's has its way.
A college catering to the sciences, economics and the humanities, St Stephen's has a distinct liberal arts bias. The extensive college library, for example, is not narrowly academic. It boasts a large section stocking fiction and even a rare collection of books on cricket. The college's ambience forces a student to be aware of much more than his subject. A successful Stephanian is never (at least openly) a swot. The prized attributes are versatility, articulation and even glibness. In the lottery of Indian life, being a Stephanian is like winning the first prize.
Since St Stephen's has topped this category too, we profile Presidency, Calcutta, which came a close second in the science as well as the arts category.
ST STEPHEN'S, DELHI
To the initiated, the world is divided into two castes: Presidencians and parvenus. From the cradle of the Bengal Renaissance to the nursery of the Green Card aspirant. In the 180 years it has been around, Presidency College has meant many things to many people. To successive generations of Calcutta's elite, however, one of its attributes has remained constant: it is the place where you acquire that lifelong chip on the shoulder. The college itself shoulders much history. As Hindu College (it was renamed in 1876), it facilitated Derozio's radicalism. Now it is known as the alma mater of Amartya Sen, the Presidency boy who may still win the Nobel Prize.
Along with economics, its history and, for a time, English literature faculties gave that extra edge to the Presidency mystique. Willy nilly, they have obscured the science courses. Physics and chemistry courses may be commonplace; Presidency's geology department was a pioneer. The college offers coveted seats in a variety of bio-sciences, statistics, maths.
The college has suffered since the Left Front Government took office in 1977. An indiscriminate transfer policy has deprived it of some of its most valued teachers. Nevertheless, examination results have not slipped over the years. It takes a little more than petulance to displace a tradition of excellence.
A sure shot for sloggers
More patients, better exposure make a difference
AIIMS is like an oversized railway station. Thousands of sick people -- some say 3,000 a day -- seeking salvation journey here from every corner of India. Set up in 1956 primarily for research and to provide tertiary care, it is the nation's premier medical institution.
The institute offers the best undergraduate courses in medicine, and for this the constant inflow of patients is a boon to students. "Our research, patient care and the education we provide are our strengths," says orthopaedician P. K. Dave, the director and one of the institute's first alumni. Fifty students are admitted each year after a rigorous written examination. That this number has stayed constant is a virtue. It has a lot to do with the quality of education that AIIMS provides. This small bunch of students gets total attention and the best opportunities to learn.
AIIMS lacks very little. Funding is generous, with at least Rs 60 crore-Rs 65 crore pouring in each year as research grants. Most faculty members are active researchers, and the highest number of research publications -- 135-150 papers a year -- in any medical teaching institution in the country are produced here. And excellence walks every corridor, for some of India's finest doctors work at AIIMS. They are involved with heart, kidney and cornea transplant programmes, among other things. Hectic best defines a student's life here, yet a gymnasium, tennis court, swimming pool and library offer respite after a hard day.
What sets AIIMS apart is the commitment of faculty members and students. Senior professors earn much less than colleagues who practise in the private health sector. Yet, they do not complain. All the expertise that they gather over the years is passed on to the students. No surprise that only the best students make it to AIIMS every year.
The IIT's score with their academic flexibility
(TIE) IIT KANPUR
IIT Kanpur's success stems from its successful dismantling of hierarchy. Senior professors often attend specialised classes taught by young assistant professors; course contents are often modified after student feedbacks. Classes have been known to close at 4:30 to take advantage of the winter sun. Students bask in the warmth, kick a ball and return to class late in the evening. No surprise then that eight of the top 10 joint engineering exam entrants of 1997 chose otherwise sleepy Kanpur.
IIT Powai's academic flexibility isn't any less. It recently started a rigorous five-year simultaneous degree for a B Tech with an M Tech -- a programme for students who aspire to be on the cutting edge of high technology. Innovation abounds. The famous Mood Indigo apart, this year will see the start of a technofest featuring virtual intercontinental scientific debates. There was also a table-top soccer match -- between robots.
Charting a new course
A faculty and campus for top accountants
Whenever you think of commerce, think of us -- it's a maxim that SRCC lays claim to. And successfully too. Every 18 something youngster in the country who has commerce in his heart, it follows, will have SRCC imprinted in his brain. But it isn't easy getting into the only real niche college (offering courses in commerce and economics) in Delhi.
Beginning from a small bungalow in Delhi's Daryaganj, SRCC was envisaged as a college that would provide the best talent to the top industrial houses of the country. Today, as the college functions from a sprawling campus in Delhi University, that concept still holds true. Says Principal J.L. Gupta: "We still give the country great chartered accountants. But now our students are making it big even in the bureaucracy." SRCC is perhaps the only college in the country which boasts of a placement cell that attracts as many blue-chip companies as any business school.
The college's eminence has made the management ambitious. On top of its agenda is a first-rate autonomous business school. All the resources are in place. It's just a matter of realising a dream -- one, the management hopes, will coincide with the college's platinum jubilee in 2001.
A faculty and campus for top accountants
For an institute with a small history -- it was established in 1987 -- the NLSIU has a large reputation. An admiring evaluation came recently from a visiting international peer group, who noted: "The school has already established an enviable reputation in India and internationally as a unique, innovative and multi-functional institution." Situated 14 km from Bangalore, the NLSIU's tony, breezy campus is alive with energetic discussion. When the school's budding lawyers voyage to inter-college debates, not surprisingly they often win. The student body is interesting in its diversity, beckoning more students from outside Karnataka And the faculty has impressive visiting professors as like senior advocate Soli Sorabjee, former chief justice Y.V. Chandrachud and members of the House of Lords.
A major accomplishment, lauded even by the international team, has been NLSIU's successful experimentation with an integrated curriculum -- the blending of social science subjects with the study of law. No wonder the school can claim to be the Harvard of the East.
Other law colleges have not been listed
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