Saturday, June 28, 2014

How well does a college teach its students?

How well does a college teach its students?

A large number of tests and examinations are taken by millions of college graduates in any given year. Indian civil services examinations, Joint Entrance Examinations for NITs, IITs, etc., and medical entrance examinations are a few examples. It should be easy to compute the average marks from a given University-College combination in any such examination/test. For statistical reasons, we may take the number as meaningful only if 50 or more candidates in the examination/test have taken it. Such average numbers for a given institution should be available under the Right to Information Act. The media should publicise these numbers. All colleges sending 50 candidates or more to a public examination can be ranked in relation to others and assigned a Competitive Rank. So, a particular college could have a CR of, say, 214/8215 indicating that its student-average earned it a rank of 214 among 8215 colleges each of which sent 50 candidates or more.

Why? If any student was to consider joining a college for studies, the above-mentioned information would help her decide if that college educates students well enough. Institutions use the marks of a candidate to decide to accept him/her for studies. Similarly, the candidate should be able to access the marks the college gets in public examinations!

Whether a university gives its students a three or four year degree matters less than how well it educates its students in the given period of time. The CR may not be a perfect measure of how good a college is; no single number, or even a set of numbers, can be a perfect measure. I don’t think my school leaving marks was a perfect measure of how good (or bad) I had been as a student! But I have been admitted or refused admission on the basis of that “imperfect measure!” We don’t need perfect measures, reasonably good measures will do!

There is one obvious problem in comparing the performance of colleges - difference in input standards. Are graduates of a college doing well mainly because it admits only those who are in the top 2% of school leavers? Or is it because the teaching there is very good? Will a student not in the top 2% gain any big benefit by getting into that college? 

There is a second problem in comparing the performance of colleges. One department of a college may be very good while another is mediocre. What does the average score of its graduates mean? These problems are only examples that illustrate the need for academic research. They do not damage the basic argument - we need measures of how good colleges are. We need these measures to be available to students and parents.      

This raises the question of a Unique ID for a University-College combination. Let me offer a simple suggestion. Use the PIN code of the headquarters of a university as its Unique ID. Most Universities seem to give their affiliated colleges a “College Code”. Combine the University ID with the College Code with a “-” in between. For instance, Jai Hind College, Mumbai will have the code 400032-88 under this proposal.

What if two universities have headquarters sharing a PIN code such as 400032? I would say, assign 400032A to the older university and 400032B to the next older university sharing that code. But, we may not need to worry too much about this! Bombay University and SNDT University have headquarters very close to each other, but their PIN codes are quite different, as you will see below!
  Bombay University, M. G. Road, Fort, Mumbai-400032
  SNDT University, Nathibai Thackersey Road, New Marine Lines,
  Mumbai-400020


Srinivasan Ramani

1 comment:

Ravi S. Iyer said...

Interesting views. More transparency in Indian academic system in general will do wonders in giving students and parents some reasonable picture of the teaching and research quality of Indian academic institutions. As of now, most Indian academic institution websites do not carry significant information on course material related to courses taught by its faculty, though many carry the academic's research publication list. I think if the course material for courses taught by academics is put up on their website, students, parents and even employers will be able to get some idea of what is really taught in those courses. In great contrast to Indian academia, many US academic websites have detailed course material - Indian academia should follow their lead in this regard, IMHO.

Regarding standard exams that assess how well a college teaches its students, for engineering in India, we have the GATE exam, which is quite widely accepted by academia (for further education like M.Tech.) as well as government employers as the key measurement criteria for knowledge level of engineering graduates. Perhaps it would be a great idea to have its results available in the public domain but there may be moral and legal issues related to protection of privacy rights of students who got poor scores. The wiki page states, "The score cards are issued to only the qualified candidates."

As somebody who is interested in improving the practice of software development in Indian CS & IT academia, one issue I have with examinations like GATE, is that they, I believe, focus on the theory part of the knowledge of the candidate, as that may be easier to assess. Even the National Eligibility Test for Lecturers (Asst. Professors) for UGC/AICTE regulated colleges for the CS & IT field does not seem to have a practical component for the test! What is badly needed by youth in colleges nowadays is employability, and employability needs a blend of theory and practical knowledge. Once our national examinations including GATE and UGC NET improve their assessment techniques to properly assess practical knowledge then they may become an important measure of the employability of college graduates.