Over the past 18 months, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Ropar has made a special effort to focus on the quality of research, providing researchers with international exposure and funding to allow them deep dives in their fields of work.

It paid off on Wednesday, when the World University Rankings 2020 showed the 11-year-old IIT in Punjab making a surprise appearance as the best ranked Indian university, along with the better-known Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

The new IIT was shown scoring 100 in the research citation impact—far ahead of many top universities—in the World University Ranking by UK-based Times Higher Education (THE). While IISc’s research citation score was 32.4, IIT-Delhi has a score of 49. Research citation score is the number of times a research work is referred to by academics and researchers worldwide.

Though none of the Indian universities found a place in the top 300 global list, a first since 2012, IIT Ropar’s performance was a surprise because of three reasons.

One, this is the debut ranking of the new IIT among the best in the world. Second, it is way ahead of its older peers, including IITs in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. Third, its higher ranking is driven primarily by its research citation impact.

“We have expanded academic activities and created infrastructure in the last few years, brought talents from the entire country and the world, and financed research initiatives. Now the result has started showing,” said IIT Ropar director Sarit.K. Das.

“We identified in 2017 that the quality of research work and not the quantity will be our focus, which will differentiate us from others. Quality of research is reflected by the number of citations…we took a conscious policy to encourage quality of research by providing higher financial resources, sending better performers in high-quality research to spend summers at reputed global universities. We discouraged low-quality publications for recruitment and promotions—in fact poor quality publications are treated as negative points,” Das added.

“Our recruitment policy also contributed to it. You need to get the best people, give them the best facilities and give them a mandate to do quality research, things will follow automatically.”

Agrees Sudhir Jain, director, IIT Gandhinagar. “Our focus has been on recruiting exceptional and world-class faculty and developing a vibrant research ecosystem as an enduring long-term strategy. In recent years, we have seen a rapid growth in publications and citations…our global rankings are beginning to reflect the exceptional progress we are making,” said Jain. IIT Gandhinagar was ranked seventh best from India, primarily due to a high citation impact score of 76.

Das said IIT Ropar has established key areas of research focus, which include water, cancer, environmental issues, electric vehicles, micro-grid technology, artificial intelligence and big data, and the treatment of drug addiction. To be sure, for IIT Ropar to sustain or improve this ranking, it will need to work on other parameters such as teaching quality and international outlook, wherein it has performed poorly. In teaching it has a score of 28 and in international outlook it scored 18.

Meanwhile, IIT Ropar’s new research collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab and a new India-Taiwan joint research centre on artificial intelligence and machine learning are showing results in terms of research quality and global outreach.

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