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Ethnic Conflict Deepens Educational Crisis in Northeast as NIRF Rankings Raise Red Flag

The Northeast region has only one state-level university in the top 100, and it’s a cause for deep concern.
Ethnic Conflict Deepens Educational Crisis in Northeast as NIRF Rankings Raise Red Flag

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Although education may not be the most pressing issue in conflict-ridden Manipur at the moment, the recently released National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) for 2023 has led to concern over the state of educational institutes in the region.

A recent article published by EastMojo explores the impact of ethnic conflict on students and educational growth in Manipur and the Northeast at large. The ongoing conflict between the Kuki and Meitei communities in Manipur has affected the atmosphere in educational institutes as any other space. The article questions whether Kuki and Meitei students can coexist in classrooms without fear or prejudice. Despite the conflict, the article starts with a positive development in Churachandpur, where the Churachandpur Medical College had recently been established, providing opportunities for students. 

The EastMojo article highlights the challenges faced by educational institutes in Manipur due to the ongoing ethnic conflict. It also raises concerns about the overall educational landscape in the Northeast region, as reflected in the NIRF rankings.

The article suggests that even without the ethnic crisis, educational institutions in Manipur would not have fared well in the rankings. The situation is not much better in other states of the Northeast, as the NIRF rankings highlight a significant disparity between the region and other parts of India. However, it is also acknowledged that the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati (IIT-G), should be excluded from the conversation due to its national status.

In a notable development, the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) has experienced a decline in the NIRF India Rankings 2023. NEHU now holds the 80th rank among universities in India, slipping 14 places from its previous rank of 66th in 2022. This decline continues a trend of decreasing rankings for NEHU, which achieved its highest-ever rank of 15th among all universities in 2016 when the rankings were first published. 

Among the universities in the Northeast, Tezpur University in Assam secured the highest rank at 69th, followed by Mizoram University at 76th. 

Even when considering central universities like Tezpur University (TU), the performance seems discouraging, with TU ranking 69th among the top 100 universities and the North-East Hill University ranking 80th, the EastMojo article said. Gauhati University, a source of pride for Assam, stands at 88th place, while Mizoram University performs slightly better at 76th, but both are central universities.

The Northeast region, with a population of over 45 million people, has only one state-level university in the top 100, and it is not among the top-ranked institutions. Furthermore, among the top 100 colleges, excluding IIT Guwahati, only one college from the Northeast, Pachhunga University College, secures a commendable 34th rank.

The region lacks representation in terms of engineering colleges, with only five NITs from the Northeast and no medical colleges included in the rankings. States like Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim did not even feature in the rankings.

On the other hand, the Education Ministry's Performance Grading Index (PGI) also revealed concerning trends regarding the education performance of northeastern states. While Assam and Tripura have been ranked at Level 4, the highest among the Northeast states, the report highlights the poor performance of other states in the region. 

Arunachal Pradesh ranks at the bottom of the list at Level 7, while Manipur, Meghalaya, and Nagaland are ranked at Level 6. Besides, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, have consistently performed poorly in the PGI rankings. However, Assam, Tripura, and Sikkim have shown relatively better performance. The PGI is based on 70 indicators and evaluates educational attainment across domains such as access, learning outcomes, equity, governance process, and infrastructure and facilities.

An older 2017 study report entitled "Regional Plan and Status of Science Education in Schools in North Eastern Region (NER)" sheds light on the performance of students in mathematics and science in the NE Region. The North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi) conducted the study with academic Inputs from IIT Guwahati and Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumbai.

The study findings reveal a cause for worry, as the average performance scores are disappointingly low. While there are a few high achievers, the overall performance falls below expectations. Surprisingly, students fare better in science than in mathematics. 

Among NE states, Tripura, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam exhibit higher average scores compared with the regional average. However, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram struggle to meet the regional average. Interestingly, in Sikkim, Class VII students outperform the regional average, whereas Class IX students fall short. 

The report also identifies key factors influencing student performance, including the students' family background, aspirations, and interests, as well as the foundation laid in the lower classes. The availability of qualified math and science teachers, the teaching methodologies employed, the number of actual working days in the academic year, and the presence of a conducive academic atmosphere in schools also play crucial roles; several of these factors are also expected to be impacted by the ethnic and political conflicts in the region, especially in Manipur.

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