A Model for Quality and inclusive education

Context: Recently, the National Institutional Ranking Framework ranking of the top 100 colleges in India reveals the consistent success of Tamil Nadu in providing higher education that is both of good quality and inclusive.

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Performance of Tamil Nadu

  • Share of colleges of the top 100 NIRF-ranked colleges in 2023, Tamil Nadu has the largest share (35).
  • Delhi (32) comes next, followed by Kerala (14) and West Bengal (8).
  • These four States collectively contribute to 89% of the top colleges, which speaks volumes about other regions.
  • Bigger States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Odisha do not have a single college in the top 100.
  • Even the share of the other southern States is abysmal: Karnataka has two colleges, Telangana has one, and Andhra Pradesh has none.
  • The share of Tamil Nadu (35%) is more than double the combined share of the other four southern States (17%).

Is the stellar performance of Tamil Nadu consistent or sporadic?

  • The NIRF ranking of colleges since 2017 reveals that Tamil Nadu has been consistent as the lead contributor of top-ranking colleges in India.
  • Even if we confine the focus to the last five years, when the number of colleges participating in the NIRF ranking grew rapidly, Tamil Nadu retained its top position (except in 2022, when Delhi was on par with Tamil Nadu).
  •  As the table shows, except in the categories of Colleges and Universities, the number of T.N. institutions bagging top ranks either stayed the same or declined marginally. The numbers in brackets indicate the total number of top-ranked institutions for the respective categories in the NIRF report

Concentrated or dispersed?

  • Chennai accounts for only nine (26%) colleges. Coimbatore, with an equal share, competes with Chennai quite consistently.
  • Tiruchirappalli, with five colleges (14%), is next. The remaining 12 (out of 35) colleges are widely spread across 11 places.
  •  This broad pattern was seen in other years too. The largest beneficiaries from Chennai, Coimbatore, and Tiruchirappalli will likely be urban dwellers.
  • Yet, the top-ranked 23 colleges from these three cities, which belong to three different regions, might be equally serving the poor and disadvantaged social groups both from these regions as well as those contiguous to them.

How Tamil Nadu Achieved This Inclusive Model of Education?

  • This is because Tamil Nadu not only has one of the highest reservation quotas but also has been quite effective in its implementation of the reservation policy.
  •  Additionally, since more than one-third of the top-ranked colleges are dispersed across places, they not only cater largely to the rural and under-served areas, but also provide an opportunity for quality education for students from poor and disadvantaged social groups who do not have the economic resources and social networks to study in colleges from Chennai, Coimbatore, and Tiruchirappalli.


Tamil Nadu’s impressive and consistent performance in higher education shows that quality and inclusion can be achieved together and consistently. This finding should prompt other southern States, which also have a reasonably inclusive and effective social welfare architecture, to introspect why they lag far behind and inspire them to take action to rectify issues.

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