A long-pending proposition endorsed by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 to internationalise isolationist Indian higher education has received some traction. On May 2, the Delhi-based University Grants Commission (UGC) — the apex body for higher education regulation — notified the University Grants Commission (Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Higher Educational Institutions to offer Twinning, Joint Degree and Dual Degree Programmes) Regulations, 2022.
According to UGC sources, following issuance of elaborate guidelines in April and May for twinning, joint and dual degree programmes, 48 respected foreign higher education institutions (HEIs) including Cambridge, Glasgow, Tokyo and Queensland universities have written to the commission expressing interest in collaborating with Indian HEIs.
“These Regulations shall (sic) promote enhanced academic collaboration with foreign higher educational institutions leading towards academic and research excellence in Indian higher educational institutions. It is expected that academic and research collaboration as well as mobility of students and faculty through joint degree and dual degree programmes will be highly beneficial for the Indian higher educational institutions to achieve higher global rankings,” says a typical badly worded UGC communique to universities.
While privately promoted universities, unmindful of government disapproval, started contracting academic collaboration agreements with foreign universities two decades ago, for reasons ranging from nationalistic pride, anti-elitism and fear of students being duped, Central and state government universities were prohibited from offering twinning and joint degree agreements with offshore HEIs. Now under the May 2 notification, government and private HEIs are permitted to sign twinning, joint and dual degree agreements with approved foreign varsities.
It’s not a national secret that of India’s 41,000 undergrad colleges and 1,043 universities, a mere 10 percent in each category provide acceptable quality higher education. With the top 10 percent undergrad colleges notifying high 95 percent-plus cut-offs in class XII school-leaving examinations, the vast majority of higher secondary school-leavers are forced into second rung state government colleges dispensing poor quality education. Similarly, the great majority of college graduates are forced into sub-standard universities. According to several authoritative studies, 75-85 percent of India’s higher education graduates are unqualified for employment in Indian and foreign multinationals.
Therefore, the only option for ambitious school-leavers is to venture abroad for higher study. Currently, over 1 million Indian nationals are enrolled in foreign universities mainly in the US, UK, Australia and Canada where they expend $10 billion (Rs.77,655 crore) per year.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been consistent clamour for access to offshore study programmes which would enable Indian students to acquire high quality certification. Moreover, since cost of living is the major head of expenditure in foreign HEIs, twinning and joint degree programmes which allow students to complete 50-70 percent of degree programmes in India and the remainder in the partner HEI abroad, makes good quality higher education more affordable.
“The new regulations are welcome as we are living in an age of collaboration where mutually rewarding partnerships have become necessary. Collaboration between reputed foreign and Indian universities will raise teaching-learning and research standards, and infuse internationalisation mindsets in India’s HEIs. And, most important, from the student perspective, it provides them greater choice and affordability,” says Prof. Rajesh Khanna, president of NIIT University, Neemrana, ranked among India’s Top 10 private engineering & technology universities in the EducationWorld India Higher Education Rankings 2022-23.
Although the new UGC regulations tions are silent on the issues of permitting foreign HEIs to establish campuses in India proposed by the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 of the Congress-led UPA-II government (2009-14), most bona fide academics — except for die-hard lefties and sangh parivar regressives — welcome it as an overdue first step towards modernisation of India’s moribund higher education system.