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India moves to open up international collaboration for universities

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The Indian government has introduced new regulations to streamline the process of establishing links between Indian and foreign universities
  • Under the new rules, eligible Indian universities will be able to initiate new partnerships with foreign institutions
  • Such collaborations are limited to Indian institutions with the highest level of accreditation and subject to approval by the Indian University Grants Commission
  • The regulations provide for study abroad terms of two semesters for undergraduates and one semester for postgraduates, with course credit for academic work abroad counting towards degrees conferred by the students’ home institutions in India

India’s University Grants Commission (UGC) announced new regulations on 22 June 2016, since formally published on 13 July 2016, that aim to open up additional links between Indian and foreign universities with the goal to “offer students additional choices, improve curriculum and the delivery of knowledge and educational content.”

Under the new regulations, Indian universities will now be permitted to apply to the UGC to establish partnerships with foreign institutions. This is a departure from previous guidelines, issued in 2012, under which only foreign universities could initiate such agreements – an opportunity that has not been taken up by a single foreign institution in the years since.

The lack of activity in this area may reflect confusion or uncertainty on the part of foreign partners as to how to navigate the complex Indian bureaucracy, and the new regulations appear to be an attempt to provide Indian institutions with a clear process for building such international links.

The UGC will shortly launch a new online application mechanism through which eligible institutions can apply for approval of new partnerships with institutions abroad. However, the opportunity is constrained to institutions operating for at least six years and that hold the highest level of accreditation (“A” grade) from the UGC’s National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).

“We have made elaborate and continuing efforts to ensure that academic collaborations between Indian education institutions and reputed foreign education institutions broaden with the help of faculty members, institutions, students, and the engagement with the regulator,” said then-Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani (the Minister was subsequently removed from the HRD portfolio in July 2016 but remains in cabinet as Minister of Textiles).

“Indian universities and colleges, having the highest grade of accreditation/threshold accreditation, will now be able to [start] twinning and collaborative arrangement with quality foreign educational institutions in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes leading to the award of a degree,” said an accompanying statement from the ministry.

The new rules stop short of allowing joint degrees. Rather, they provide for joint programmes under which students of eligible Indian universities may go abroad for a portion of their studies, and then earn academic credit at their home institution for those studies abroad.

The regulations set a maximum period of study abroad of two semesters for undergraduate students and one semester for those enrolled in postgraduate programmes. Participating students will receive their degrees from their home institutions, but their studies abroad will be recognised in their academic transcripts, which are to include the name and logo of the foreign institution attended.

“We have seen a lot of students visiting foreign universities to get a reputed name on their CV. Now, students can get enrolled in Indian institutions and will be free to spend two semesters of their undergraduate course with a foreign institution that has a collaboration with the Indian one,” added Minister Irani.

The move was hailed by the Indian Council of Universities (ICU), a consortium of private and public institutions across the country. “Previously there was no clarity about collaboration of Indian universities with foreign counterparts. Now the released new policy has well explained how to go ahead for collaboration with foreign universities,” said ICU President Dr Surjit Singh Pabla. “It was a long-awaited request by the Indian universities to make the foreign collaboration workable…this new policy is definitely going to help. In this new policy one of the major reforms is that processing of proposals by Indian and foreign universities has been made time-bound, i.e. within 60 working days.”

The new regulations represent a potentially significant new recruitment channel for foreign institutions abroad, as well as a new basis for engaging with partners in India. They also extend a pattern of government action to open up greater international collaboration around Indian higher education.

For additional background on recent policy developments, please see “The growing case for building institutional links with India,” “India shifting focus to education quality,” and “Indian technology institutes open admissions to foreign students.”

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