One of the key objectives of the National Education Policy, 2020 (“NEP 2020”) is to restore India’s role as a ‘Vishwa Guru’ and achieve the goal of ‘internationalization at home’.
The NEP 2020 aims to promote India as a global study destination providing premium education at affordable costs by, inter alia, enabling a greater number of international students to come and study in India, and also provide greater mobility to students in India who may wish to visit, study at, transfer credits to, or carry out research at institutions abroad.
The Government of India proposes to achieve the above objectives by introducing several policy reforms in the higher education sector such as:
Even prior to the NEP 2020, the Government of India had endeavoured to bring foreign higher educational institutions (“FEI”) in India by way of permitting twinning arrangements with Indian higher educational institutions (“IHEI”) under the University Grants Commission (Promotion & Maintenance of Standards of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2016. However, due to the tedious approval process for each programme and limited routes of collaborations, there were very few IHEIs which collaborated with FEIs for such recognised programmes.
In pursuit of the objectives of the NEP 2020 and to simplify the existing collaboration process, the Ministry of Education recently 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 (“Collaboration Regulations”) in supersession of the erstwhile regulations.
A few key takeaways from the Collaboration Regulations are:
Unlike the erstwhile regulations which only permitted collaborations in the form of twinning programmes, the Collaboration Regulations now permit dual and joint degree programmes as well.
A key change from the erstwhile regulations is the dispensation of the requirement of approval from the UGC by the IHEI prior to entering into a collaboration with the FEI. Under the Collaboration Regulations, the UGC will monitor and regulate the collaborations through mandatory public disclosure.
While dispensing such requirement for approval from UGC, in order to ensure the quality of education being imparted is of the highest standard, such collaborations have been restricted only between FEIs in the top 1000 of Times Higher Education or QS World University ranking and IHEIs who meet each of the following eligibility criteria:
However, while the approval from UGC is not required, the IHEIs are still required to obtain the approval of:
The IHEI is required to enter into a written Memorandum of Understanding or Agreement with its partner FHEI(s) for collaboration (“MOU”). Such MOU is required to include provisions related to purpose of the collaboration, student obligations, tuition fees and other financial arrangements, intellectual property rights, student’s attendance patterns, duration of stay for the study programme in both the higher education institutions, joint supervision arrangements, language of thesis and examinations, admission and evaluation process and graduation procedures, wherever applicable.
Ordinarily, a degree awarded by a FEI is not automatically recognised in India. Students who have been awarded degrees by FEIs are required to obtain an equivalence certificate from the Association of Indian Universities for the purposes of recognition of such degrees in India.
The erstwhile regulations did not have to deal with this issue of equivalence of degrees as the students were awarded degrees only by the IHEI. However, considering that the Collaboration Regulations permit the FEIs to award degrees as well, singly or jointly, the concern regarding the recognition of such degrees awarded by the FEI would arise.
The Collaboration Regulations have appropriately dealt with this issue by providing a clarification that the degree awarded by the FEI will be equivalent to any corresponding degree awarded by the IHEI and there will be no need to seek equivalence from any authority.
The erstwhile regulations only envisaged collaboration arrangements wherein Indian students would have the opportunity to attend the collaboration programmes. However, the Collaboration Regulations also envisage students from foreign universities attending such collaboration programmes.
The IHEIs and FEIs have been provided the freedom to fix the fee payable for the programmes. Such fees as applicable for the entire duration of the programme (including courses imparted by the FEI) is required to be made public at the time of admission. Further, such fee structure should be reasonable so as to make quality higher education accessible and affordable to all sections of the society.
While the Collaboration Regulations have introduced major changes to relax the erstwhile regulatory regime, a few clarifications from the legislators or the UGC will improve their implementation:
The Collaboration Regulations clearly specify that the programmes offered thereunder are not permitted to be offered in online mode and Open and Distance Learning mode. Accordingly, the programmes can only be offered in conventional mode, i.e., learning opportunities through face-to-face interaction between the teacher and learner in regular class room environment including supplementary instructions if any for the learner through use of online.
However, going forward, in order to meet the objectives of the NEP 2020 with respect to improving accessibility to quality education, it would be a good enhancement to the Collaboration Regulations to gradually permit such recognised collaborative programmes to be delivered through online mode and Open and Distance Learning mode (either partially or in their entirely).
While the Collaboration Regulations provide that UGC will monitor the collaborations through mandatory disclosure, they do not provide the content and manner of disclosure by the IHEIs and FEIs.
The need for details on the disclosures is not only vital for the IHEIs and FEIs, but also to the students who are applying for such collaboration programmes. Further, the manner of disclosure will be key to ensuring that students and the public at large are aware of which IHEIs and FEIs are duly recognised to offer the programmes under the Collaboration Regulations.
While the Collaboration Regulations are silent on the law governing the MOU, it provides that any dispute arising in relation to the collaborative arrangement between the FEIs and IHEIs under the Collaboration Regulations is required to be governed by Indian law. This condition restricts the ability of the parties (both from different jurisdictions) to agree to a neutral jurisdiction to govern the dispute resolution.
Overall, the Collaboration Regulations provide a great opportunity for foreign universities to enter the Indian education sector and offer recognised foreign degrees while waiting on the introduction of regulations permitting foreign universities to independently set-up campuses in India. In addition, the collaboration will aid in improving the global ranking of IHEIs by not only providing access to Indian students to foreign education at a marginally lower cost and without the need to be troubled with the problem of equivalency of such degree, but also an opportunity to international students to come and study in India.
To conclude, these regulations are an impressive pilot model to achieve the objective of internationalisation of higher education under the NEP 2020.
Contributed by: Sadia Khan, Partner and Diya Das, Senior Associate
This is intended for general information purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the firm.
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