The story so far: The University Grants Commission (UGC) has simplified the procedure for enabling academic collaborations between Indian and foreign higher educational institutions to offer joint degrees, dual degrees and twinning programmes.
The apex regulatory body for higher education in India has decided to allow certain Indian higher education institutions to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with foreign institutions to offer dual degree, joint degree or twinning programmes. To qualify for such academic collaboration, the Indian college, institute or university must figure among the top global 1,000 QS World University or Times Higher Education rankings or have emerged as one of the top 100 universities under the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). The college or university must have secured a minimum grading of 3.01 on a 4-point scale from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). Likewise, the foreign collaborator institution must also have figured among the 1,000 global top QS or Times Higher Education Rankings.
The collaborations would be facilitated and governed under the proposed University Grants Commission (Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Higher Education Institutions to offer Joint Degree, Dual Degree and Twinning Programmes) Regulations 2022. The draft of these regulations was placed in the public domain last year to invite suggestions from stakeholders. It had recommended [among other criteria] that to qualify for international academic collaboration under the “automatic mode”, the collaborating institutions must have figured among the “top 500” of Times Higher Education or QS World University ranking at the time of application.
However, the final policy, about which UGC Chairman M. Jagadesh Kumar had briefed the media, has broadened the scope for collaborations by mandating that the institutions must have figured among the “top 1,000” of QS World University or Times Higher Education rankings. The draft had also proposed an “approval mode” — as opposed to the “automatic mode”— collaboration under which specialised institutions, if not accredited, may be considered [and approved by the UGC] for foreign tie-ups “if they have sufficient demonstrable accomplishments”. There is no clarity yet if the final policy provides for such “approval mode” collaborations. Once notified, the new regulation would supersede the University Grants Commission (Promotion & Maintenance of Standards of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2016.
The earlier regulations did not provide for “automatic mode” of foreign collaboration for academic courses offered in India. While a threshold for accreditation rating was mandated, there was no requirement for the university or college to figure among the top ranked institutions globally. The qualifying institution was required to apply to the UGC for approval and a sub-committee was vested with the powers to make a recommendation on the basis of which the regulatory body would take a final decision “after considering various factors including quality of education, overall merit of the proposal, fees to be charged, credibility of the Foreign Educational Institution as well as Indian Educational Institution.” Besides, the approval granted was valid only for two cycles of the minimum duration of the degree programmes covered under the collaboration or as specified otherwise. The Indian educational institution was required to apply for renewal of approval before six months of its expiration. Under the soon-to-be-notified regulations, the qualifying universities and colleges will not be required to seek permission for academic collaborations abroad.
The qualifying Indian university or college can offer “dual degree”, “joint degree” or a “twinning programme” in collaboration with foreign institutions. The “dual degree” programme is new, while the other two programmes were offered under the 2016 regulations, though only fewer institutions had introduced such programmes due to the bureaucratic approval process. The degrees, under the “dual degree programme” shall be conferred by the Indian and foreign institutions “separately and simultaneously” upon completion of degree requirements of both universities. For the twinning degree programme, a student can get up to 30% course credit utilisation of the total course from the collaborating foreign university. For the joint and dual degree programmes, the students shall be permitted to get more than 30% of the total course credits from the university or institution abroad. As per the 2021 draft rules, for enrolling in dual degree programmes, prospective students must meet the admission requirements of both the Indian and foreign institutions and shall apply to and be admitted separately to both the institutions. Besides, the students must earn at least 50% of total credits from the Indian institution. The dual degree programme to be offered shall also conform to the nomenclature and duration of the degrees as specified under the UGC Act, 1956 and shall also conform to minimum eligibility and other norms and standards to offer such degree programmes. The collaborating higher education institutions shall ensure that the credits earned by the students shall not be from overlapping course contents/curriculum.
Also, the student shall submit to only one examination and evaluation process for each of the courses by the institutions in which he/she has registered.
While qualifying Indian institutions will now be free to collaborate with foreign universities, for students the cost of education with international exposure would come down. Institutions that are committed to academic excellence will provide the students an opportunity for advanced learning with global expertise. However, it remains to be seen whether the top global institutions would immediately sign MoUs with Indian institutions. Private autonomous colleges and deemed universities are most likely to utilise this opportunity to enter into agreements for twinning or dual / joining degree programmes with foreign institutions, flaunting them in their brochures to attract students. The UGC may have to monitor the quality of academic delivery in such programmes.