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India: Rankings as a broom to sweep out ‘low-quality’ foreign providers

At the beginning of June, India’s University Grants Council (UGC) has approved new regulations governing the partnerships between Indian and foreign higher education institutions. With the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill stalled in the parliament since 2010 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, March 2012 ), the government has been looking for creative solutions to allow the entry of foreign education providers into India and it seems to have found a temporary solution until the political deadlock can be resolved. Although the UGC has a mandate to regulate Indian universities in the areas of partnerships and joint degree programmes, it lacks direct jurisdiction over foreign providers.

National news outlets including Hindustan Times and The Times of India have reported on the details of the new regulation, which sets out a number of interesting conditions for foreign and domestic institutions alike. Following the global trend of ‘rankings reign supreme’, in order to be eligible to offer joint degrees or twinning programmes in India, foreign institutions have to be in the top 500 of the Times Higher Education World University Ranking (THE) or Shanghai Jiaotong’s Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Indian institutions on the other hand need to have the highest accreditation grade from national authorities to be able to enter into such a partnership.

In an interview with The Times of India, Professor Ved Prakash, the acting chairman of UGC, explained that the concern for quality and protection of student interests were the main drivers behind the use of rankings. According to the Association of Indian Universities, there were more than 600 foreign institutions already offering joint degrees or twinning programmes in India in 2010 and many of these providers were lacking quality assurance and/or accreditation by Indian regulatory bodies. With the entry of the new rules into force, existing institutions have a six-month grace period to adhere to the new regulations or they can face de-recognition in the case of private providers and withdrawal of government funding for public institutions. The hope is that the predatory low-quality providers currently operating unregulated in the country will be filtered out and only genuine institutions of excellence will engage in partnerships with India’s top institutions in the future. However, not to mention the problematic use of THE and ARWU as a proxy of quality, it is sensible to ask whether more red tape and government regulations in a country already notorious for abundance of it will truly convince world class institutions to line-up at India’s door. 

Association of Indian Universities Hindustan Times The Times of India