India’s University Grants Commission has approved new regulations governing foreign university partnerships, barring entry to all but the top 500 globally-ranked universities.
The regulations set a high barrier to collaboration, both for prospective foreign partners and Indian universities. In order to be eligible to offer joint degrees or other twinning programs, foreign universities must be listed among the top 500 in the Times Higher Education or Shanghai Jiaotong University world rankings, while Indian universities must have received the highest grade from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council or the National Board of Accreditation, according to The Indian Express and other Indian news media. Universities with existing partnerships will have six months to come into compliance with the new regulations, or face penalties.
While some international educators see the rules as too limiting, they appear to give elite institutions a clear path for setting up joint programs. Many Western university administrators have complained in the past about a lack of such a path, even as unregulated partnerships of varying quality have proliferated.
Hundreds of twinning arrangements involving foreign universities already exist in India. Rahul Choudaha, director of research and advisory services for World Education Services, a nonprofit organization that specializes in credential evaluation, said he thought it was unlikely that the new rules would force the dissolution of existing, unregulated programs. But he said that college administrators interested in engaging with Indian universities to develop new, high-quality programs should feel "cautiously optimistic." He noted that given the dual requirements regarding accreditation and ranking, "many of the predatory institutions, who are interested in profits at the expense of quality and students, would be filtered out."
Choudaha described the regulations as providing a "low-intensity, high-relevance pathway for institutions who are truly interested in building collaborative academic engagements in India."
However, Daniel Obst, deputy vice president for international partnerships for the Institute of International Education, lamented the lack of opportunity for non-elite colleges. IIE manages the International Academic Partnership Program, which has forged connections between U.S. and Indian institutions.
"We understand the UGC’s interest in assuring the high quality of joint and double degree programs between Indian universities and their counterparts abroad," Obst said. "However, limiting such collaborative degree programs to those institutions that appear in the top 500 listed in the Times Higher Ed or Shanghai Jiaotong rankings would restrict students’ access to programs offered by a wide range of excellent institutions worldwide." (Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher rankings, recently warned in an essay for Inside Higher Ed of the dangers of governments relying solely on rankings in setting higher education policy.)
Obst added: “Institutions representing the full range of US higher education – from community colleges to liberal arts institutions to public and private research universities – have unique strengths and specific degree programs that fit more closely the wide range of Indian institutions seeking partners abroad.”
The new regulations do not address the issue of freestanding foreign branch campuses. The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, which would regulate branch campuses, has been pending in India’s Parliament for more than two years. Discussion of the bill typically centers on bringing the Harvards of the world to India, and keeping low-quality, “fly-by-night” providers out.