Indian Students Can Now Study At Global Universities With Campuses In India, Approved By UGC: Dr. Prakash Bhosale

UGC’s Dual-Degree Scheme Removes Learning Silos, But Fees and Other Concerns Remain

Shrikant Jichkar, a former minister in Maharashtra, was known as the ‘most qualified person in India. Between 1970 and 1993, beginning with an MBBS and MD from Nagpur University, he gathered about 20 degrees and doctorates in subjects ranging from Economics to Sanskrit to Law from several universities. He also cleared the IPS (1978) and IAS (1980) exams. When he tragically lost his life in a road accident in 2004, he was only 49.

However, there was a puzzle: how could Jichkar register for courses simultaneously across universities when it was impossible? A ‘migration certificate’ from a school board or a university, which made it possible to register at only one institution at a time, was compulsory. You could not be pursuing two courses at the same time. How Jichkar managed, when online and open and distance learning (ODL) didn’t exist, remains a mystery.

We have come a long way since then. The University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex body that controls Indian universities, now allows a person to pursue two full-time academic programmes at the same time. Any combination of physical and online modes is accepted. Any combination of PG, UG, and diploma programmes is also fine provided one is eligible to apply to the course. Subject combinations depend entirely on the student’s interest. The UGC is silent about any pact between two institutions for facilitating simultaneous registration, implying that no such agreement is required.

Three types of combinations

The UGC has also come out with three types of academic partnerships between Indian and foreign universities: Twinning, Joint, and Dual Degree programmes.

‘Twinning’ allows a student in an Indian university to earn up to 30 per cent credits from a collaborating foreign university in a ‘conventional’ mode, not through online or distance learning channels. The Indian institution will offer the degree. In essence, it is an exchange programme.

In a ‘Joint Degree’ programme, an Indian university and a foreign university will jointly design the curriculum and, upon completion of the course, a single certificate will be given to the student jointly by both institutions. Again, only the ‘conventional’ learning mode works here. In a ‘Joint Degree’ programme, at least 30 per cent of credits must be earned from each of the collaborating partners to get a degree. It gets a bit complicated at the PhD level with the insistence on a supervisor at each institution. Mercifully, a single thesis is enough.

In a ‘Dual Degree’, an Indian and a foreign institution will jointly set the curriculum and will confer the degrees simultaneously on course completion. There is a caveat: the subject pursued should be the same you cannot do a BSc in Biochemistry in India and a BA in Economics from the collaborating foreign university.

Extent of transformation

Do these changes have the potential to alter the landscape of higher education in India?

Well, some of the new norms simply recognise already existing arrangements. Take Twinning, for instance. Several Indian universities and autonomous colleges already have academic tie-ups with institutions overseas and send select students for a semester or two abroad. For instance, Chennai’s Loyola College has a tie-up for BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) with Lille Catholic University, France, where students in the programme spend a year. Sastra University in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, has tie-ups with a host of universities in the US and Europe, where select undergrad students in the engineering domain can spend a semester.

While Twinning may not be new, Indian institutions that have such tie-ups may now have to follow the norms stipulated by the UGC. For instance, the overseas institution in any kind of tie-up must rank within the top 1,000 of Times Higher Education or QS World University ranking table.

Two clear benefits

UGC’s new norms offer two clear benefits. First, a student, by registering for two courses simultaneously, can improve his or her career prospects, possibly within a short timeframe, if the courses are judiciously chosen.

The other benefit, which lies in the realm of foreign university tie-up framework, is the removal of the need to get the UGC’s nod. As long as the university is eligible to go by UGC norms, it can go ahead and forge tie-ups without having to knock on the doors of the Commission for permission at every step.

That said, some issues remain, particularly concerning the tie-up with foreign universities.

First, the UGC allows a student to register for any two courses in Indian universities but only for the same (or similar) course in the Dual Degree programme offered in a tie-up with an institution overseas. What would motivate a student to apply for a degree in the same area from two universities? Why should a student who wants to major in two different subjects be prevented only in a tie-up between an Indian and foreign institution? If one desires a degree from a foreign institution, a better option might be to register through portals such as Coursera in an online mode.

The UGC’s circular mentions NEP-2020’s objective of removing “hard separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extracurricular activities, between vocational and academic streams, etc. in order to eliminate harmful hierarchies among, and silos between, different areas of learning.” Why not implement it in Dual Degree programmes, too?

Fee concerns

Secondly, for the Dual Degree programme, the UGC says, “The fee structure should be reasonable so as to make quality higher education accessible and affordable to all sections of the society.” Now, who decides what is ‘reasonable’? While a blanket, possibly unviable fee structure imposed by the UGC would find no takers among institutions, it has the potential to become a choice only for the rich given that the fee levels in Twinning arrangements exceed about ₹25 lakh per semester in some universities with overseas tie-ups. It is a money-making opportunity. Is there a mechanism to ensure fair pricing without choking the institutions with more control? Right now, there seems none.

Thirdly, what if an institution – either Indian or foreign – were to slip below the Top 1,000 in the Times Higher Education or QS World University rankings after collaboration has been put in place? We don’t know what action the UGC would recommend.

Some crystal ball gazing may be in order.

First, over the next few years, expect the UGC to align the currently tighter overseas collaboration norms with those that apply to earning two degrees in India.

Secondly, more universities would allow students to major in any subject of their choice irrespective of what they studied earlier in school. Some private universities, such as Azim Premji University, Ashoka University, and Krea University, adopt this approach. However, this approach remains an exception. It may become the norm. Expect all silos in higher education to be removed over time. The UGC, by being a little more proactive, can hasten the process.

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