CHENNAI: The country needs a large number of centres of higher learning which are world-class,” said Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister while presenting the Union Budget in Parliament this year. Budget allocation for higher education saw a rise of 13 per cent. The twinning programme — a programme of study whereby students in an Indian college may complete their study partly in India and partly in foreign educational institutions — can be seen as an attempt in bringing the best of two worlds together, a way of getting world-class education at a price lesser than that of a conventional foreign degree.
In an attempt to regulate such twinning programmes and prevent private institutions from exploiting students, the University Grants Commission (UGC) enacted the Promotion and Maintenance of Standards of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational Institutions Regulations, 2012 on September 21, 2013. The guidelines apply to non-technical, private Indian colleges offering twinning programmes, already in collaboration prior to these regulations, or those intending to collaborate with foreign colleges/universities.
According to these regulations, the foreign institutions should be accredited with the highest grade in their homeland to have a twinning arrangement with Indian institutions which are categorised by nationally recognised accrediting agencies in a grade not less than B or its equivalent. Indian and foreign institutions already having a collaborative arrangement were given a period of six months to comply with these regulations starting from the date of their coming into force.
According to a study conducted by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), 49 foreign education providers were operating in the country under twinning arrangements in 2010, out of which only 32 had the required approvals or affiliations as the per the law then.
Recently the Directorate of Technical Education (DTE), Maharashtra initiated an inquiry against HR College of Commerce, Mumbai, for allegedly starting admissions to an MBA twinning programme launched this year with Rutgers Business School, Newark, US, without the UGC approval.
The DTE acted in response to a complaint from a students’ union, Prahar Vidyarthi Sanghatana, who alleged that the course, costing $25,000 (approx), was illegal as it had not sought AICTE approval and had advertised and admitted students even while waiting for the mandatory approval. According to the HR College website, the college was re-accredited ‘A’ by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in 2013. College principal Indu Shahani, says, “We are waiting for UGC approval and it is no crime to advertise about the course. Admissions are not on. You can come and check. We have received no letter from the DTE about the inquiry. When we receive the letter, we will answer that we are not a technical college and do not need an AICTE approval.” The DTE had asked the inquiry committee to submit the report in two days, which was still awaited at the time of writing this article.
In an email correspondence with edex before the DTE order of inquiry, Shahani, who is also a Member, UGC, said, “The HR College and Rutgers Business School collaboration is completely in compliance with The Promotion and Maintenance of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational Regulations of September 2013.”
Rutgers is accredited with the highest grade in their homeland by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and is ranked among the top 500 world class universities by Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, another widely observed rankings system. Rutgers Business School is ranked among the top 25 EMBA programmes by the Wall Street Journal and ranked in top 25 programmes among US programmes in 2008 -13. The 20-month programme has Rutgers faculty fly into Mumbai, while the last two modules of the total of 18 are completed in Newark, New Jersey, US.
Asked if her students have to worry about their degrees not being recognised by Indian universities, Shahani said, “This is a full-fledged MBA degree from a leading American University and is widely accepted and recognised by all universities across the world.”
In case of a visa rejection in twinning courses with a duration of two to four years, a student having completed half of his/her course is stuck in the Indian university itself. Asked if HR college has a contingency plan if a student’s visa application is rejected, she said, “Rutgers Business School delivers the same programme in Singapore at its New Jersey Campus and the student can complete the last module there.”
A disconcerting fact is that in spite of pursuing twinning programmes from world-class institutes who’ve complied with the norms, the degree will still be considered foreign, and Indian students applying for higher studies in India will have no edge over foreign students applying in India should they want to pursue postgraduate programmes here after graduating abroad.
Loyola College, Chennai, in association with the IESEG School of Management, France has been offering a twinning Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) programme since June 2006, which is pending approval from the UGC. IESEG is a leading business school in France and is ranked among the top 10 in that country by the L’Etudiant 2010 Business School Ranking.
“The degree I got from IESEG is not recognised by universities in India because the UGC does not recognise the degree as an Indian one. It is a foreign university degree,” said 21-year-old Maalavika Manoj who recently came back from France after completing the course.
“It is strange because the University there is really good. They have the two biggest accreditations- EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) and AACSB (Associate to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) which is an American organisation,” she added.
The NAAC re-accredited Loyola college with an ‘A’ in 2013. The college applied to the UGC for approval of its twinning programme late last year. While they fulfil all the requirements, they say a change of government may be the reason for delay in approval.
Exorbitant fees, tougher tests
Asked if she had any problems applying for higher studies, Maalavika said, “I’m applying to a university in Warsaw, Poland. I can apply in India but the fee will be that of a foreign student. I won’t be treated as an Indian student because my degree is not recognised in Indian universities as an Indian one,” she said, adding that she was born and brought up in Chennai and pursued her education till the second year of her graduate programme in the city.
“Most people I studied the course with want to study abroad. Very few want to come back and do their Master’s in India because of this,” she said. Most of her friends are continuing in the same university in France to do their Master’s.
Another student of the programme, Amman Lochan, said, “Getting into an IIM or IIT as an Indian student is difficult enough. When treated as a foreign student, we have to write different tests.”
“Those universities which receive government funding, like University of Madras, don’t recognise our degrees as Indian degrees. We were informed about this clearly,” said Swetha Seshadri, an alumnus, adding that “it’s easier to apply to let’s say ISB (Indian School of Business) because it’s private.”
Vignesh Sridhar, another former student of the Loyola-IESEG programme, said, “We can’t write CAT, can’t get into an IIM or a XLRI. We have to write GMAT and get in through the international quota. But I haven’t known of a single student who came back to India to continue their higher studies after this twinning degree, in the past seven years.”
Cause for brain drain
“How can an Indian student be discriminated against? They have studied here all their life. Instead of recognising this as a much better course and providing them with the best facilities, in our country they’re discriminating,” said Joseph Antony Samy, Principal, Loyola College, adding that such students should rather be given priority.
“They have world-class education. They should come back, develop this nation. This is the kind of situation that makes our students go away from this nation. If students come back with knowledge from other universities, it is our role to support them,” he said.
At present, 48 students are pursuing their first and second year of study in the BBA France programme at Loyola, out of which 19 students will be going to France this academic year (June 2014 – April 2015) for their final year. They will probably meet the same challenges as Maalavika and her friends.
So far, 104 students have pursued this course in France. According to Loyola’s Centre for International Programme, 40 per cent of these students are pursuing their Master’s across the globe, while 60 per cent of them are working in and outside India.
“The idea behind these regulations is to make sure that people don’t make a quick buck out of such programmes; the government is looking at attracting good universities. We have applied to the UGC for approval and there is no reason why we shouldn’t get it. But the moment we get it, how will these students be categorised? Each university has got their own subjective bylaws according to which they would categorise these students as Indian or foreign with regard to the application process. It is a grey area,” said a professor of Loyola college, requesting anonymity.
Considering the fact that Madras University didn’t recognise Loyola’s twinning degree as an Indian degree, the professor pointed out that education came under the concurrent list, which meant that the state as well as the Centre could enact laws on it.
“So, when you have a UGC guideline and the State government has got a different approach, it is university-specific. With the UGC guidelines, we hope there is more clarity and things would ease a bit for the students,” he said.
“Twinning programmes are for students who want to have an international education and work environment. With our system, we are stifling them. Most of the students don’t want to come back to India because their target is Ivy League institutions,” he said, adding that when asked to come back, his students ask him why they should.
“I am tongue-tied. I keep talking to them about South Korea, where they had the best minds coming back to contribute to the growth of the economy. South Korea is booming and has one of the most enterprising economies. But the students think I am just liaising,” said the professor.
Most of the students are into business, “they have interesting startups”, he said. “Some of them have invented some extremely quirky innovative things. I’m hoping that they become phenomenally successful,” he said, adding that there are students working for Radisson Group and French firms among others who finished twinning programmes and now live abroad. He said if Indian universities had recognised the degrees of these students, they would probably have completed their education here and used their skills in India.
Natasha Chopra, Managing Director of The Chopras, an education consultancy, said, “The Indian government doesn’t recognise foreign degrees. So if one wants to do IAS (Indian Administrative Service) or get a government job, she/he may not get it. The degrees obtained through twinning programmes offered at the UG, PG and Diploma level are not recognised formally.”
“India educates only 14 per cent of its young people as opposed to China which educates 25 per cent. There is a huge demand-supply gap which these foreign universities bridge,” Chopra added.
With UGC guidelines applying to twinning programmes in non-technical courses like Business Management, Hospitality and Tourism, Manipal University in Karnataka, that offers technical twinning programmes handles recognition problems in a different manner.
Manipal University offers an International Engineering Twinning programme also known as ICAS (International Centre for Applied Sciences). The University introduced the ICAS programme in 1994. Students study their first and second years of Engineering in Manipal University and the third and fourth years in one of 90 universities across the world, including Ohio State University, US; University of Minnesota, US; Purdue University, US; City University, UK and Queen’s University, Canada, among others.
GMJ Bhat, Director, ICAS said, “In case the students want to pursue IAS after completing the twinning programme, they can spend a year at Manipal and get a BSc in Applied Sciences. As they have already done two years with us, they can complete the final year as well.”
He said their programme was recognised by the Association of Indian Universities and hence there was no problem in enrolling in an IIM or an IISc for an MBA.
With the new government also proposing to ease and simplify norms to facilitate education loans for higher studies, some pro-active measures to make the UGC regulations pertaining to twinning programmes clearer would be appreciated by students and parents. Also, recognising degrees obtained from twinning programmes in India as Indian degrees would encourage more students to opt for these programmes thereby increasing their access to world-class education and prevent brain drain.