The University Grants Commission (UGC) on Saturday deferred a controversial proposal to allow the entry of foreign educational institutions within the existing legal framework. However, it gave ‘in principle approval' to regulations on collaborative and joint courses.

‘The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010,' is pending in Parliament as several parties are opposed to some of the provisions which would allow foreign universities to operate in India. The Parliamentary Standing Committee has made several recommendations to the Bill and they were being considered by the government.

The move by the UGC was seen by some of the academic experts, who do not wish to be identified, as allowing the foreign universities to come in without a legislative framework. They are also of the view that such a move would be in violation of the provisions of the UGC Act, 1956.

The UGC approved ‘in principle' regulations on allowing twinning and joint degree programmes between the “top ranking foreign educational institutions and the best Indian universities.” Only the best universities of the country would be allowed to have tie-up with the internationally accredited 500 foreign universities and the courses would have to be completed in both universities.

As per the guidelines, foreign universities entering into tie-ups with Indian partners should be among the top 500 ranked by the Times Higher Education World University Ranking or by Shanghai Jiaotong University. The degrees will be granted by the Indian universities.

The Hindu had on Friday reported that the Human Resource Development Ministry was trying to identify possibilities of allowing the foreign educational institutions into the country as it was finding it hard to push through the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 in Parliament due to lack of numbers in Rajya Sabha.

The UGC called a special meeting and the only two items on the agenda had the possibility of allowing foreign educational institutions to enter as ‘deemed universities' under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, or as private universities under the State laws, and drafting regulations on twinning programmes and joint degree programmes.

According to informed sources, some members of the UGC strongly opposed the proposal to allow the foreign universities when a Bill was already pending in Parliament. Also the UGC Act, 1956 would not be applicable to foreign universities without amendments. “The UGC chairperson and the Higher Education Secretary concurred with the objections and agreed to defer the item,” UGC sources told The Hindu.

The panel members approved the regulations on joint programmes as it was felt it was necessary to curb the ‘fly-by-night' operators in the country. Once the regulations come into effect, such operators will have to wind up.

As of now, only technical and management courses of foreign institutions are allowed in India as they are regulated by the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) Act. However, a large number of courses across the board are being conducted in an unregulated manner.

The UGC in 2003 mooted a proposal on regulation of entry and operation of foreign universities but did not pursue it after it was brought to the notice of the UGC by its legal experts that the UGC Act does not permit regulation of foreign universities.

S. Vaidhyasubramaniam, Dean of Sastra University, said the decision to allow only top 500 foreign universities in collaborative mode was a good first step in the interest of the existing faculty crisis and poor research productivity in Indian higher education.

Such collaboration should begin with Post Graduate and Ph.D. programmes only, he said.

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