Comment

A move to equivalence

Several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and agreements were signed between France and India recently on French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit. The most important of these was the landmark agreement signed at the ‘Knowledge Summit’ between the two countries on mutual recognition of educational qualifications, the first of its kind. This provides an opportunity for India to refine its policy on higher education by inking such pacts with other countries, thereby seamlessly integrating the Indian student community across the world.

Current policy framework

According to government data, there were an estimated 5 lakh Indian students pursuing degrees in higher education abroad in 2017, mostly in the U.S., the U.K., and the European Union. However, it is ironical that many who are trained at the best universities abroad are unable to share their expertise in Indian universities. This can be principally attributed to the problem of degree recognition.

In the current policy framework, the issue of recognition of academic qualifications is dealt with on a case-by-case basis by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), which provides Indian students with equivalence certificates based on eligibility requirements and the duration of courses. The agreement with France is the first such MoU where the two countries have reached a consensus despite a difference in the duration of their various academic programmes. This means that even a one-year master’s degree will be recognised here. In the current system, if a person has a postgraduate degree from abroad, an equivalence certificate is essential to pursue a PhD or qualify for a career in academia through the Junior Research Fellowship-National Eligibility Test (JRF-NET). Returnee students from foreign universities need to apply for equivalence certificates, but students who hold one-year degrees from abroad are immediately ousted from the Indian system. In this way, scholars are penalised for studying at world-class institutions in their area of interest in which Indian universities have very little to offer. This ad hoc arrangement for recognition of degrees has discouraged students from pursuing research careers in India. Rather, it precipitates their departure to other global destinations. In other words, this assumes the shape of a state-sponsored colonial policy of brain drain.

Robust policy for higher education

This case-by-case approach in recognising degrees isn’t a robust policy, particularly for improving standards of higher education. Herein lies the importance of countries across the world to move away from diplomatic constraints and maintain an image of exceptionalism when it comes to exchanging and disseminating knowledge. However, dependence on diplomatic mechanisms without a robust policy for recognising degrees would mean that Indian universities will continue to lag behind world standards. The aim of establishing “world-class” institutions in India cannot materialise without first utilising the knowledge and expertise that their own Indian scholars have to offer.

The MoU between France and India means that India is now in the position to hold bilateral talks for degree recognition with other countries too, such as the U.K. with which India shares deep historical ties. According to the latest data furnished by the U.K. Higher Education Statistics Agency, in 2016-17, 16,550 Indian students went to the U.K. for higher studies. Of these, 70-80% went for postgraduate programmes mainly with a one-year duration. Despite such a strong case for mutual recognition, students are left in the lurch. The earlier provision of a six-month bridge course introduced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2013 to ensure recognition of one-year master’s degrees from the U.K. has been discontinued by the current government. It’s not just the MA degree, the two-year MPhil courses from some of the best universities are also not recognised as equivalent to even a lower-level master’s degree in India, if the student does not possess a two-year master’s degree before the MPhil. This is despite the fact that some of these degrees have been partially or fully supported by the Indian government with a condition to revert and contribute to their home country.

The bilateral pact with France is a good start that needs to be taken forward.

Shahana Munazir is a policy and legislative aide with M.V. Rajeev Gowda, MP Rajya Sabha


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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 10:27:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-move-to-equivalence/article23295740.ece

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