On December 12, 2023, the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India issued a public notice addressing critical concerns surrounding the activities of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions (Foreign HEIs) in the country. While highlighting two specific practices, the notice shed light on broader issues that could impact the landscape of higher education in India.
The UGC addressed the issue of unapproved collaborations between Foreign HEIs and Indian Higher Educational Institutions (Indian HEIs), emphasizing non-compliance with the UGC (Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Higher Education Institutions to offer Twinning Programmes, Joint Degree, Dual Degree Programmes) Regulations, 2022. The notice cautions against such partnerships leading to the issuance of degrees unrecognized by the UGC.
The term "facilitating" introduces complexity, particularly as non-regulated models such as articulation and pathways dominate the academic collaboration landscape despite the 2022 liberalization. While the Academic Collaboration Regulations provide autonomy for eligible HEIs to engage in foreign collaborations without UGC approval, the focus remains on the entity granting the degree. The regulations specify criteria for collaborations, yet potential misuse by Indian HEIs as conduits for the grant of foreign degrees to Indian students could face regulatory scrutiny.
The notice advises caution for arrangements not falling squarely within the Academic Collaboration Regulations. Ongoing, likely-to-be-renewed, or exploratory collaborations should undergo careful analysis and stress-testing to mitigate potential enforcement actions by the UGC, which, historically, could include de-recognition of degrees or blacklisting specific programs or HEIs.
The UGC's notice also addressed franchise arrangements between Foreign HEIs and ed-tech companies, criticizing advertisements offering online degree and diploma programs. This objection extends the UGC's focus internationally, building upon a similar notice in January 2022 targeting collaborations with Indian HEIs.
Two interpretations arise from the notice. Firstly, it may be seen as an effort to curb and prevent franchising, aligning with existing regulations. The purpose seems to reinforce the longstanding prohibition on franchising, suggesting that associations between Foreign HEIs and ed-tech companies, not amounting to franchising, may remain unaffected. A second interpretation suggests a broader restriction on all online programs associated with Foreign HEIs. The UGC's historically cautious stance on online programs, even during the pandemic, and the limitations in the Foreign HEI Campus Regulations regarding online-only courses indicate potential broader restrictions. The potential impact of this notice on the government's efforts to internationalize Indian education aligning with the National Education Policy's objectives is a matter of concern. Clarifying the UGC's stance and its alignment with broader policy objectives would be crucial for stakeholders in the education sector.