Spat over who evaluates foreign degrees could delay tie-ups

Draft guidelines on the recognition of degrees from foreign institutions have prompted a row between India’s higher education regulator which issued the guidelines in August and a major university association that is currently doing the job of evaluating degree equivalence.

The row essentially centres on which body is responsible for evaluating degree equivalence going forward.

Establishing equivalence is important for setting up joint and dual degrees with overseas institutions, a major plank of India’s internationalisation drive in higher education.

The spat between the regulator, the University Grants Commission (UGC), and the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) has meant a lack of bureaucratic clarity for foreign universities and possible delays in the setting up of such degrees which have been heavily promoted by universities and the central and state governments.

Establishing equivalence has been a key issue for foreign universities interested in India and many have been eagerly awaiting regulatory clarity.

The New Delhi-based AIU, which includes central and state-funded universities, institutes of national importance and private ‘deemed’ universities, currently evaluates the courses, standards and credits of foreign universities and equates them to various courses offered by Indian universities.

A long track record

AIU Secretary General Dr Pankaj Mittal told University World News: “We [the AIU] have been doing it for 100 years. And we are doing it very well and to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders. So in my view, we should continue doing it.”

On 17 August, the UGC issued draft regulations named Recognition and Grant of Equivalence to Qualifications obtained from Foreign Educational Institutions aimed at managing academic partnerships with foreign universities and covering recognition of credits through joint, dual and twinning arrangements and globally relevant curricula.

The UGC draft stipulated that a “standing committee” will evaluate the similarity of entry criteria based on programme duration, credit demands, and evaluation methodologies. The UGC also emphasised the importance of assessing credits in different course categories to ensure equivalence.

Some university vice-chancellors believe the UGC’s draft guidelines lack clarity as they do not indicate who will carry out the evaluations and neither do they fully explain the procedure for evaluations.

“These regulations look like a threat to us,” said one vice-chancellor speaking anonymously. “They can appoint the AIU as the designated agency on behalf of the UGC to do it.”

UGC chairperson Jagadesh Kumar said in June last year that once the guidelines for foreign degree equivalence were formulated, “the UGC will take over the charge of providing equivalence from now on”.

Who will carry out the evaluations?

Sources within the AIU, speaking to University World News on condition of anonymity, said the association convened a general meeting on 28 August with the participation of over 400 heads of universities. They unanimously agreed that the AIU should continue to provide the equivalence and recognition of degrees for all universities and in the interests of global students.

“We have the expertise, which they [the UGC] will have to develop. In the meantime, there would be some difficulties because they will have to acquire that expertise,” said an AIU official who did not want to be named. “Initially, there will be some hiccups.”

At its meeting this week the AIU called on Minister of Education and Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan to intervene in the matter and urged the UGC to reassess its decision to reallocate the responsibility of granting equivalence. It is a move the AIU fears could lead to “erroneous assessments” as well as “challenges for students”.

The AIU has been vested with the power of granting academic equivalence to the degrees obtained from the accredited foreign boards and universities since its inception in 1925.

The AIU website notes the AIU Evaluation Division provides expert assistance on the status of foreign qualifications to students, universities, and central and state government agencies, including ministries. The division also assists the Ministry of Education in formulating proposals for educational exchange programmes between Indian universities and universities in other countries, based on mutual recognition of educational qualifications.

The AIU assesses the equivalence of all degrees except for professional qualifications such as architecture, medicine and law, which are handled by their respective professional bodies.

According to the UGC’s draft guidelines, its regulations also will not apply to professional degrees obtained from foreign educational institutions in disciplines such as medicine, pharmacy, nursing, law, and architecture.

Establishing equivalence

An office bearer associated with the AIU said: “We don’t have to visit foreign campuses. It’s not the equivalent of any particular university (that is assessed). It is based on the individual [student], so the individual comes to us with his or her degree and then we evaluate the degree based on our set parameters, whether it is equivalent to [an] Indian degree or not.

“We see whether they have done the degree online, whether the credit requirement is complete or not – all these, and many more things.”

He noted that individuals seeking degree equivalence only need to go to the AIU’s online portal. “The student applies online and based on their application we tell them what documents are required. Based on the documents, we compare them with our earlier documents, and then [make] decisions in the same manner,” he said.

He compared the process to international bodies such as World Education Services in the United States or the United Kingdom National Information Centre.

UGC guidelines

The UGC regulations have been issued at a time when the plans by foreign institutions to establish their branch campuses at GIFT City in India’s western state of Gujarat are at advanced stages.

According to the UGC draft guidelines, qualifications obtained from a foreign higher education institution will be recognised and granted equivalence provided the qualification has been awarded by a foreign institution that is duly recognised in its home country, and the student has pursued the programme through regular, in-person instruction, and not through online or distance learning.

In addition, entry-level requirements for admission to the branch campus programme must be similar to that of a corresponding programme in India. Similarity of entry criteria will be determined through “due process” by the standing committee set up for the purpose, the UGC guidelines state.

According to the guidelines, the UGC will maintain a resource of what may be considered the “minimum curricular requirements” of any programme, as per standards established in India.


The UGC said it will constitute an “appellate committee” to address instances where applicants disagree with the UGC's verdict on equivalence. In such cases, students can request a review within 30 days.

The minimum curricular content may be established by due consideration of basic background courses, disciplinary core courses, disciplinary elective courses, cross-disciplinary courses, laboratory courses, etc, that make up the curriculum of the qualification.

Campus academic programmes must also satisfy the accreditation requirements in the foreign country in which the offshore campus is located.

Qualifications obtained at the offshore campus of a foreign institution will be recognised provided the campus is duly approved by the competent authorities in India as well as in the country of origin. Academic programmes of the branch campus must also satisfy accreditation requirements in the country where the offshore campus is located, as well as any such requirements in the country of origin.

However, qualifications obtained through franchise arrangements will not be eligible for recognition or equivalence.