India has renewed push for mutual recognition of qualifications

Employers, universities and students are demanding bilateral recognition of Indian qualifications. Eldho Mathews explains why it matters

May 27, 2021
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Multiple factors, especially the increase in the inward and outward mobility of students, have led in recent years to a growing demand for mutual recognition of qualifications in India. Not only students but also employers and universities have been pushing for a reliable global legal framework for the acceptance of foreign qualifications.

India has already signed agreements on this with France and Morocco. With more than 34 potential partner countries identified in the government’s Study in India programme, which is designed to attract foreign students to the nation, the country aims to sign more similar agreements in the near future. At the end of last year, India and the UK agreed to set up a joint task force to work towards the long-standing demand for mutual recognition of academic qualifications – a move that India’s minister of education, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, said would support the country’s agenda for the internationalisation of higher education.

Many domestic and international factors have formed the backdrop for India’s renewed enthusiasm for the mutual recognition of academic qualifications. India’s National Education Policy, which was approved last July, recommends developing a National Higher Education Qualifications Framework to facilitate globally comparable qualifications. It also emphasises promoting India as a study destination and calls for there to be “greater mobility to students in India who may wish to study at and transfer credits to institutions abroad, and vice versa”.

Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission is in the process of creating a National Academic Credit Bank, which will digitally store academic credits earned from recognised higher education institutions and then allow students to redeem these in order to receive a certificate, diploma or degree. All these initiatives are aimed at integrating India’s higher education system into the global system.

Internationally, the 2019 Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education – the first United Nations treaty on higher education with a global scope – has been charting a new course in facilitating demand for signing mutual recognition agreements. India’s ministry of education is also in the process of ratifying Unesco’s revised Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education, known as the 2011 Tokyo Convention.

India has witnessed a substantial increase in the number of “self-supporting” international students enrolled in higher education institutions during the past decade. For instance, while only 27,531 international students enrolled in Indian universities and colleges during the 2010–11 academic year, this number ballooned to 47,427 during 2018-19. This trend is likely to grow as the new strategies of the federal government value the export potential of the domestic higher education sector, along with its role as a soft-power tool.

However, it is worth noting that while India has signed agreements for cooperation in the field of education with 54 countries, only two (with France and Morocco) have so far resulted in mutual recognition of qualifications. It is widely accepted that the mechanisms which recognise foreign qualifications in India have many limitations. Equivalence of foreign qualifications is granted by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), but the organisation does not have the mandate to process applications for equivalence for professional degrees – such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law and architecture – awarded by foreign universities. Similarly, the rules of the AIU clearly state that it is not mandated to determine the suitability of a foreign qualification for eligibility for admission or employment. Such decisions are taken by the respective institution or employer only.

India is a permanent signatory to the Washington Accord, which recognises the equivalency of select undergraduate engineering programmes, and it is represented by the National Board of Accreditation (NBA), an agency responsible for assessing the quality of professional and technical disciplines at institutions. But both these mechanisms are limited in scope.

It is in this broad national and international context that the move towards bilateral, regional and global agreements on mutual recognition of academic qualifications assumes greater significance. Such accords provide a legal framework for the recognition of qualifications between India and partner countries and foster internationalisation of knowledge by breaking down existing barriers. However, the effectiveness of these agreements will, to a great extent, be determined by the ability of institutions to share information transparently.

Eldho Mathews is deputy adviser in the Unit for International Cooperation at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration in New Delhi. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer.

The THE Asia University Rankings 2021 will be published at noon BST on 2 June. 

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Print headline: Systems of exchange

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