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Delhi tit for tat on UK degrees

- Cloud on recognition to one-year courses

New Delhi, Sept. 14: India is rethinking its commitment to recognise the one-year master’s degrees awarded in Britain because British universities do not universally accept Indian Class XII certificates, sources told The Telegraph.

Education minister Smriti Irani has told high commissioner James David Bevan that all British campuses must start admitting Indian undergraduates on the strength of their Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) certificates, officials said.

She is likely to raise the matter again when the British minister for universities and science, David Willets, comes visiting later this year at a time fewer Indian students are travelling to Britain because of toughened visa conditions for subsequent employment. (See chart)

Although Cambridge, Oxford and the London School of Economics award two-year master’s degrees (recognised in India), many reputable British institutions — including the Universities of Sussex and Liverpool — offer one-year postgraduate programmes.

During a visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron in February last year, the Manmohan Singh government had agreed to recognise the one-year degrees so their holders could pursue further education or secure government jobs in India.

This was to be done through a bridge course —whose duration was tentatively fixed at six months in November — to be designed by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

However, sources said, the Narendra Modi government is not keen to go ahead with its predecessor’s commitment without a quid pro quo on undergraduate admissions in Britain.

Although several British universities — including Oxford, Warwick and Durham — have of late begun recognising CBSE certificates, some like Cambridge and the London School of Economics are holding out.

The Modi government has good reason not to want to appear soft on British universities. This is because it has, through the UGC, come down hard on premier Indian institutions that have not adhered strictly to the 10+2+3 (followed by a two-year master’s course) system of education.

It arm-twisted Delhi University to scrap its four-year undergraduate programme that was to be followed by a one-year master’s course. It then got the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, to tweak its four-year undergraduate programme and has now gone after the Indian Institutes of Technology.

In these circumstances, the government cannot afford to have a one-and-a-half-year master’s system (including the bridge course) for British degrees.

Responses were mixed in the education sector. “If this is true, it’s a sad and retrograde step,” said Naveen Chopra, chairman of the overseas education consultancy firm, The Chopras.

He dubbed the February 2013 commitment “progressive, sensible and student-friendly” and added that a change of heart would send out “mixed messages” at a time India was talking of bringing its education system “in sync with the world”.

But S.S. Mantha, chairman of the All India Council of Technical Education, the technical education regulator, said recognition of degrees should be based on reciprocity. “British universities should recognise the CBSE certificates,” he said.

Indian Class XII graduates now have to do an additional course to secure admission to some British universities. The CBSE has taken the matter up with Universities UK, an organisation representing all British universities.

Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of Global Reach, a Calcutta-based overseas education firm, was opposed to any rethink on the recognition of one-year master’s degrees. “I fail to understand how forex or education loans are given to Indian students to go abroad for such degrees if India is going to continue not to (recognise) them,” he said.

But UGC sources said the demand from students for recognising the one-year degrees was not high enough, particularly at a time the number of Indian students in Britain was falling. This was why, they said, the matter had progressed slowly even under the UPA government.

No comments could be obtained from the UK Higher Education International Unit, an agency that promotes British education abroad. A 2012 study commissioned by the agency had claimed that Britain’s one-year master’s degrees were as good as their two-year Indian counterparts.

Furqan Qamar, secretary-general of the Association of Indian Universities — an umbrella body that issues “equivalence certificates” to foreign degrees, thus recognising them — did not explicitly support or oppose the rethink.

He, however, stressed that the criteria for recognising foreign degrees needed revision. Currently, the four criteria are: accreditation in the foreign country itself, duration, admission qualifications, and mode of education (for instance, whether it was taught in classrooms or through distance education).

Qamar said the advance of technology had made a course’s duration irrelevant.

“With the introduction of e-learning material and the like, the focus of higher education has shifted towards output (exam results, research) from input (number of classes held, books studied). We need to have a fresh framework to compare Indian and foreign courses in a rational manner,” he said.

The government is preparing such a framework.

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