New Delhi, Feb. 21: India is lobbying the US to relax norms that have traditionally made Indians who graduated after three-year programmes ineligible for master's courses at American universities, where undergraduate courses last four years.
American officials here said they would forward a proposal received from the human resource development ministry to the Association of American Universities (AAU), a 117-year-old group of American and Canadian research varsities.
The AAU has 60 universities as its members, including Harvard, Columbia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton and Stanford.
Unlike the Association of Indian Universities, which is funded by the government and whose decisions on equivalence between degrees are binding on all Indian varsities, the AAU is privately funded and works as a pressure group on behalf of its members.
American officials told this newspaper they could not speak on behalf of the AAU, and could not predict how sympathetic it might be to India's request.
They also said that the AAU, even if it backed India's request, could not issue a diktat for individual universities, not even its own members. It could at best make a recommendation. The AAU's emphasis is on research and not on undergraduate or master's degrees.
The US officials also indicated surprise that the Indian request had come at a time when individual American universities and their departments were in any case increasingly demonstrating flexibility.
Traditionally, US universities have required applicants for master's programmes to demonstrate 16 years of formal education to meet eligibility requirements. But many of America's top universities - including Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina and Syracuse University - now accept three-year undergraduate degrees from India.
The degree holder must have received a first division in his undergraduate exam, and must have studied at an institution that held an "A" rating from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council at the time.
An Indian government source said that another meeting with US embassy officials had been scheduled for next month.
"The response has been positive so far. If the American universities agree, the student flow from India will double," the source said.
According to the Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the US state department, the number of Indian students increased from 132,888 in 2014-15 to 165,918 in 2015-16.
If US universities accept India's proposal, it might also increase the inflow of American students into India, the government feels. India's undergraduate courses now fail to attract too many US students because of the prospective difficulty they would face back home in securing equivalence.
A senior official in the University Grants Commission, India's higher education regulator, accused Washington of "always hiding behind university autonomy when it comes to issues of the equivalence of degrees".
"If there is an agreement on a protocol, Indian universities will attract more American students because the fee here is very low," the official said.
International students pay about $100 per semester as tuition fee at Jawaharlal Nehru University in contrast to the several thousand dollars they need to shell out at any British or Australian university.