UGC regulation on two degrees: a WTO-GATS mandated corporatization of education
The education scenario of the country is presently characterized by two distinct traits: one, hectic weird measures in the process of implementing NEP (New Education Policy) 2020 and two, tall talks to justify those measures by government spokesmen, so-called autonomous agencies like the UGC and a section of the intellectuals, including columnists, in their association or even pay-roll.
One of the latest of such measures is the ‘soon-to-be-notified’ (as on 21 April 2022) University Grants Commission (Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Higher Education Institutions to offer Joint Degree, Dual Degree and Twinning Programmes) Regulations 2022. The exercise is really nothing novel. In a similar 2016 regulation the UGC toyed with an offer of Joint degree and Twinning programme. Only a few educational institutions of the country looked keen to introduce those programmes. The ‘‘dual degree’’ programme is newly added, for which both the Indian and foreign institutions will give separate and simultaneous degrees for a course of the same discipline, and at the same level. As it stood, the UGC had no option but to go for amendments, one in 2021 and now again in 2022. By those, what the UGC has done is easing the rules. For what and why? It will be made clear later.
Now, what were the relaxations?
The NEP 2020 stipulated in its Section 12.8 entitled International ‘‘High performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries, and similarly, selected universities e.g., those from among the top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India’’ (p. 39). In one earlier version of the present UGC Regulation, foreign partner institutions were required to be among the world’s top 500. The latest amendments approve and increase this to the top 1,000 in global rankings. Does it ensure improved quality? Obviously, it was questionable. So, the UGC chairperson had to dish out a justification. He explained: ‘‘The increased bandwidth is only to allow more institutes to partner and offer more choices to the students.’’ Faithful to the ruling dispensation, he is said to have added that the UGC believe that the regulations will lead to the internationalisation of our higher education (Is it the crying need for Indian students now?) and will also provide a great opportunity for our Indian students to acquire multidisciplinary education for an internationally relevant career. (Are multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary education one and the same?)
The amendments also curb the regulator’s supervisory role in facilitating such collaborations. Under the earlier 2016 regulations, an institution was required to apply to the UGC for approval for foreign collaboration. By the new ‘soon-to-be-notified’ regulations, Indian universities that meet a minimum academic standard will not be required to seek UGC’s permission to offer such programmes. They say it would be ‘Freedom at large’ ‘free for all’. But the matter of fact remains, to get its design through, the UGC had to undertake easing out the rules to help the ‘partners’, read corporate houses of this country and foreign ones, to make easy business.
As usual with other similar measures, in this case too, it was claimed that the draft of this regulation (an amendment) was placed in the public domain last year to invite suggestions from stakeholders and there are people who enthusiastically endorse that claim and certify that this draft is based on suggestions from all the stakeholders. But the education fraternity at large is hardly aware of having been asked for and having sent any reply to any such suggestions.
In any case, despite easing, the regulations still remain complicated. However, the simplest fact is, India has decided to allow certain Indian higher education institutions to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with foreign institutions to offer dual degree, joint degree or twinning programmes.
There are conditions, nonetheless. To qualify for such academic collaboration, the Indian college, institute or university must figure among the top global 1,000 QS (Quacquarelli Symonds-an UK-based company which ranks universities based on five components like Academic reputation, Employer reputation, Research citations per paper, etc.) World University or Times Higher Education rankings have emerged as one of the top 100 universities under the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). The college or university must have secured a minimum grading of 3.01 on a 4-point scale from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). Likewise, the foreign collaborator institution must also have figured among the 1,000 global top QS or Times Higher Education Rankings. However, in a country like India, where a university proposed by one of the leading monopolists is given the status of an institution of National Importance before there was even a drop of ink on any paper of agreement or document, leave aside the physical existence of the university, in such a country all these stipulations for qualification may prove to be meaningless, if the interested institutions may find out some ‘other’ channel to place its case in the corridor of power.
Now free to collaborate with foreign universities, the qualifying Indian institutions will provide their students with the opportunity for advanced learning with global expertise. Flatly and simply, it means a student enrolled in a BA History programme in an Indian university can pursue a part of his/her course at a foreign institution.
Nowadays Indian students fly en masse to foreign universities, more so the USA ones, after completion of their undergraduate or postgraduate courses. If this speaks well for the education and economic system of their home country is a moot question. Apart from that, much to the disadvantage of majority of Indian students, the present government has introduced another complicated FYUP (Four Years Undergraduate Programme) with an eye to helping those finishing UG courses in India and aspiring to take admission to PG courses in the USA. Yet, after so many trickeries, the concerned circles raise doubt whether the top global institutions would rush to sign MoUs with Indian institutions under this recent UGC regulation. But, here in India private autonomous colleges (the AC among the three kinds of HEI prescribed in the NEP 2020) and deemed universities, which are turning out to be ‘education shops’ as conscientious academicians call them, are most likely to utilise this opportunity to enter into agreements for twinning or dual/joint degree programmes with foreign institutions, flaunting them in their brochures to attract students. In other words, it will encourage private capital of the corporate houses already enthusiastically minting money from their education business, to find further fillip from this new UGC regulation. Corporatization of education, a mission of the NEP 2020 will move one more step ahead. Only the well-wishing columnists may think, the UGC may have to monitor the quality of academic delivery in such programmes. Of course, in vain!
The ground reality is, the regulation leads to several contradictory points. It is assumed that ‘learners’ (the term follows usage by the World Bank, DPEP etc., that shuns the term students) can broaden their knowledge and skill base and become experts in more than one field of study. …Hence, they can have greater ‘job options’, with broadening of ‘their career prospects’. In a country with ‘record figure’ of unemployment, does job option depend on what the students or job seekers know, or on the availability of jobs? Is it not a fact that UG/PG/even Ph.D degree holders stand in the queue of thousands even lakhs of applicants for clerical, even menial posts? Of course, with dual degrees, a job-seeker will be able to flaunt ‘two’, not just ‘one’ credential, but, more likely, to no avail.
It is held that pursuing a dual degree programme allows them (students) to receive an interdisciplinary education that will both diversify and specialize their training and skill, to receive ‘‘mutual credibility’’ for the required courses that overlap in the two programmes. It does not require much brain racking to reach the above conclusion; had there been a triple degree programme, the students would have had still more interdisciplinary advantages. The problem lies elsewhere. First, here it is sometimes held as ‘interdisciplinary advantages’, but the UGC chairperson claims that the Regulation would help Indian students to acquire multidisciplinary education. Whereas modern science has given birth to interdisciplinary approach based on advanced or specialized knowledge of two or more disciplines, such as Molecular Biology being based on biology- organic chemistry-genetics etc, the multidisciplinary approach advocated by the votaries of the NEP 2020 is really a motley of even the least related branches which does not impart comprehensive knowledge on any of the component branches. Which one does the UGC mean: interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary? It is further claimed that in programmes of dual/joint degree or twinning programmes ‘‘one may build a career in either field or could use one’s interdisciplinary knowledge and insight to create a niche career for oneself. It aims at better comprehension of one’s chosen subject of study’’. In the NEP 2020, the policymakers have lamented a lot on slump in quality and comprehensive knowledge in students in recent time. If that be the condition with students striving for a ‘single degree’, one may wonder how will a fractured attention between two degrees enhance comprehension!
However, be it interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary, there remain more notes of caution. One of those is that dual degree will not guarantee students’ earnings to be higher than those opting for single degrees. Rather, dual degrees will require more credits (meaning lectures or lab-work) than a single degree does. Naturally the students must spend more time in college and more money in higher education. Moreover, students might find it difficult to maintain a part time job while studying in a dual degree programme. In both the cases, education becomes more costly.
Besides, even the flag-bearers of this regulation apprehend that equal interest in two fields of study may lead to confusion later as to which area of study may finally be chosen for a career. On the contrary, it is also claimed at the same time that dual degree programme will be a good option for those who chalk out a clear plan for their future career with more available career options. How do the two fit with each other: ‘two fields’ leading to ‘confusions’ or two fields providing ‘more career options’, thus turning out to be a ‘good option’?
At some point, the proponents of dual degree hold that those students may be able to develop excellent time management skills. Elsewhere, they conclude that dual degree does demand more commitment while acquiring apt time management skills as one must adapt to alternative teaching styles and sometimes language barriers too. Sometimes it may become difficult to balance one’s heavy accelerated course load—to find time to dedicate oneself with passion for the subject and the intensive intellectual obligation to fully learn, and for the academic requirements of both degrees in a limited time. Learners (students) trying to earn many credits in a short period may experience high levels of stress and stricter schedule. Failing to complete that number of classes, they may not be able to stay on their initial timeline, that is, they may fail in their time management schedule. So dual degree leads to spending more time for those, more money, more stress and, may be, eventual frustration!
A dual degree programme may not suit every learner’s requirement. This may serve the purpose of those who have a strong drive to attain degrees with additional workload. It may be more suited for those who are oriented towards higher studies and research work. Even now, do not such students studying for a single degree, take up short or bridge courses on any subject, they may find necessary for their higher studies and research work?
But pertinent questions left unanswered above are: for what and why is this UGC regulation?
The move did not come out of the blue. It is a part of a neatly designed conspiracy. Towards the fag end of 2015, the BJP-led Union government submitted to the WTO its ‘offers’ for ‘market access’ in ‘Higher education Sub-sector’. By that, it opened up the education sector, or more precisely the higher education sub-sector of the country to the WTO- GATS regime.
Now, the WTO is a machinery that enforces imperialist diktats and the GATS (The General Agreement on Trade in Services) under the WTO is the treaty to extend the multilateral global trading system to service sector. These are the means evolved and made active by the capitalists-imperialists particularly during the days of globalization-privatization- liberalization. But the myth of globalization has vanished into thin air. The capitalist-imperialist world now needs newer and newer trickeries and treacheries to carry on smoothly the fruitless efforts towards getting over market crisis, industrial stagnation and economic recession. The India government, acting as the political manager of the ruling monopolists, preferred to dance happily to the tunes and diktats of the big imperialist powers and their ancillaries like the WTO, World Bank, etc.
So, while in 2015 they offered Higher education Sub-sector to the WTO-GATS thus shoving it into the vagaries of global market, in 2016 they promulgated the ‘‘joint degree— twinning programme regulation’’. But the path did not prove smooth for them. They needed to ease the rules. In the broader sphere of total economy too, the Union government hectically moved towards simplification and liberalization of FDI-related rules and norms relating to 15 major sectors of the Indian economy, including vital ones like construction, defence, banking, single brand retail trade and wholesale trade for small and medium scale industries etc. These were clearly oriented towards opening up the economy, even national security to the multinationals as well as imperialist powers. Along with those, they took up the education sector as a part of the same game plan or the same conspiracy. So, there was one amendment after another to reach the present 2022 amendment referred to above. Notwithstanding all verbiages, the move is directed towards protecting and promoting the interests of Indian and foreign corporate houses to pursue trade in education in the global market at the cost of the interests of majority of students-teachers and people of the country. Such a move can only snatch the minimum education of any worth from the Indian people and bring disaster to the traditionally acclaimed academic and pedantic glory of the country, as well.
The above narration presents in brief some of the problems that the gorgeous regulation of the UGC may pose while advocating dual, joint degrees and twinning programmes. The motive is also indicated. These make the ‘Combo learning’ (for dual or joint degree or twinned programme; The Statesman) a jumbo project to plumb the extent to which education of the country can be handed over to the corporate houses of the country and abroad, the bird’s eye being the USA. NEP 2020 is its origin; the UGC the foster-father. It will rear a handful of rich students academically well-groomed for life to be used by the government as a brand for India in the global market of the education service sector, courtesy WTO-GATS and World Bank. It will require more money for studies, forsaking of part-time jobs even if the students may be needing those, more time, more stress. Thus, it will add to ever-deepening privatization-corporatization of education discriminating and depriving those handfuls from the hapless overwhelming majority. Pity! In the NEP 2020 and in the ‘heart-to-heart’ talk, from ministers to even the prime minister, the government exhorts students not to run after degrees; but allures them with a goal of earning not just one, but more than one degree: dual, joint or twinned, the terms are immaterial. This goal can be reached by only those who can satisfy the demands of the corporate houses, financial, academic, work-hours put in or anything else.
(Sources: The Statesman, 20-04-22. The Indian Express, 21-04-22, The Hindu, 19-04-22, 21-04-22)