Foreign diplomats can finally study while posted in India, with the UPA government relaxing rules that till now effectively barred them from pursuing any academic programme at the country's universities.
The move comes after several foreign missions petitioned the Centre against the old regulation, at a time when understanding emerging economies like India and China is a key part of foreign relations for most countries around the world.
"We realised that not only was the regulation outdated, but that it was counterproductive to our aims of getting the world to understand us better," a senior government official told Hindustan Times.
India is host to 365 foreign and international offices and missions where officials hold diplomatic visas.
These include 145 foreign embassies, 29 international multilateral organizations and 191 consulates and trade and industry offices for different countries.
As India's global economic clout has increased over the past decade, the demand from foreign diplomats for an opportunity to pursue academic courses and even research while they are posted here has risen significantly, veterans at the University Grants Commission said.
But in a February 2009 decision, the government decided not to allow them to pursue regular academic courses at Indian universities unless they took up student visas instead of the diplomatic visas they need to work at their missions.
"In effect, we were told that we couldn't study while we were posted here," said a European diplomat who wrote to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) on the regulation.
The government's logic was based on security concerns and worries about possible consequences of the vast differences in rights enjoyed by foreign students and foreign diplomats - who enjoy diplomatic immunity that protests them from several domestic laws.
Under the new decision - which has been communicated to all universities by the UGC - foreign diplomats can study on diplomatic visas.
But they will need to apply to the MEA, which will vet each application and decide whether to allow the diplomat to study at an Indian university.