When Sarika (name changed) spent Rs. 25 lakh to complete a BA in fashion design in 2014 from Pearl Academy, little did she realise that the degree certificate she was awarded by the institute in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University (NTU) would not be formally recognised in India. She was made aware of the fact by the export house she was working in. Wanting to lay off staff, her manager showed her a letter from the Association of Indian Universities (AIU); questioning the validity of her degree, and terminated her services.
The AIU, a body which has the mandate to issue equivalence certificates of foreign degrees to match them with degrees awarded by Indian universities, refused to recognise Sarika’s degree as valid and also did not issue an equivalence certificate to her.
“It has been observed from the papers that the candidate has passed her bachelor’s from Nottingham Trent University, UK, from their Indian centre through Pearl Academy, Delhi, in 2014. As per the matter of policy, AIU does not issue Equivalence Certificate for the degrees awarded by foreign universities in India,” reads the AIU letter.
AIU and UGC (University Grants Commission) norms require institutes to be affiliated to universities or follow Foreign Educational Institution Regulations 2012; many institutes are attracting applicants on the basis of their ‘international degree’ offers, and charging fees ranging from `10 lakh to Rs. 25 lakh. Some of the Indian and international institutes’ collaborations include the Indian Institute of Art and Design with Kingston University (London); GD Goenka World Institute with Lancaster University; International Institute of Fashion Design with Istituto Di Moda Burgo (Milan, Italy); Mod’Art India with Mod’Art (Paris); Lisaa School of Design, Delhi, with Lisaa School of Design (France); Raffles Millennium International, New Delhi, with Raffles (Singapore); IMS Design and Innovation Academy with Pearson Education, UK; Picasso Animation College with Centennial College, Toronto, Canada; among others.
When HT Education sent emails and made phone calls to the Indian institutes and asked for clarity on the regulatory provisions under which they were offering degrees, no one except Pearl Academy responded. Admitting that the degree it offers in collaboration with NTU has no legal approval in India, Pearl Academy, however, claimed that it followed international standards and ensured quality assurance.
When this correspondent visited Pearl Academy’s training centre in Naraina Industrial Area in Delhi and claimed to be the brother of a girl who wanted to join the institute, the counsellor asked him to pay 60% extra fee and get a recommendation from an export house as all the seats were filled up and admissions could only be done under a special category. When asked if the degree would be valid in any university in India for postgraduation courses, the counsellor said, “These are international degrees. They may not be valid in India but they are valid worldwide. We have been offering these degrees for several years but no one has ever questioned their validity.”
Any joint degree agreement between an Indian institute (not a university) and international university violates of UGC Act 1956, UGC’s Foreign Educational Institution Regulations 2012 and Assocation of Indian Universities provisions to collaborate with foreign universities and grant degrees. Section 22 (1) of UGC Act of 1956 states that degrees can only be awarded by a university established under a Central act, a state act or an institution deemed to be a university under section 3 or an institution especially empowered by an Act of Parliament.
“These institutes (mentioned above) are not universities. Their collaboration with an international institute is in violation of UGC’s Foreign Educational Institution Regulations 2012 which makes it mandatory for any institute to affiliate with a university, have NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) accreditation and get MoUs signed with foreign institutions approved by UGC. Under whose permission have universities like NTU and Lancaster entered India?”asks a senior UGC official. When asked about the process of acquiring an equivalence certificate for a degree awarded by a foreign university, Prof Furqan Qamar, secretary general, AIU says one of the conditions is that the “student should have pursued the programme of the study full time as a regular student on the campus of the foreign university.” Students of many of these private Indian institutes were not full-time, regular students on the campus of the foreign university, “AIU shall not be able to accord equivalence to such qualifications,” says Prof Qamar.
Degrees granted for technical education would only be valid if “the institute (in question) collaborating with the foreign university is affiliated to an Indian university. Tripartite MoUs signed among three parties – the institute, the university it’s affiliated to and the foreign university – should have the AICTE’s nod,” says Avinash Pant, chairman (officiating), AICTE.
‘Pearl a leading institute’
When asked about the provision under which Pearl Academy was granting joint degrees to the students in India, Sharad Mehra, chief executive officer, agrees that as far as validity is concerned the Pearl-Nottingham Trent University degree is not valid under the present regulatory framework for granting degrees in India. However, he says, “Pearl Academy strives to be amongst the leading global institutes in design, fashion and creative business education through continuous innovation, high quality standards and delightful experience to students, employees and industry partners. With a focus on student outcomes we have for the last 22 years trained over 6,000 students to become productive members of society.”
The institute, Mehra says, has, “From 1993, developed our quality systems in accordance with the requirements of the British Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and our Academic Standards and Quality Control team works across all campuses to ensure that.”
Mehra adds that every course undergoes a rigorous curriculum approval process which engages industry, faculty, alumni and current students.