In what could end up impinging upon the autonomy of higher educational institutions, the Human Resource Development Ministry has proposed that while signing any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for collaboration with foreign universities, Indian institutions must refer to the Ministry of External Affairs’ advisory in context of “national interest”, as well as keep the MHRD “informed”.
This could, however, be completely contrary to Acts governing higher educational institutions like IITs, central universities and NITs which give them the power to enter into academic collaborations with other educational institutions, including foreign ones.
An internal note of the Department of Higher Education on the issue of “consolidated instructions with regard to collaboration with foreign universities for faculty exchange, research projects and other forms of MoUs” states that “in order to have a uniform system that encourages global partnership within the framework of national interest, it is important to be guided by the MEA with regard to nations with which collaboration can be sought”.
“In the case of faculty exchange programmes and research projects partnerships, higher education institutions should always refer to general advisory about countries that the MEA may have in context of national interest. We may request the MEA to provide this ministry regular updates for guidance of higher education institutions with regard to partnership for faculty exchange and research projects with other countries. If the MEA advisory if available on the website, higher education institutions can follow them and go ahead with such partnerships. They shall keep the MHRD informed. Copies of MoUs may also be made available to the MHRD,” it states.
The ministry’s latest proposal is in tune with HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s view. During a retreat of Vice-Chancellors of central universities in Chandigarh last year, presided over by Irani, the ministry had asked all VCs to send MoUs signed by their universities “during the last 20-25 years, within a period of one week”.
This also comes at a time when there is a controversy brewing over IIT-Delhi’s MoU with the Mauritius Research Council for setting up an International Institute of Technology Research Academy in Mauritius, with the ministry claiming the MoU violates the IIT Act. The ministry has set up in inquiry into the MoU.
Interestingly, if finalised, this HRD ministry’s proposal will revisit a ministry order of August 2004 which had withdrawn previous guidelines that mandated central universities, deemed universities and state universities to take permission of MHRD, UGC and concerned state governments for signing MoUs with foreign universities. The guidelines were withdrawn with the ministry noting it was an “unnecessary interference on the autonomy of institutions”.
While the MHRD may be trying to regulate MoUs signed by such institutions and universities, they are all governed by different Acts which give them the freedom to collaborate with foreign universities as they deem fit. For instance, the Central Universities Act, 2009, states that the universities can “cooperate or collaborate or associate with any other university of authority of institutions of higher learning, including those located outside the country, in such manner and for such purposes as the university may determine”.
The IIT Act too states that “subject to the provision of this Act, every institute shall exercise the following powers and perform the following duties, namely to ‘cooperate with educational or other institutions in any part of the world having objects wholly or partly similar to those of the Institute by exchange of teachers and scholars and generally in such manner as may be conducive to their common objects”. The NIT Act, 2007, reads similarly. State universities, meanwhile, are governed by state Acts with most universities having their own Act. The ministry note also says with regard to higher education institutions setting up campuses outside or facilitating setting up campuses outside India, “prior approval of the MoU by the MEA and MHRD shall be a mandatory requirement”. “They cannot proceed ahead without clearances,” it adds.