India ‘weaponises’ higher education by rejecting Pakistan degrees

Pakistani scholars blast move by India’s University Grants Commission, calling it ‘discriminatory, illogical and unilateral’

May 7, 2022
India-Pakistan border
Source: Getty

Academics have condemned a decision by India’s main higher education body to deter its citizens from studying in Pakistan, saying the move follows politics at the expense of vulnerable students.  

India’s University Grants Commission (UGC), which is responsible for setting standards and maintaining institutional quality, has advised all Indian citizens “not to travel to Pakistan for pursuing higher education” and effectively made any degrees obtained in the country unusable.

“Any Indian national [or] overseas citizen of India who intends to take admission in any degree college [or] educational institution of Pakistan shall not be eligible for seeking employment or higher studies in India on the basis of such educational qualifications in any subject acquired in Pakistan,” the UGC wrote.

For decades, tense political relations have stood in the way of closer academic ties between the two neighbouring countries. In 2001, for example, Pakistan ordered its academics to seek government approval before contacting counterparts in India or accept invitations to conferences or seminars.

India has also historically put limits on academic exchange. But while it previously issued such notices for students studying in the politically disputed Kashmir province, the announcement is far broader in scope than earlier statements.

The move is estimated to affect some 500 Indian students getting their degrees in Pakistan. Relative to India’s massive higher education sector, the number is just a drop in the bucket. But Pakistani academics warned that despite the small number of students involved, the move represented a dangerous politicisation of academia.

Muhammad Murtaza Noor, national coordinator of Pakistan’s Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences, the largest network of Pakistani universities, condemned the move, which he said was “weaponising” higher education.

“Such discriminatory steps…need to be reviewed,” he said, adding that the United Nations should “take notice of such discriminatory, illogical and unilateral policy”.

Professor Noor noted that degrees from Pakistani universities that are recognised by its Higher Education Commission are “acceptable across the globe”, with international students coming to Pakistan in fields such as medicine, engineering and science.

“India will be the only country who will be denying these graduates who completed their degrees after years of long hard work,” he said.

Professor Noor noted that the students affected are particularly vulnerable, with many of them coming from India’s poorer border regions.

“In Pakistan, they were getting cheaper education and in most cases, they are getting scholarships so that despite financial constraints, they are equipping themselves with higher education,” he said.

Muhammad Ali, vice chancellor of Quaid-I-Azam University and chair of Pakistan’s committee of vice chancellors, was equally critical.

“Why should any country across [the] globe close doors?” he asked, adding that higher education “should be above political differences”.

Professor Ali emphasised that continued collaboration on health and education should be a “priority” despite geopolitical tensions. “The exchange of students…can open doors for peaceful settlement of all disputes in [the] long term,” he said.

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