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[NEW DELHI] Indian researchers fear that new guidelines requiring Indian universities to seek clearance from the federal government before inviting scholars from abroad, or entering into collaboration with foreign educational institutions, will curb academic freedom and add unnecessary red tape.

The Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) issued the guidelines early this year, citing “national interests from political security and sensitivity angle”. India’s 16 central universities are now required to seek permission from the ministry before signing agreements with foreign institutes.

“The move is not only unprecedented in the history of Indian universities, but also [a] retrograde [step],” says Prathap Narain Srivastava, former vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and member of the Indian National Science Academy.

“At most, the restrictions should have been imposed [only] in sensitive areas. This across-the-board move will make university functioning impossible. It is like throwing the baby away with bath tub”.

The requirement to seek prior permission from the ministry will inevitably lead to huge delays and increased bureaucracy, warns Yash Pal, former chairman of the University Grants Commission. “Such moves are usually counter-productive,” he says, adding "Let us see how they operate this”.

The guidelines stipulate that when applying for foreign collaboration, Indian universities need to provide details of activities to be undertaken, funding estimates, and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation.

Universities will also need to obtain permission to invite foreign scholars, including visiting professors and participants in international conferences.

Source: SciDev.Net