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‘We are victims of politics’: Students react to India’s advisory against studying in Pakistan

India-Pakistan in education
Top regulatory officials announced on April 22 that Indian nationals who obtained degrees from Pakistani institutions will not have their qualifications recognised, barring them from employment and further studies in India. Source: Arif Ali/AFP

The latest India-Pakistan news in higher education comes as a shocking blow to a number of students. On April 22, 2022, India’s University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) released a joint “public notice” warning all Indian nationals and Indian citizens abroad against pursuing higher education in Pakistan.

Degrees and qualifications obtained from Pakistan will no longer be recognised in India, effectively barring graduates from employment and further studies in the country. An exception will be made for those with Pakistani degrees who have obtained Indian citizenship, said the statement. 

Reactions to the announcement have been mixed amid souring India-Pakistan relations.

Many Indians saw the move as long overdue, citing reasons related to national security behind their support. “Many Kashmiri students preferred Pakistan for higher education but return all radicalised,” tweeted former journalist Monica Verma. 

Students who are directly impacted by the new directive had the opposite response. “We are victims of politics,” a student was quoted saying to the Times of India. The student was studying to become a doctor in Pakistan, but had not been able to return to his campus due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

“If a student who studies in Bangladesh or any other Central Asian country is eligible for jobs and higher education, why have they singled us out? We have already lost a year because of politics. Like other countries, we had to appear for the MCI (Medical Council of India) certification before being eligible for jobs and education,” he added.

India-Pakistan news in higher education

The new directive doesn’t apply to those possessing Pakistani degrees and who have obtained Indian citizenship. Source: Arif Ali/AFP

Another Indian student who finished his MBBS degree in Pakistan two years ago expressed similar concerns. “The order is not clear,” he told TOI. “We studied in Pakistan in the past. Does it bar us from government jobs and higher education as well?”

“Also, there are many students who took admission before this order was passed. What about them? The government must reconsider its decision,” said the student. 

“There are hundreds of students enrolled in different medical colleges of Pakistan and they have no idea now what to do,” a Twitter user wrote. “It’s very unfortunate when students have spent many years in Pakistan to complete [their] medical degree, suddenly UGC issued this notification from nowhere, when they know students still have valid visas to travel to Pakistan.”

Responding to qualifications obtained in the past, UGC chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar has clarified that the new order will not be enforced on a retrospective basis. 

India-Pakistan relations: Kashmiris most likely affected by degree ban

Based on data obtained from India’s Ministry of External Affairs in July 2021, there are 230 Indian students enrolled in Pakistani institutions. Nasir Khuehmi, the founder and president of J&K Students Association, was quoted saying in reports that there are about 1,000 students from Kashmir in Pakistan. The degree ban will make it harder for Kashmiri graduates to land employment in India. 

In September 2020, over 350 students mostly from Jammu and Kashmir applied to cross the border into Pakistan when the country reopened educational institutions after the pandemic lockdown, said TOI. In the previous year, the UGC advised Indian students against accepting offers from universities and colleges in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, as India saw the area as being illegally-occupied by its neighbour. 

The caution reflects the ongoing dispute that has long been one of the main causes of India-Pakistan diplomatic tussles. India has illegally annexed occupied Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5, 2019, to which Pakistan responded by suspending trade with India until May 2020, Dawn.com reports. 

The Indian regulatory bodies rationalised their decision to ban qualifications from Pakistan as a quality control measure.

“Educational standards in India are among the best globally. So, in case students want to study abroad, countries that offer better options should be chosen, instead of countries where the standards may not be high,” Kumar was quoted saying. He further cited the example of Indian students stranded from China and Ukraine as a reason behind the directive, needing to ensure an uninterrupted study experience for Indian nationals.