Does The Value Of Your Degree Depend On The Color Of Your Skin?
This paper will address issues of acceptance of three-year Bachelor’s Degrees from government-recognized institutions of higher education in India primarily as credentials for admission to Master’s degree programs at Regionally Accredited institutions in the United States of America. It will argue that there is a strong case for regarding high academic performance in the three-year Indian bachelor’s degree as an acceptable qualification for admission to a Master’s degree program in the United States, and for regarding the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree as an equivalent to a bachelor’s degree earned in the United States for all other purposes. We suggest that the current policy of universities and some foreign credential evaluators in the United States regarding the Indian degree may be in need of revision.
The URLs cited in this document were correct as of 1 July 2005.
The Indian Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree
The present Indian system of higher education owes much to India’s pre-1947 past under British rule. Following the practise of the senior British universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge, London and Durham, Indian universities instituted a three-year duration for their first degrees. It is for this reason particularly that we will seek to compare the treatment of holders of Indian three-year degrees to holders of British three-year degrees.
The most usual three-year bachelor’s degrees encountered in India are those of Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) (which may be awarded with or without classed honors) and Bachelor of Science (B.S. or B.Sc.) In addition to these qualifications, there are other bachelor’s degrees that are awarded after a four-year course, such as Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.) and Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech.), and second or higher bachelor’s degrees such as the Bachelor of Library Science (B.L.S.) which require another bachelor’s degree as a pre-requisite for entry.
The three-year Indian Bachelor of Arts degree often represents well in excess of the 1800 contact hours that are usual for a bachelor’s degree at a regionally accredited institution in the United States. For example, at the highly regarded Banasthali Vidyapith university for women, the Bachelor of Arts structure cites the following contact hours:
This position may provide a significant reason to regard these Indian three-year B.A.s as of equivalent or higher standing than their U.S. counterparts, notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. degree is spread over four rather than three years. The U.S. four-year bachelor’s degree commonly represents 1800 hours and 180 credits, which is significantly less than the Indian three-year degrees referenced above.
Indian high school
The Indian program of secondary education extends over twelve years, like that in the United States, but unlike that in the United Kingdom, which also awards three-year bachelor’s degrees whilst having a thirteen-year program of secondary education. The Indian system culminates in a wide variety of school-leaving examinations, of which the Standard XII examinations are the most prominent. One argument against the acceptance of the three-year Indian bachelor’s degree put forward by some who, by contrast, do accept the British three-year degree, is that Indian Standard XII qualifications are not equivalent to British A levels. Accordingly we sought to establish the policy of British universities as far as accepting the Indian Standard XII as the equivalent of British A levels for the purpose of admission to a bachelor’s program was concerned.
British undergraduate admissions are centralized through the national Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (U.C.A.S.) U.C.A.S. details its policy on the acceptance of Indian school-leaving qualifications in its publication “International Qualifications for entry to Higher Education (2005 Entry).” On page 17, it indicates that a good performance at Standard XII is an acceptable qualification for entry to a bachelor’s degree program at a British university,
“All India Senior School Certificate Examination (SSC)
Higher Secondary School Certificate
All India Senior Secondary School Certificate
Indian School Certificate (ISC)
Students with high scores (75%) at Standard XII from the Central Board of Secondary Education and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination may satisfy entry requirements, provided an appropriate standard of English has been attained.”
Acceptance of the Indian three-year Bachelor’s degree in the United Kingdom
A number of recognized and well-regarded British universities will accept an Indian three-year bachelor’s degree for entry to a Master’s program. Examples include the following:
QUEEN MARY AND WESTFIELD COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
Master's degrees (all one year)
3-year undergraduate bachelor degree with upper second class Honours or above from a recognized central or state university.
UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER
General postgraduate taught programme entry requirements
Students who have completed a minimum of a three-year degree and who have obtained First Class at a reputable university are considered for postgraduate study. Please note that there are additional requirements for the MBA.
General postgraduate research programme entry requirements
Students who have completed a minimum of a three-year degree and who have obtained First Class from a reputable university are considered for postgraduate research programmes.
ANGLIA POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY
Masters/Postgraduate Programmes (M.A., M.Sc., LL.M.)
Success in one of the following plus the English Language requirement:
- 3-year Indian Bachelors or 4-year Bachelor of Engineering or Bachelor of Technology
Conferred by a Central university, Indian Institute of Science or Technology, or Centre of Advanced Study.
- With a minimum standard in Division II.
- In subjects relevant to the discipline area that you wish to study at APU.
Our research also established that the following universities, based on their published regulations for admission, would consider those who had achieved highly in any Indian bachelor’s degree, with specific individual requirements often made as to the standard of classed honors or grades obtained:
University of Bristol • University of York • University of Brighton • London Metropolitan University • University of Greenwich • University of Stirling • Middlesex University • University of Exeter • University of Portsmouth • University of Birmingham • Leeds Metropolitan University • University of Westminster • University of Salford • University of Warwick • University of Newcastle • University of Luton • London School of Economics, University of London • Loughborough University • University of Central Lancashire • Brunel University • University of Liverpool
A number of other universities specifically stated that they would not accept the Indian three-year Bachelor’s degree, and would only accept an Indian four-year degree or an Indian Master’s degree for entry to a Master’s program.
We found one example of a holder of an Indian three-year bachelor’s degree who had been admitted to read for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford.
Principles of degree equivalency evaluation
The argument that Indian students complete twelve rather than thirteen years of secondary education is frequently used as a cause for not granting the three-year bachelor’s degree equivalency with a bachelor’s degree issued in the United States.
However, in “General Guiding Principles for Good Practise in the Assessment of Foreign Credentials”, prepared by the Canadian Provincial Assessment Committee, a strict year-for-year equivalency is stated as not always applicable if the content of the course (in this case, the contact hours in particular) justifies particular consideration,
“35. Each academic year of study, as recognized by the official designated authority in the country of origin, should in general be granted no more than one academic year of recognition. However, this year-to-year comparison may be overruled by other factors, such as education outcomes, or the structure and content of the educational program.”
The Council of Europe, in its “Recommendation on Criteria and Procedures for the Assessment of Foreign Qualifications” (adopted by the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee at its second meeting, Rīga, 6 June 2001), states the following,
“41. The assessment of a foreign qualification should focus on the qualification for which recognition is sought. Previous levels of education should be considered only where these levels have a serious bearing on the outcome of the assessment and should, as far as possible, be limited to qualifications of a level immediately preceding the qualification for which recognition is sought.”
and qualifies this statement specifically (our italics),
“The most pertinent example is perhaps that deficiencies in an applicant's secondary school leaving qualifications may affect his or her first degree qualifications, or partial qualifications at first degree level, to such an extent that full recognition at first degree level cannot be granted. However, it should be emphasized that this would be an exceptional situation.”
These recommendations indicate that an equivalency evaluation of the Indian three-year Bachelor’s degree that is based on the number of years of secondary schooling without taking into account its content in terms of contact hours risks producing an inaccurate outcome and one that does not reflect the academic content of the degree undertaken. Can the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree be regarded as an exceptional circumstance? We would argue against this in view of the issue of contact hours and the practise of specific institutions in both the United States and the United Kingdom as discussed elsewhere in this paper.
A parallel may be found in terms of those bachelor’s degree programs in the United States that allow an accelerated route to that award, such as the programs of Thomas Edison State College, NJ, Charter Oak State College, CT, and Excelsior College, NY. All permit the bachelor’s degree to be awarded after a candidacy that is often substantially shorter than three years where the assessment of prior learning is taken into account, but the standards under which they do so are comparable to those applied to graduates of a traditional four-year program. It is the academic content, not the duration of the program, that should count.
U.N.E.S.C.O. has produced several instruments concerned with the international recognition of qualifications. The “Recommendation on the Recognition of Studies and Qualifications” was adopted by the General Conference of U.N.E.S.C.O. in 1993, and is thus applicable to both India and the United States as U.N.E.S.C.O. member states. Among its provisions are the following,
“1(e) “recognition” of a foreign qualification in higher education means its acceptance by the competent authorities of the State concerned (whether they be governmental or non-governmental) as entitling its holder to be considered under the same conditions as those holding a comparable qualification awarded in that State and deemed comparable, for the purposes of access to or further pursuit of higher education studies, participation in research, the practice of a profession if this does not require the passing of examinations or further special preparation, or all the foregoing, according to the scope of the recognition;
9. Member States should take all feasible steps within the framework of their national systems and in conformity with their constitutional, legal and regulatory provisions to encourage the competent authorities concerned to give recognition, as defined in paragraph 1(e), to qualifications in higher education that are awarded in the other Member States, with a view to enabling their holders to pursue further studies, training or training for research in their institutions of higher education, subject to all academic admission requirements obtaining for nationals of that State. Member States should also take steps to define procedures for the recognition, as defined in paragraph 1(g), of partial studies carried out in higher education institutions in the other States, for the purpose of the pursuit of higher education. In evaluating a qualification obtained abroad for the purpose of further studies, authorities should take into account the stages of study in the country in which the qualification was obtained, in order to permit people having completed one stage to continue to the next stage when they move to another country. Admission to an institution of higher education for the purpose of pursuing further studies, may, nevertheless, be dependent on other conditions, such as the availability of places, the passing of entrance examinations, or adequate knowledge of the language of instruction.”
These provisions indicate that if a three-year bachelor’s degree is recognized as an appropriate qualification for admission to a master’s program in India, as it is on an equal footing with Indian four-year bachelor’s degrees, it should be so recognized in the United States.
Kallur, Paver and Watkins, whilst not explicitly arguing for equivalence between the Indian three-year and US bachelor’s degrees, nonetheless concede some important points,
“The Indian system presupposes that general education (pre-major studies) occur at the Intermediate level. The Indians liken it to the two years of Sixth Form in Britain leading to the GCE Advanced Level Examinations that conclude pre-university studies.
The problem is that in Britain that represents 13 years of primary/secondary education while in India it is 12 as in the USA. Thus, US analysts see this as Grades 11 and 12 (albeit very much like AP course work) and offer no credit for this study. The Indian first degree syllabus, therefore, looks much more like what one expects to see in the second, third, and fourth years of a U.S. degree program. General, distributed education is not present. At most, the Indian college student will have some ancillary subjects (these could be likened to a minor in the USA) or perhaps one or two key courses in an allied field that are vital to progression in the chosen field (economics for most business fields). Also, compulsory subjects such as English and a native language (usually, though certainly not always, Hindi) are found in the first, and, occasionally, the second years. Consequently, the final number of hours for the chosen subject will be much more than is the case in the US.”
The issues of British parallels or their absence are discussed in depth in this paper. In as much as issues of general education within bachelor’s programs in the U.S. are concerned, the A.C.T.A. report “ The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum: A Fifty College Study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni,” is relevant.
A parallel in the Bologna process
The Bologna process is being introduced in the European Union and will bring about a three-year duration for all participating first degree programs. In an article by Mariam Assefa of World Education Services (W.E.S.) (an established foreign credential evaluator in the United States) and Robert Sedgwick, Editor of World Education News and Reviews (W.E.N.R.), the equivalency of such three-year programs to four-year bachelor’s programs in the United States was addressed,
“The number of years of study is merely one of the elements that define the structure of a program. In this particular case, the discrepancy in the number of years between the Italian [three year] and U.S. [four year] bachelor's degrees is outweighed by the similarities between the two programs.
Failure to recognize the Bologna bachelor's degree solely because it is a three-year qualification would leave U.S. graduate schools no choice but to reject candidates who apply for admission using these degrees, even when their records demonstrate that they have completed more than enough subjects in their discipline, have achieved the same skills and level of knowledge as their U.S. counterparts, and would very likely succeed at the graduate level. Such decisions would not only lack any academic merit, but they would also have profound and negative implications for international academic mobility.”
United States universities that will consider holders of the Indian three-year Bachelor’s degree for admission to Master’s programs
We surveyed a sample of regionally accredited universities in the United States to establish their policy on acceptance of the three-year Indian degree for entry to a Master’s program. Among the universities which were prepared to consider an applicant holding this qualification with an appropriately distinguished academic record were,
Harvard University • Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) • Georgetown University • I.M.P.A.C. University • Huntingdon College of Health Sciences • The American Graduate School of Management • Ashworth College (if evaluated as equivalent by an acceptable foreign credential evaluator) • Grantham University • Hult International Business School • New York Chiropractic College • Kellogg Business School ( Northwestern University) • Fuqua Business School ( Duke University) • Tuck Business School ( Dartmouth University) • Goizueta Business School ( Emory University) • Carnegie Mellon University • Aspen University
Privately, some other institutions have stated that if the student’s three-year degree is evaluated as equivalent to a U.S. bachelors degree they would consider the student for admission.
Karin Thompson, Assistant Director, Office of Graduate Admissions at Georgetown University responded to our inquiry as follows,
“At Georgetown University we evaluate all three year degree applicants on a case by case basis. We look at the school the degree was received from, the courses the student took, and the grades received. If the rest of the student's application is strong and competitive in the applicant pool and we feel the coursework the student took at the University is sufficient, then we will admit a student who only has a three year degree.”
The website of
“There are a number of universities around the world that offer 3-year undergraduate programs. If you received a bachelor's degree upon completion of one of these undergraduate programs, you are eligible to apply to Wharton's MBA program. Many candidates from 3-year programs have a master's degree as well, but it is not required.”
Leo Sweeney, Assistant Vice Chancellor (Retired) and Consultant for the International Student Affairs Office at the University of Missouri-Kansas City advocated the acceptance of the three-year degree in his reply to us,
“As one of the advocates for the acceptance of the Indian 3-year degrees for graduate admission consideration, I welcome the chance to be part of your research project.
Generally we do accept 3-year bachelor’s degrees for graduate admission consideration from educational systems that we consider to be of sufficient quality as to justify such consideration and particularly when the alternative would be to require the applicants also to possess either one year of a master’s degree or the full master's degree in addition to the 3-year degree that they have earned.”
Margaret Crotty, Director of Recruiting at Hult International Business School, wrote as follows,
“We have accepted students already from 3 year universities in India, and they have been very successful, and are very interested in recruiting Indian students. For your information, I have attached the transcript of an Indian publication's interview with our Asia Director of Recruiting showing our commitment to Indian students. As you know, Hult was founded in 1964 as the Arthur D. Little School of Management and offers a one-year MBA program in Boston. Hult has been the top-ranked one-year MBA in the US by the Economist for the past 2 years.”
Dr Robert Royal, Graduate Dean of the Catholic Distance University, indicated that he would consider individuals on a case-by-case basis,
“I cannot say in advance whether I would or would not recognize a 3-year Indian degree. It would probably depend on the individual and the program. If you want to send some candidates our way, I'll be happy to review them. But we do not make promises with anyone, even in the United States , in advance.”
A small number of graduate schools had a “bridge program” where the graduate of the 3 year program was admitted into the graduate school but had to take additional classes to make up for the “deficit” of their degree.
In some cases, this was a 30 credit undergraduate program within the graduate program, as at Eastern Michigan University. Others required only a minimal number of additional hours such as the University of Dallas College of Business.
The Texas board of teacher certification would accept the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree if evaluated by an approved credential evaluator.
It was interesting to note that in many other cases the U.K. and French three-year degrees were accepted as equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree and only the Indian and Pakistani degrees were not. This raises the question of whether such decisions in admission may be deemed to be racially discriminatory rather than based on sound academic arguments.
Specific arguments against the acceptance of the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree raised by foreign credential evaluators in the United States
We commissioned an Indian firm to conduct a survey to support our investigation. The firm approached a cross-section of foreign credential evaluators in the United States to inquire as to their policy with regard to evaluation the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree, stating that they were doing research for an essay. In the follow-ups, the firm indicated to those surveyed that the results of the research were going to be published. We also canvassed the opinions of clients of foreign credential evaluators who held Indian three-year degrees.
None of the members of N.A.C.E.S. who were approached were willing to grant equivalency to a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution in the United States, although we heard anecdotally that one, W.E.S., had been interested in doing so.
In this process, we encountered a number of the objections to equivalency that have already been discussed.
James Frey, Ed.D., President of Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc., commented thus,
“Contrary to your statement, a degree from a three-year “Bologna Process” bachelor's degree program in Europe will NOT be accepted as a degree by the majority of universities in the United States. Similarly, the majority do not accept a bachelor's degree from a three-year program in India or any other country except England. England is a unique situation because of the specialized nature of Form VI.”
Frey refers to the English G.C.E. A level school-leaving qualification, a two-year course usually in three or four subjects that is a common route to university entrance. However, British universities have become increasingly open to a much wider variety of qualifications for entry to a bachelor’s program. Recognised vocational, professional and other qualifications are growing in popularity in the U.K., and are all considered accepted qualifications for admission to bachelor’s programs at British universities by the national universities application system, U.C.A.S. U.C.A.S. lists such qualifications in its “UK Qualifications For Entry to Higher Education 2005” and on page 10 states,
“Applicants to HE [higher education] are now likely to come from a diverse range of backgrounds and bring with them a varied range of qualifications. Work-related qualifications, evidence of learning over a longer period of time, greater breadth of learning and changes in the structure of qualifications are all likely to be of increasing importance to HE admissions.
If HE is to be able to recognise potential and treat all applicants with equity and on their merits, admissions staff need to be as familiar with these qualifications as they are with GCE A level. In future, HEIs [higher education institutions] are likely to need to meet rigorous targets for attracting students from a variety of learning pathways, so will need to understand fully the nature of those routes into HE if they are to widen participation successfully without compromising standards.”
Vocational and professional qualifications enable students who have not taken A levels to enter a British university bachelor’s degree course. Were these routes to be disregarded, we would again see a position that was at odds with the Council of Europe and Canadian recommendations on prior education that are cited above, and possibly a bias in favor of those who had taken A levels rather than those who had not, whatever their performance in their bachelor’s program, that would be openly discriminatory given the equal status that British universities themselves accord these awards when considering them at admission.
When Frey was asked to comment on the W.E.N.R. paper discussed earlier, his response was this,
“What does ‘functionally equivalent’ mean?
Is the moon functionally equivalent to the sun? (Both provide light.)
Is a motorbike functionally equivalent to a motorcycle? (Both provide automated transportation.)
A university degree represents completion of a quantity of education. In the United States, a bachelor's degree represents completion of a four-year or five-year program of full-time university study. In our judgment, a program of study in another country has to represent completion of a minimum of four years of full-time university study to be the equivalent of a bachelor's degree program in the United States.”
Thus it is indicated that E.C.E. looks literally at the number of years of education involved in obtaining a qualification rather than at its content. This is at odds with the Council of Europe’s recommendations quoted earlier.
International Education Consultants of Delaware, Inc., raise similar objections to those raised by E.C.E.,
“The Indian educational system, along with that of Canada and some other countries, generally adopted the UK-pattern 3-year degree. But the UK retained the important preliminary A level examinations. These examinations are used for advanced standing credit in the UK; we follow their lead, and use those examinations to constitute the an additional year of undergraduate study. The combination of these two entities is equivalent to a 4-year US Bachelor's degree.
The Indian educational system dropped that advanced standing year. You enter a 3-year Indian degree program directly from Year 12 of your education. In the US, there are no degree programs entered from a stage lower than Year 12, and there are no 3-year degree programs. Without the additional advanced standing year, there's no equivalency.”
Again, this position is at odds with the Council of Europe/Canadian recommendations. Furthermore, the position of regarding A levels as an additional year of advanced standing is not borne out consistently in the admission requirements of United States universities, some of which make it clear that they do not consider A levels to merit as much as a full year’s credit in a bachelor’s degree program.
Here, for example, is what the Fulbright Commission has to say to British students thinking of entering a US university:
“Therefore, not all UK courses will necessarily meet the entrance requirements of a US degree course, though it is possible that some level of credit may be given. This, as always, will depend on the individual institution, though it should be noted that regardless of which qualification one holds it will be necessary to have at least 4 or 5 GCSEs and 2 to 3 A levels before pursuing higher education in the US.
Some qualifications for which credit may be given are as follows:
A-Levels, Scottish Highers and Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS)
A student with A-levels or Scottish Higher Grades may be given credit by the US university and permitted to enter the first year with advanced standing status. Having completed the Scottish Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS) might also be grounds for advanced standing status, although it remains at the discretion of the individual institution to decide if credit will be given and what proof of accomplishment is needed.”
The admissions guidance criteria of Ohio University’s Distance Learning program state,
“A-levels are sufficient for admission to Ohio University provided you have earned a grade of “D” or higher. We recommend that students complete their A-levels. A-levels may be granted some college credit in transfer if you have earned a grade of “B” or higher. Before credit can be awarded, however, we need a certified copy of your actual A-level certificate as well as copies of the exam syllabi. The syllabi would be reviewed by our faculty to determine whether credit should be awarded and, if so, how it should be matched to OU courses.”
Connecticut College offers the following comments on this issue,
“If you have taken a 13th year program like the British A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate, inform the Registrar. You may get credit for the advanced work done in high school. You may wish to enroll in higher level courses that usually require you to take an introductory course beforehand, and you may be allowed to do so if you can prove that in high school you did advanced work in the pertaining area of concern. Therefore, it could be a good idea to bring copies of syllabi for your high school courses from that area of study.”
We have heard from clients of two foreign credential evaluators surveyed that those evaluators currently have a policy of evaluating the three-year Indian bachelor’s degree as the equivalent of a U.S. bachelors degree. In addition, until their chief evaluator moved to Romania in 2004, the American Evaluation Institute, Norman Graduate Institute, similarly evaluated the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree to this equivalence.
We conclude that there are extremely strong arguments for granting equivalence between the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree and the bachelor’s degree as awarded in the United States, and that a number of universities and foreign credential evaluators in the United States are already supportive of this equivalence.
There is therefore a fundamental and urgent need for this issue to be revisited by those institutions and evaluators that do not presently accord such equivalence. The principal reason for this is that, where equivalence is granted to British three-year degrees but denied to their Indian counterparts, this denies the academic equivalence between the two qualifications that is reflected in the admission policies of U.C.A.S. and of the British universities quoted, and is at odds with the credential evaluation recommendations of U.N.E.S.C.O. and the other sources cited.
Furthermore, such a difference in policy, where not made on a sound academic basis, may well be concluded to be racially discriminatory. If the value of your degree is not to depend on the color of your skin, the Indian three-year bachelor’s degree must be accorded its proper value as an international credential.
The good news is that properly evaluated with an expert opinion and a copy of this article that you are reading, we are getting reports that the 3-year degree is meeting with greater acceptance by Universities and the USCIS.
If you are on staff at a graduate program (worldwide) that will consider applicants with a 3 year degree from an Indian University please contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can add your name to the ever growing list of universities that accept the 3 year degree. We will post the list at our websites.
A history of the Indian education system is given at http://alochona.org/magazine/2002/april/special4.htm
From the online prospectus provided at http://www.banasthali.org/banasthali/avs/home/higher/ug_progs/
Canadian Provincial Assessment Committee, 1998, p 9
Ravi Kallur, Ph.D., William Paver, Ph.D., and Robert Watkins, M.A., “Indian Education and The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India with Recommendations”, FCSA report, p5.
“Evaluating the Bologna Degree in the U.S.”, Assefa and Sedgwick, W.E.N.R. Vol 17, Issue 2, March/April 2004, available at http://www.wes.org/ewenr/04March/Feature.htm
Some information also from http://www.essaycom.com/india/3yeardegree.htm
Reprinted with permission from Sheila Danzig.
Sheila Danzigis the director of Career Consulting International, www.TheDegreePeople.com, a foreign credential evaluation agency that evaluates the three-year Indian degree (with adequate contact hours) as equivalent to a US Bachelor’s degree with growing acceptance.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.