India currently has only a handful of such agreements with other nations, covering just a few disciplines, such as chartered accountancy with Australia. The list is small as the government has been unsure of reciprocal recognition of educational qualifications, given its strict policy of not favouring syllabi drastically different from India's. In 2016, a human resource development ministry-appointed committee had again recommended that for Indian students returning with a foreign professional degree, the present process of seeking approval for recognition from the professional councils concerned should continue.
The agreement is also expected to strengthen India’s hand in the ongoing trade negotiations, a significant number of which are stuck over the issue of market access for Indian services.
The government has also raised concerns with Singapore, South Korea and Japan that despite signing services deals as part of free trade agreements (FTAs), India is not benefiting, since they refuse to sign MRAs recognising professional degrees issued by Indian educational institutions. Earlier this year, the prime minister had called for the Asean grouping to sign an MRA, once an FTA was signed.
“While most trading partners have asked India to identify premium institutions with which MRAs could be signed, our position so far had been that we could not prefer one institution to the other, since we are a democratic country,” said a senior commerce ministry official who did not wish to be named.
The proposed agreement would allow India the space to take a tougher stand, he added. For, the French academic system has a high level of international acceptance and the development would be noted elsewhere.
In the educational arena, the move could see more of Indian students eyeing France, especially as Britain has been hit by ‘Brexit’ and growing cases of intolerance have dimmed America’s appeal. France is the third most popular destination for students but only 4,200 Indians are enrolled in French universities, while only a few hundred French students study at Indian ones. The French government has aimed to raise this to 10,000 Indian students by 2020.
Investments from France
Macron is expected to be accompanied by his ministers for defence and energy-environment, beside a large business delegation.
There has been a slight upswing in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from France into India, as investors have pumped in $614 million (nearly Rs 40 billion) in 2016-17, up from $598 million in the year before. This is expected to go up with French firms reportedly interested in setting up shop in India in the fields of defence, infrastructure and green energy. "We have most of the solutions to the challenges India faces in sectors like defence, infrastructure for rail, roads, ports, renewable energy, and waste & water management. We can provide technologies in these sectors," MEDEF (Movement of the Enterprises of France) President Pierre Gattaz said.
Total investments from France into India since 2000 have totalled $6.18 billion, the ninth-highest among all countries that invest in India. "For the French Trade Commission, 2018 will be a major year as we plan to launch about 30 trade events during the course of the year", says Sophie Clavelier, country head of Business France. According to the French embassy, there are more than 1,000 French establishments in the country which are primarily linked to about 394 major companies.
Taking into account the lead role taken up by both France and India in establishing the International Solar Alliance, Macron will also attend a solar power summit on Sunday before heading to Mirzapur, near Varanasi, to inaugurate a 100-Mw solar power plant, the largest in Uttar Pradesh.