Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants Indian universities to promote doctoral programmes in yoga for foreign students through government fellowships.

Prime Minister chaired a review meeting in March in the run-up to the second International Day of Yoga on June 21. Modi has “desired that an attempt may be made to promote PhD in yoga for foreign students”, according to a letter by Ajit M. Sharan, the secretary in the ministry of ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homeopathy (Ayush), to higher education secretary Vinay Sheel Oberoi.

“I would therefore be grateful if you could kindly issue necessary instructions to the University Grants Commission in this regard,” the letter said.

The Ayush secretary also asked Oberoi to consider award of fellowships to foreign students for doing a PhD in yoga. The Ayush ministry is willing to award fellowships to students.

The UGC today wrote to 700-odd universities in the country to suggest names of foreign students who want to pursue a PhD in this subject. In a letter to vice-chancellors, UGC secretary J.S. Sandhu said the institutions should directly write to the Ayush ministry to get fellowships for foreign students.

Yoga expert Ishwar V. Basavaraddi, also the director of the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga here, said some institutions like the Sagar University and the Gurukul Kangri already offered PhD courses.

At the meeting, Prime Minister Modi said it was important for Indian institutions to promote yoga because it originated in India and several organisations in Europe and the US were trying to sell sub-standard yoga courses to students.

“The Prime Minister wanted foreign students to get the real yoga education in India. So Indian universities need to promote PhDs for them,” Basavaraddi said.

In January, the human resource development ministry set up a panel under H.R. Nagendra, the chancellor of the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana in Bangalore, to suggest how universities could start departments of yogic art and sciences.

The committee has already prepared a standardised syllabus and guidelines to help universities start certificate, PG diploma, master’s and PhD courses. The UGC will soon circulate the syllabus and guidelines to institutions.

The UGC will also include yoga as a subject in the National Eligibility Test this year to select candidates who can teach yoga in universities and colleges.

The HRD ministry is set to ask universities to start department of yogic art and sciences in universities. Currently, 28 universities have such departments.

Yoga has been getting the special attention of the NDA government. Yoga day was organised across all institutions in a big way last year. The NCERT has also published books to promote yoga in schools.

The Ayush ministry has already provided fellowships to 112 foreign students pursuing their PhD in Indian institutions in the last three years.

It is in the process of setting up an All India Institute of Ayurveda in Delhi and a North-Eastern Institute of Ayurveda in Shillong.

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