On January 5, the University Grants Commission (UGC) uploaded an important draft regulation on the ‘Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions (FHEIs) in India’. Feedback, till this month’s end, has been invited before the gazette notification is issued after incorporating constructive suggestions and improvements.
Briefing the press, UGC Chairman M Jagadesh Kumar announced that in keeping with the National Educational Policy 2020, the next step in the internationalisation of Indian higher education would be granting permission to foreign universities to set up campuses in India. As mentioned in NEP 2020, “A legislative framework facilitating such entry will be put in place, and such universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India” (12.8).
Initially, permission would be granted for ten years, with renewal being subject to the fulfilment of requisite conditions. The foreign universities would have the freedom to devise their own curricula and admission process. Only live, full-time classes in physical mode would be permitted, thus ruling out online or distance education. Cross-border movement of funds would be in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). As per the draft, fees are to be “reasonable and transparent”, the presumption being that education is a not-for-profit activity.
As if to allay fears of those suspicious of external intervention, if not influence, Kumar clarified that no foreign university would be allowed to establish an Indian entity or extension without permission from the UGC. Furthermore, the permitted foreign university would “not offer any programme which jeopardises the national interest or the standards of higher education” in India. The draft adds: “The operation of FHEIs shall not be contrary to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency, or morality.”
Two types of foreign universities would be allowed to set up Indian campuses. Top 500 universities fall into the first category. But those who have a high ranking in particular subjects or specialisations or are highly regarded in their respective fields in their “home jurisdiction” would also be eligible. On the basis of the approval of a “Letter of Intent”, the foreign institution would be expected to start setting up their Indian campus and building infrastructure within a period of two years.
Furthermore, foreign faculty appointed to teach in the Indian campus would be expected to live in India, not just come in from time to time from abroad. Kumar added that foreign varsities will also have to ensure the quality of education imparted at their Indian campuses is on par with their main campus. There would also be safeguards in place to protect enrolled students in case of unforeseen disruption, discontinuation, or closure of the Indian campus. The draft regulations, which include the requirement of the submission of an Annual Report and maintenance of annual accounts, also empower UGC not only to permit, but also to inspect, regulate, interpret, and terminate FHEIs.
The UGC’s latest move follows its notification of May 2, 2022 on academic collaboration between Indian and Foreign Higher Educational Institutions. Under that notification, three possibilities are offered for collaboration between Indian and foreign universities. First, the “Twinning Programme”, which enables an Indian institution to partner with universities abroad. The second possibility is the “Joint Degree Programme”. Here, both the Indian and the foreign university will jointly develop curricula, but award one degree upon the completion of the course. The third possibility, the “Dual Degree Programme”, is to be jointly designed and offered by both institutions, with two separate degrees being offered on the completion of the requirements of both programmes. In a recent development, our world-recognised Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), will also be starting operations overseas under the new brand name “India International Institute of Technology”.
All these developments will revolutionise and internationalise Indian higher education like never before. They must therefore be welcomed. When it comes to foreign universities setting up Indian campuses, which is probably the most game-changing of these moves, UGC will have to upgrade its regulatory apparatus considerably. Several leading foreign universities already have India offices. For speedy and responsible clearance of “Letters of Intent”, however, the present sluggish and quasi-governmental bureaucratic set up of UGC may not prove equal to the task.
Most of its officials have little experience when it comes to foreign educational institutions, let alone studying abroad. A similar difficulty may present itself when it comes to the yearly review, campus visits, and other forms of monitoring and intervention. Political interference in the name of ideological conformity to ruling party doctrines or, contrarily, the real dangers of interference and influence from abroad cannot be underestimated either.
Foreign universities in India, moreover, will pose a huge challenge to Indian public and private universities. The former, especially in humanities and social studies, may continue to attract good students, especially from disadvantaged sections. Foreign universities will presumably not have reservations. Those seeking quota benefits, therefore, will be confined to state-funded universities.
But this also means that those who can afford it will clearly prefer foreign universities over their Indian counterparts, even the private ones already established in India whose fees are very high already.
The latter are often owned by powerful business houses or politicians. It will not be surprising if they try to curb or contain the foreign institutions from getting a level playing field in India. Protectionism of domestic industry is a powerful factor to contend with for any administration, whether in business and industry or in the currently liberalising private sector in higher education.
Those who are lobbying against English are, once again, about to be upstaged. Foreign universities, like the best of private universities, will opt not only for English as their medium of education but also global standards of curricula, pedagogy, and research. Forces opposing them, be they brokers of backwardness or identity mongers, are likely to try to impose their own agendas, whether driven by religious, linguistic, caste, or regional considerations.
But the present regime has grabbed the bull by its horns. If the Indian higher education sector truly opens up, it will be one step forward in India’s aspiration to become a knowledge society again, if not actually a vishwa-guru.
Not protectionism and shuttering our intellectual borders, but competition and collaboration with the best will help usher in a true Indian renaissance.
Makarand R Paranjape
Professor of English at JNU
(Views are personal)