The University Grants Commission’s announcement allowing foreign universities to set up campuses here offers a path of globalisation to the Indian higher education landscape. The draft regulations signal the widest opening of doors with the government even permitting cash remittances to the parent university.
Governments in the past have made several attempts to enact legislation for the entry, operation and regulation of foreign universities in the country.
The first was in 1995 when a Bill was introduced but could not go forward. In 2005-06, too, the draft law could only go up to the Cabinet stage.
The last attempt was by UPA-II in 2010 in the shape of the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, which failed to pass muster in Parliament and lapsed in 2014 since the BJP, Left and Samajwadi Party opposed it
One of the main reservations against foreign universities operating in India was that they would raise the cost of education (high tuition fees, faculty poaching from public universities), rendering it out of reach for a large part of the population.
At that time, it was also not clear if this Bill would enthuse the best universities abroad to set up campuses in India.
The latest UGC draft regulations try to address the latter by promising foreign universities complete autonomy in operating their Indian branch, including academic matters, governance, admission policy, tuition fee, faculty hiring, and remuneration
More significantly, repatriation of funds to the parent institution abroad, which was prohibited under the UPA-era Bill and had emerged as a major sticking point, has also been allowed
There’s also no requirement for foreign education providers to maintain a corpus fund to operate in India.
The UPA Bill insisted on an undertaking from universities to maintain a corpus fund of at least Rs 50 crore
Despite the freedoms offered by the Indian government, attracting top universities may still remain a challenge.
Over the last two decades, overseas branch campuses have mushroomed across the globe
According to the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany, there are over 200 international branch campuses of foreign universities currently operating around the globe
US universities alone run over 70 foreign campuses, most of which are clustered in China and the Gulf countries
Interestingly, the funding of most of the foreign campuses of American universities mainly comes from the host countries’ governments
New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi and US campuses in Doha, including those run by Northwestern, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown and Texas A&M are all built on state funding and state-sponsored infrastructure
Currently, just over a quarter of India’s 18-23-year-olds are enrolled in a college or university. This leaves a vast potential market open for foreign education providers
It remains to be seen if this, along with operational and financial autonomy (including the freedom to repatriate income) will be enough to attract reputed universities to India.