The draft University Grants Commission (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations 2023 has been released on Thursday 5th January 2023 in line with the major announcement of New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 which was approved by the Union Cabinet of India almost before two and half years on 29 July 2020. According to the draft the Foreign Universities can establish their International Branch Campuses (IBCs) in India, decide their admission process, fee structure and send money to their parent campuses back home as per the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999 and its rules.
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In addition to the above, other salient draft rules released by the regulator include the following :
- Those universities among the top 500 in international rankings or have an excellent reputation in the field of research and academics will be eligible to open campus.
- The courses offered should be taught in a offline mode with no online classes allowed.
- Foreign Higher Education Institutions (FHEIs) will be able to start the working in India after seeking permission from the UGC and they will be given two years to set up a campus and their permit will have to be renewed every nine years.
- There will be a provision for need-based scholarships in all these universities.
- UGC can inspect campus anytime.
Attempts have been made in the past including by the UPA government to allow FHEIs to operate in India but they failed to get materialized due to opposition from opposite parties including BJP.
It took 34 years to revamp Indian education policy to have NEP 2020 which is the third framework to be adopted in the country since independence. As per the legislative framework of this policy, Indian universities can also establish their campuses in other countries and collaborate with them in research and student exchange programs through special efforts.
Globalization and increasing international competition in higher education have prompted the Indian government to opt for International Branch Centres (IBCs) of foreign universities. The flight of a large number of bright students abroad due to various reasons, mainly being unable to get admission in quality institutions, has always been a serious concern of educators and policymakers. With the opening of IBCs of the top 500 global universities, it would be possible for the students to get a quality education in India. IBCs are likely to boost higher education standards and may help gradually decrease the outflow of billions of dollars due to the migration of students for higher education abroad every year. According to UGC chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar in 2022 over 4.5 lakh Indian students went abroad to study, leading to outflow of estimated $ 28-30 billion. After completion of higher education in IBCs, if the students get jobs in India, this will prevent the loss of human capital and will meet labor market needs.
One of the significant outcomes of working with foreign universities is that local universities/ institutes get the opportunity to frame curriculum in alignment with international pedagogy. This will enable them to offer a diverse portfolio of subjects and specialization to students.
The flexibility and multidisciplinary approach of NEP 2020 is expected to increase the number of international students enrolling in Indian universities. It will also facilitate the Indian students to study at foreign universities and they can transfer the credits obtained to foreign universities. It will also make it easier for them to carry out research at foreign universities.
Some people in India have pointed out that IBCs will increase the cost of education for financially marginalized people which will result in an increase in inequality in the social system. There is also an apprehension that good faculty of local universities may move to IBCs for better remuneration.
It is possible that initially, the foreign universities may opt for setting up the IBCs in collaboration with local educational institutions as a joint venture. After having a reasonably good experience they can opt for an independent campus. It is more than obvious that to open their IBCs as a joint venture in India, the foreign universities will select institutions with fair global university rankings. Some of the world’s prominent centrally funded institutions have lower global university rankings due to a lack of infrastructure and faculty. These are two important parameters and play a direct role in the global university ranking system like THE, QS, etc. Therefore there is an urgent need to generate and strengthen the infrastructure to the desired level ( mainly the state of the art research laboratories equipped with modern equipment and instruments ) and fill up the vacant teaching posts in centrally funded institutes/ universities that include IITs, IIMs, NITs, CUs, IISERs, etc. Nearly 35 percent of the sanctioned teaching posts in these institutes/ universities are lying vacant. Recently Union Ministry of Education has instructed centrally funded institutions to fill up all the vacant teaching posts. It can be expected that improving the infrastructure and filling the vacant teaching posts will result in the up-gradation of global university rank. This will attract the top-ranking foreign universities to collaborate with them and establish their offshore campuses as a joint venture in India.
On the whole the draft rules are certainly lenient, flexible in nature and attractive enough to induce FHEIs to enter India which according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics is the second largest “exporter of students” in the world. But one draft rule i.e. “The Foreign Higher Educational Institutions should arrange for adequate physical infrastructure”, may make them think twice before entering into India. Because available information on IBCs indicate that usually the host country provides physical infrastructure to the foreign university. Due to this, there might be reluctance and delay on the part of FHEIs in taking final decision to open their IBCs in India.
Former Professor & Head,
University Post-Graduate Teaching Department Of Biochemistry,
RTM Nagpur University Nagpur-44010, Maharashtra, India