An ‘openhearted’ move intended to make India a global destination for education, the recently announced draft regulations for foreign institutions to set up campuses in India has met with mixed reactions from the academic world, while some of the world’s top ranked universities don’t seem interested at all, Education Post’s Rohit Wadhwaney finds out.
The University Grants Commission’s recent decision to allow reputed foreign educational institutions to set up campuses in India does not make the slightest difference to Anchal Rai, a commerce graduate from Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College, who is hellbent on pursuing her master’s degree in Germany.
Like hundreds of thousands of Indian students looking to go abroad for higher education, 22-year-old Rai is of the firm belief that a degree from a foreign university is just one of the reasons about 40 percent of the country’s student population prefers to study overseas.
A foreign degree, Rai said, is just by the way. “I belong to the category of students who wish to settle abroad. Reasons are several: the quality of life, the financial aspects of the course, the idea of leaving your comfort zone, moving abroad and experiencing new cultural diversity,” she said.
And the German public universities that Rai is hoping to get into don’t charge students a single penny for tuition. “I only need to take care of my living expenses,” she told Education Post.
Big Educational Push
Early in January 2023, the UGC unveiled draft regulations for allowing foreign universities and educational institutes to operate campuses in India – a move that attracted mixed reactions from top universities and academicians in the country. Among the norms floated for feedback is that the foreign universities intending to set up campuses in India must rank among the top 500 educational institutes globally or must be educational institutes of repute in home jurisdiction.
“The new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has envisioned that top universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India. For this, 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,” UGC Chairperson Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar said at a press conference while announcing the draft regulations.
These foreign universities will have the right to decide their own admission process and criteria to admit Indian and foreign students while having the autonomy to decide their fee structure without facing any caps imposed on Indian institutions as long as the fee is “reasonable and transparent.”
“Lots of reforms are being introduced in higher education, primarily to provide more freedom, flexibility and choices to our students. And towards that end, internationalization of higher education in India is also one of the guidelines provided to us in the NEP, and it has two components. We want to internationalize our own domestic education by encouraging our universities to set up their campuses abroad – the UGC is already in the advances stages of preparing regulations towards that end – and the other one is to let foreign universities set up campuses here in India, primarily for the simple reason that the students will have additional options of accessing high quality higher education,” Kumar said in a video interview on YouTube.
By no means is this being done to “reverse the trend of Indian students going abroad to study in foreign universities,” he said, adding that those students “will continue to go because they go for multiple reasons – the employability opportunities after their studies, working in a different cultural set up and so on.”
“However, there are many other students who may not be able to go for financial and family reasons,” Kumar said.
The Overseas Trend
According to a report by consulting firm Redseer on Higher Education Abroad, the number of Indian students who went overseas for higher education grew from about 4.5 lakh in 2016 to 7.7 lakh in 2019. This figure is set to grow roughly to 18 lakh by 2024.
“Please remember, out of 4.5 lakh students who left our country last year to study in foreign universities, not all of them have joined in Harvard or Cambridge. It’s a very small percentage that have gone there. So therefore, let’s not take some ivy league names and say that only when they come here this regulation is a success or not. We are looking at a comprehensive list of universities who may show interest to come here and we will try to encourage them,” Kumar said.
Inviting foreign universities to come to India does not mean that questions are being raised on the quality of India’s higher education, the UGC chairman insisted.
“Our Indian educational system is one of the biggest in the world. And you can see our alumni… how well they are doing across the globe. And they attribute their success to their school and college education in India. But the challenge with us is that we have millions of students – already we have 40 million students in our higher education which is going to double soon. So how do we provide opportunities to them to access high quality education? One, of course, is to strengthen our own educational institutions by expanding our own network of higher educational institutions, which we are doing at a certain pace that is physically feasible. The other option is to let some of these foreign universities come here,” Kumar said.
He added: “A recent survey also shows that the top 200 universities in the world have shown India as an ideal destination for the simple reason that our country is a different example altogether, because we have highly motivated and aspirational students who number in the millions, and when the foreign universities come here, they can actually tap some of this talent. That is one of the wins for the foreign universities. And what is the win for our country? Of course, additional choices to our students, and also when better institutions are in the vicinity working with us, there is going to be healthy competition among the institutions and our institutions will also have to pull up and improve their own academic programs in order to remain relevant in the education sector.”
Foreign Universities Not Interested
Education Post contacted several top foreign universities to understand their position about a possible invitation to set up campuses in India. And while many did not respond, some of them minced no words to respond in the negative.
Dee Mostofi, Assistant Vice President (AVP) of California’s Stanford University, one of the world’s leading research and teaching institutions where nearly 500 Indian students are enrolled each year, said: “We currently do not have plans to establish a program in India.”
Richard Lester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said: “We have a long-standing practice that we do not open branch campuses and we have no plans of opening a campus in India.”
So, for those who feel that the UGC’s draft regulations have opened the floodgates and all the top universities will rush to set up campuses in India, it is not going to happen any time soon, said Dr. Kamlesh Misra, a globally renowned economist and academician.
“The draft regulations are a step in the right direction. As a policy, there is nothing wrong in it and is in line is in line with the World Trade Organization push for trade in services. [But] I do not expect the top American universities, which are very conservative, to enter and open their campuses in India. We should expect the same from top British universities. There are likely to be some universities that may open their campuses but it will take time and they really need to evaluate their return on investment. Let us not expect a rush of foreign university campuses soon,” Misra told Education Post.
Opening a new university campus is expensive, added to this capital expenditure is the operating cost that must be met, Misra said.
“If foreign universities must open a campus in India, they must be ready to commit anywhere between $50 million to $100 million as a start-up cost. This will include land and building, faculty resources and other operating costs. The important question that we need to answer is why would any foreign university want to make such an investment?
“The UGC draft regulations say that foreign universities are free to set their fees but it should be reasonable. Certainly, they cannot charge the same fee as in their own countries. This will lead to severe shortage of revenue if faculty from abroad is going to come and teach here. They would obviously demand the same salary as in their own country. In my view, making heavy upfront investment to set up campuses in India does not make any sense, especially for American universities which are ranked in the top 100. Let us forget about Harvard and Oxford coming to India. They would not pledge their reputations at any cost,” Misra said.
He said that although there are over 75 campuses of American universities in different countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Qatar, France and the United Kingdom, most of those satellite campuses are very small in relation to their main campuses in the US.
“The American University in Washington DC is probably the most aggressive in opening its campuses in different countries and has several campuses spread out across the world. But it is ranked around 700 in the QS world university rankings, so it may not qualify to enter India. Other American universities that have campuses abroad are Rochester Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, San Diego State University, New York University, Temple University, Arkansas State University, Carnegie Mellon University and Saint Louis University. As is visible, none of these universities are classified as A grade institutions in the US,” Misra explained.
However, Sanket Goel, the university-wide Research and Innovation Dean at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), sees the UGC’s announcement in a more positive light, calling it an openhearted move which should lead to the enhancement of the overall quality of higher education in India.
“Undoubtedly, it is a great move which will be beneficial for our country and our students. This will pave the way for India to become a global destination for education. Allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India will also ensure that all Indian students have access and exposure to global education. These regulations will not only help prevent brain drain and loss of forex due to Indian students studying overseas, but also help attract overseas students to India,” Goel told Education Post.
But there are several issues in the draft regulations that need clarity, he said.
“There are no provisions for the existing caste-based, economic-based, women reservation in student admissions. The concerns pertaining to social justice need to be clarified. Regarding fees, the draft regulations mention that the fee should be ‘reasonable and transparent.’ This needs to be further elucidated in terms of autonomy of the foreign universities to decide their fee structure. Further, more clarity should be about extent of autonomy in terms of their eligibility criteria. An impact on current academic institutes should also be evaluated.”