UGC rules on foreign university campuses in India raise questions

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New Delhi: The University Grants Commission Chairman, M Jagadesh Kumar, on 5 January announced that foreign universities will be able to set up their campuses in India with the commission’s approval. The initial approval will be for a period of 10 years. Although academics have welcomed the move, they have also sought clarity on certain points.

“I welcome the move by UGC but I have certain issues with how these universities will operate in India. For the standard and quality of education they will have to charge more money and a lot of students that go abroad to study do so for the change of environment so the operation of these universities in India for Indian students seems a bit confusing and challenging in terms of what benefits will it have for Indian students?” said Yasurvati Nayaar, professor, department of political science, University of Hyderabad.

A good move but requires more quality

According to the University Grants Commission (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations, 2023 draft, these universities will have the freedom to devise their own admission process and fee structure, which should be transparent and reasonable and they will not be allowed to hold online classes.

Chenraj Roychand, Chancellor, JAIN (deemed-to-be university), told CNBC-TV18.com that while the move comes with benefits of better quality education at a reasonable cost, questions on creating a healthy competition of a new kind, attracting more foreign students (and therefore foreign currency) to India and creating more job opportunities many questions still remain unanswered in the draft.

“Whether the academic bank of credits, multiple entry and exit system and up to 40 percent online delivery will be applicable to these universities, is not clear. Further, how will these universities handle issues of reservations in admissions and jobs…? Add to that, recruiting foreign faculty members will increase the cost significantly and recruiting Indian faculty may not allow them to offer expected quality of education at reasonable cost,” said Roychand.

Further, the draft mentions that the foreign university will be eligible to set up a campus in India under two conditions. First, it should have secured a position within the top 500 of overall/subject-wise global rankings, as decided by the Commission from time to time. Secondly, in the case of a foreign educational institution, the applicant should be a reputed institution in its home jurisdiction. This criterion, as per Roychand, needs more clarity with respect to what ‘global ranking’ will be used in this case.

A professor from the California University told CNBC-TV18.com that the draft is obviously welcomed by foreign universities, but certain aspects need to be explained. He pointed to the following clause: “The Foreign Higher Educational Institutions shall not offer any such programme of study which jeopardises the national interest of India or the standards of higher education in India.”

Elite only?

Nayaar who believes that UGC will delve into the matter that foreign universities, if not well-regulated, will become an elite-only opportunity.

In India for the upliftment of students from the bottom of the social hierarchy, the higher education institutions provide reservation and scholarships. The UGC draft for foreign universities does mention a ‘need-based scholarship’ but there is no clarity on how it will uplift the students from the marginalised and underprivileged sections.

The Central Universities in India which receive 100 percent grant from the Central Govt./UGC have to follow the reservation policy of the Government of of India for students coming from the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Caste. at the rate of 15 percent, 7.5 percent and 27 percent, respectively. These is also 5 percent reservation for for Physically handicapped persons (PWD).

“Not many students from India go abroad to study, yes there are scholarships but it’s still a very elite concept. Hence, if regulations are not made for making the courses offered in India by these universities affordable and even making the environment inclusive and conducive for people from all backgrounds to attend then it would just be a campus for foreign students to come and study,” Nayaar said.

The Democratic Teachers’ Front of Delhi University also criticised the draft stating the UGC is “peddling fallacious dreams of an Ivy league education at affordable costs.”

“The increase in the cost of education will result in exclusion of a large section of our society, especially the deprived, that seeks empowerment through education. It will also lead to a mismatch between the demand for and availability of skilled workers,” said the press statement by DTU.

Real estate and fund transfer

According to Vikas Gupta, Chairman and Managing Director, Miles Education, the biggest challenge in this model is that foreign universities may be interested in bringing their own faculty, courseware, and other academic and non-academic expertise but they may not like to invest in real estate — which will make it difficult for them to scale up.

Additionally, with regard to funds and funding, the draft mentioned that the Foreign Exchange Management Act would govern cross-border movement of funds.

So, although the UGC will act as an approving body with some disciplinary powers, foreign university campuses will be governed largely by the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999. The new regulations permit foreign universities to fully repatriate profits to their parent institutions in their home countries “without any restrictions.” As of now, funds cannot be transferred out of India.

‘For-profit’

As per experts, the regulator must ensure that a level playing field is maintained between the ‘for-profit’ foreign universities and Indian higher education institutions (HEIs).

“The draft regulations say that fund transfers will be in accordance with FEMA. But it indicates that these universities will be able to repatriate funds. While this aligns with the for-profit education in many countries, it may create an uneven playing field for Indian HEIs, which are required to reinvest the surplus. This may also increase the demand for for-profit education in India. Certainly, there will be increased flow of foreign funds in Indian higher education, innovation and research,” said Roychand.

An institution that is owned and operated by a private company or business is a for-profit college. Their revenue is often used for non-educational purposes, and they are often managed by investors and stakeholders. State and federal aid are usually not provided to for-profit institutions.

Shantanu Rooj, Founder and CEO, TeamLease Edtech, mentioned that with the draft, few things should be kept in mind “Are we allowing ‘for-profit’ foreign universities to set up campuses in India (as all Indian universities are non-profits)? Will these new entrants get accredited through NAAC and ranked by NIRF so that students can evaluate them using a singular yardstick? Will these universities accept credits earned in Indian universities?” added Rooj.

What if there are no takers?

Mostly, students who leave India to pursue higher studies do so for the university’s brand, better education, an opportunity to explore a new culture and the dream of getting a job abroad.

According to data shared in Rajya Sabha by Subhas Sarkar, Minister of State for Education, more than 6.5 lakh Indian students went abroad in 2022 to pursue higher education. The data also mentioned that students prefer Canada, the USA and the UK.

Moreover, according to a survey by INTO University Partnerships published in June 2022, nearly eight out of 10 Indian Gen Z students who pursue international degrees plan to work and settle abroad after completing their degrees.

Furthermore, a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on international migration patterns released in October 2022, pointed that Indian students studying in economically-developed nations are most likely to stay back in their host country and join the local workforce.

“Although it is a good move for students from other countries to come to India, many students from India go to study abroad to get a job there and settle in the foreign country. So … there might not be many Indian students studying in the foreign university campuses in India,” said Alok Jain, who is studying for his master’s degree in computer science at University of Birmingham.

The University Grants Commission (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations, 2023 draft seeking comments/suggestions/feedback has been uploaded on the commissions website and is open to feedback till January 18, 2023.

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UGC rules on foreign university campuses in India raise questions
UGC rules on foreign university campuses in India raise questions
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