Foreign universities welcome in India, conditions apply

Opening doors for foreign universities in India: Prospects and challenges
Last Updated : 16 November 2023, 19:12 IST
Last Updated : 16 November 2023, 19:12 IST

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The University Grants Commission has issued regulations for foreign universities to establish campuses and operate in India. This is indeed a bold move. It was long overdue, considering the substantial amount of funds leaving our country through remittances by aspirants of foreign education. Scepticism about the aftermath of this decision is inevitable, but examining its pros and cons reveals a logical and reasonable initiative.

Thousands of young people go abroad every year to pursue higher education, often incurring significant debts to pay their way to other countries for supposedly a better standard of education. The amount of money flowing overseas for higher education is staggering.

Indian students opting for overseas higher education are mounting year after year, rising from 4,40,000 in 2016 to 7,70,000 in 2019. It is estimated to reach 1.8 million in 2024. Their spending is set to hit $80 billion by next year, according to a report, Higher Education Abroad, by the consulting
firm RedSeer.

These statistics are more than enough to justify the decision made by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the government. Thus, it’s obviously not the decision that will be open to scrutiny, but its implementation.

Secondly, the UGC decision aligns with the guidelines of the National Education Policy 2020, emphasising the need to pave the way for the top universities in the world to provide their education in our country.

The UGC has made it clear that foreign universities that wish to enter India must be within the top 500 in the overall ranking globally. This is to prevent spurious universities from entering the field.

A high-level standing committee will examine the merits of the applications, including their credibility and relevance to the Indian context, and make recommendations to the UGC, with possible government involvement in the decision-making process.

Another condition states that the autonomy of these universities, the fixation of fees, the recruitment of faculty and staff, and such aspects of administration will be entirely left to the universities concerned. This is critical for any foreign university to take up this challenge.

The funds generated by these universities and their repatriation abroad will be subject to the Foreign Exchange Management Act in India. That’s again a welcome decision.

Degrees awarded on their Indian campuses must be on par with the ones given by the universities in their country. This is a very thoughtful decision to ensure that there is no dilution of standards in order to attract more admissions.

UGC has also suggested that the Foreign Higher Educational Institutions (FHEI) offer deserving Indian students fee concessions and scholarships from endowments created from their own revenues or from alumni donations. This is also a timely suggestion. Hopefully, the foreign universities will respond well to the aspirations of the home country.

The move to permit foreign universities is bound to raise some eyebrows. First of all, the existing universities, particularly the private universities, will face stiff competition from the new entrants. The state-sponsored universities, too, will bear the brunt. They have already lost much of their sheen because of corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement. The standards in many of them have fallen abysmally. Even the VC’s appointment is not made on the basis of merit. That is clearly an indication of the intellectual erosion in our universities.

There are universities, both public and private, that maintain high standards. But they are few and far between. This is the sad state of affairs today.

A few questions still remain. How fair and just will be the selection process? Will corrupt people rule the roost? We know how even the best reforms get a bad name because of some corrupt elements entering the field.

Another dampener from the point of view of the applicants will be that the permission to operate for foreign universities will be only 10 years initially. How can we expect these prospective FHEIs to make huge investments in their infrastructure if their future remains uncertain? 

When stringent conditions are specified in relation to their overall functioning, the 10-year permission period seems illogical. If we have to attract the best of them, we need to ensure a proactive, congenial climate.

In the final analysis, what counts is how quality education can be made available in India. It doesn’t matter who runs the universities. Whether foreign or native, education should not be devalued and commercialised.

Quality comes with a price, and that price has to be reasonable and commensurate with the quality provided. Nothing else matters.

(The writer is director of Little Rock, Udupi)

Published 16 November 2023, 19:12 IST

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