Sunday, February 5, 2023

External Education

In a significant move towards revamping the higher education system in India, the University Grants Commission unveiled draft regulations to facilitate the entry of foreign higher educational institutions in India. However, the draft is not without some contradictions.

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The latest announcement is in line with the National Education Policy, 2020, which envisioned internationalisation of higher education in India. The 2020 policy aimed at a “complete overhaul and re-energising” of the higher education system in the country. “India should be promoted as a global study destination providing premium education at affordable costs and restore its role as a Viswa Guru,” the policy underlined. For this, the policy recommended that high performing Indian universities be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries, and similarly, select universities in the world be permitted to operate in India. It further recommended that a legislative framework facilitating such entry be put in place, and such universities be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India.

While announcing the latest draft norms namely, “University Grants Commission (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations, 2023”, the University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman M Jagadesh Kumar said that the final norms will be notified by the end of the month after considering feedback from all stakeholders. According to the draft regulations, Foreign Higher Educational Institutions (FHEIs) are mandatorily required to seek prior approval of the UGC for setting up campuses in India. The interested institutions need to apply online at the UGC portal. A standing committee formed by the UGC will review such applications and decide upon them within 45 days. The selected institutions will be given two years to set up campuses in the country.

The policy aims to attract foreign universities which are either within the top 500 of overall or subject-wise global rankings or are reputed institutions in their home countries. The approval will be initially granted for a period of ten years and at least one year before the expiry of the approved period, FHEIs will have to apply for renewal of the operations of the campus. In order to make the exercise lucrative for foreign universities, these institutes are permitted to repatriate funds to their parent campuses as per the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999.

The regulation also provides autonomy to the foreign universities to evolve their admission process and decide their fee structure that is transparent and reasonable. The FHEIs will further have the autonomy to recruit faculty and staff from India and abroad as per their recruitment norms and decide the qualifications, salary structure, and other conditions of service for appointing such faculty and staff. The provision, however, comes with a rider that the qualifications of the faculty appointed must be at par with the main campus of the country of origin.

The UGC will maintain a strict quality check on the institutes that qualify to set up campuses in the country. According to the regulations, the quality of education to be imparted by these institutions in its Indian campus must be at par with that of the main campus. Moreover, the institutes are mandatorily required to conduct classes in offline mode only with no online classes being allowed. In addition, they also must ensure that if foreign faculty is appointed for teaching at the local campus, they shall stay at the campus in India for a reasonable period to avoid chances of institutions making them serve as visiting faculties.

While the draft norms offer considerable freedom to the foreign education players willing to establish campuses in the country, it underlines that they shall not offer any such programme of study which jeopardises the national interest of India or the standards of higher education in India. “The operation of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions shall not be contrary to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency, or morality,” the draft further added.

It is pertinent to mention that even prior to the NEP 2020, efforts were made to facilitate global universities in India. In 1995, the government drafted the Foreign Education Bill, which was shelved. Another attempt made in 2006 also went in vain. Subsequently, in 2010, the UPA government brought the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, which faced resistance from the Opposition and ultimately lapsed. The 2023 draft regulations is one of the initiatives launched by the UGC towards realization of the aim envisioned under the NEP 2020. “A regulatory framework allowing the entry of higher-ranked foreign Universities, as envisaged in NEP, 2020, will provide an international dimension to higher education, enable Indian students to obtain foreign qualifications at affordable cost, and make India an attractive global study destination, reads the draft.

It would, however, be unfair to say that the draft, in its present form, is free from any inconsistencies or contradictions. First and foremost, it is not clear how the UGC will determine whether or not a foreign educational institution, intending to establish a campus in India, is a “reputed institution” in its home jurisdiction. Secondly, the regulations require global universities to offer the same quality of education as that of the main campus, but at the same time, imposes excessive restrictions by prohibiting them from offering any such programmes of study which jeopardizes the national interest of India or the standards of higher education in India. Thirdly, by giving freedom to these universities to decide their fee structure, the regulations seem to undermine the NEP 2020’s vision of equity and inclusivity in education as it would be unaffordable for many students to pay the exorbitant fees that may be levied on the courses or programmes. Another bone of contention is that while the foreign players will enjoy a greater autonomy in respect of regulatory framework, the Indian universities continue to be highly regulated and poorly governed.

Every year, millions of students, apply to foreign universities to pursue higher education. The government’s move to open the doors for foreign varsities will grant students an opportunity to access global quality education. However, in this attempt to bring Indian education at par with international standards, the accessibility, equity and quality of higher education should not be compromised. 

—By Banshika Garg and India Legal Bureau

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