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India moots inbound campaign, foreign provider bill

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is ramping up efforts to promote India as a global study destination, planning a Study in India campaign and revisiting legislation to make it easier for foreign higher education providers to set up branch campuses in the country.

Parliament of India Photo: KuwarOnline

Foreign universities could bring in investments of $11m in their first year of operation

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has been in consultation with higher education institutions about how to increase the number of overseas students at Indian institutions, including through a Study in India campaign.

The plan is set to be included into the New Education Policy currently being drafted by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and could include funding for selected institutions to develop the infrastructure to accommodate more international students.

“We need a concerted effort to offer a safe environment so that young people from all over the world can actively participate in India”

“What we are seeing currently are investments being made by the UK, Australia and USA in sending their students to India for short immersion programmes,” Lakshmi Iyer, director and head of education at market entry specialist Sannam S4, told The PIE News.

While praising India’s multicultural study environment, Iyer added there are improvements to be made.

“We need a concerted effort to offer a safe environment so that young people from all over the world can come and see, and more importantly actively participate in, all that is happening in India,” she said.

Meanwhile, Modi is also aiming to open the way for foreign institutions to operate in India, thus creating more options for international students as well as addressing brain drain as domestic students go overseas in increasing numbers.

The Commerce Ministry first reopened discussions on the issue in January this year, reportedly estimating that foreign universities could bring in investments of $11m in their first year of operation.

“The central government is of the view that this initiative would save foreign exchange, mainly because of large numbers of Indian students going out of the country every year,” Eldho Mathews, head of internationalising higher education (South India) at the British Council, told The PIE News.

According to Mathews, the government believes that attracting more overseas institutions would both raise the quality of India’s education offering for domestic students and act as a draw for students from South, Southeast and West Asian countries, as well as students from outside the region.

There were 631 foreign institutions operating in India in 2010, according to HRD statistics, all in partnership with a local institution or operating from the institution’s home campus.

However, there are no independently operated brick-and-mortar branches of overseas institutions in India, with most objecting to strict University Grants Commission’s regulations which include requiring them to submit detailed data on their courses and faculty infrastructure in order to gain approval.

More than 600 foreign institutions operate in India, all in partnership with a local institution or operating from the institution’s home campus

Changes to the existing regulations could include ensuring that foreign providers would be subject to minimal government oversight, which Iyer noted often stifles interests.

“There is no incentive for anyone to invest in the education space if we are not in a position to offer a safe framework where there is protection of capital and a return on the investment,” she said. “Clearly articulating the regulatory framework and offering a level playing ground are the first starting points.”

Modi has tasked the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog with preparing a policy document that will outline a model for foreign universities to start operating in India.

The thinktank will hold meetings with stakeholders such as the HRD, state governments and the UGC before submitting a draft set of regulations to the Prime Minister’s office.

“Policy makers in the NITI Aayog view that there is immense scope in attracting students from India’s neighbouring countries, Southeast Asia and West Asia mainly because of the advantages in terms of low cost of living in India and dominance of English as medium of instruction in Indian higher educational institutions,” explained Mathews.

“The role (and interest) of foreign institutions that are willing to set up campuses in India is very important in this context,” he continued. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is personally interested to draw more foreign investments through this initiative.”

With the NITI Aayog commission in place, Mathews predicted that the legislation could be laid before the Indian Parliament within a year, and the bill may include provisions to enable for-profit overseas institutions to operate in India.

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