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India: open up to foreign providers, recommends think tank

Foreign universities could help to meet booming demand, bring much-needed foreign investment and drive up quality in India’s higher education system, according to the think tank tasked with crafting proposed policy for foreign HE providers to operate in the country.

Indian Parliament, New Delhi. Photo: Flickr/Roberta Romero.

NITI Aayog was tasked with creating the roadmap last year after decades of discussions about the issue

The National Institution for Transforming India Aayog submitted its roadmap for reform this week, which includes allowing high-quality foreign institutions to set up universities in India and to establish joint-ventures with domestic partners.

“India stands to gain from the setting up of foreign universities in terms of availability of resources both human and financial”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown signs that he is ramping up efforts to position India as a global study destination, and last year asked the organisation to assess the feasibility of enabling foreign HE institutions to finally operate in India after decades of discussions about the issue.

Currently there is no legislative framework supporting foreign providers. In its blueprint, NITI Aayog has proposed the introduction of a new law regulating the operation of foreign universities in the country.

It has also suggested an amendment to the 1956 University Grants Commission Act, which governs cooperation between domestic and foreign universities, to enable overseas institutions to be deemed universities, as well as adjustments to the current legislation by UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education to facilitate joint ventures between Indian and foreign institutions.

“India stands to gain from the setting up of foreign universities in terms of availability of resources both human and financial, state-of-the-art teaching methodology, research and innovation,” the think tank said.

“Capital expenditure in the cost of setting up an institution is high and land and buildings are also a major issue,” it added. “Entry of foreign universities and leveraging FDI will offset some of these costs.”

NITI Aayog’s submission to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry for Human Resource Development will be taken into account in the formulation of India’s new national education policy later this year.

“In any industry, competition is good at the end of the day”

Its work on the roadmap included consultation with the sector, state governments and the UGC, which oversees the regulation of higher education in India.

Ten state governments have already backed the policy, with the proviso that it is only open to high-quality foreign providers that have something to offer domestic students.

NITI Aayog’s report strives to answer concerns that domestic students will be priced out of foreign providers’ HE offering by proposing merit-based scholarships and loans be made available along with the reforms.

With financial support, studying at a foreign campus in India could be an attractive option for students who cannot afford to study overseas, suggested Rahul Gandhi, president of the Association of Australian Education of Representatives in India, as well as for those that want to be able to continue working while studying.

“In any industry, competition is good at the end of the day,” he added. “If the Indian institutes are very good, if they can also improve further, what’s wrong in it?

“We have companies in insurance, banking, we have companies from overseas who are into all sort of industry, why not in education?”

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