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India: draft foreign branch campus regulations released

India’s University Grants Commission has released draft regulations that stakeholders have welcomed as an “excellent step forward” for international higher educational institutions to establish campuses in the country.

The draft regulation was released on January 5. Photo: pexels

There will be further consultation with key stakeholders on the draft regulations

The draft reiterates that institutions should be ranked within the top 500 in global rankings, either overall or for specific subjects.

Beyond rankings, the notice states that “reputed” institutions in home jurisdictions will also be eligible to establish campuses in India.

“These are well-thought and reflect the strategic priorities of India”

“We believe that once these regulations become operational, it will provide an international dimension to higher education in India,” UGC chairman M Jagadesh Kumar said, as reported by Telanga Today.

“It will enable Indian students to get foreign qualification at an affordable cost beside making India an attractive global study destination.”

The initial National Education Policy 2020 had planned to allow top 100 universities to operate in India, and has attracted some interest. A survey of the top 200 THE-ranked institutions in 2021 found that eight would “definitely consider” a branch campus in India.

According to experts, the regulations would clarify a number of questions for higher education providers seeking to enter India, yet some uncertainties remain.

“I think the proposals are in the right direction as they seem to target reducing administrative burden and streamlining the entire licensing process while setting standards to safeguard quality,” Vangelis Tsiligiris, associate professor at Nottingham Trent University and founder of TNE Hub, said.

“The current economic environment, with specific reference to the monetary tightening in western countries, may impact the development of new IBCs in India. However, other factors, such as a potential new pandemic outbreak that will impact mobility, may accelerate the creation of IBCs in India,” he told The PIE.

International higher education consultant William Lawton highlighted that IBC developments in India predate the NEC 2020 by “at least 11 years”.

In an article from 2012 written for the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, Lawton highlighted that the idea of allowing only the best 200 foreign universities to operate in India – especially around joint degree programs – was floated in the 2009 Yashpal Committee Report.

“The proposals have been developing in the background for some time now,” Tsiligiris continued.

“These are well-thought and reflect the strategic priorities of India in regards to the internationalisation of its HE sector. The key problem remains the fragmented regulatory framework and the complexity of the Indian HE sector.

“For a foreign HEI, that is considering an IBC project, it is still extremely difficult to understand and evaluate the regulatory and operational risks.”

Speaking with The PIE, Delia Heneghan, vice president of Global Education Practice at Sannam S4, said since the appointment of a new minister of education 18 months ago, there has been “quite a lot of progress” and the “UGC has become quite active”.

“This is an excellent step forward and I do think it’s very promising. It’s part of that real commitment that the government has to push forward the agenda of the NEP,” she said. But there will still be work to do.

Further consultation with key stakeholders will take place over the next month, before the formal regulations come out. Key areas that need to be addressed include clarity, repatriation of funds and infrastructure investment requirements, she suggested.

“The financial structures will be key for any university looking to set up a campus overseas to put together the business case. There’s lots of different ministries involved, lots of different regulatory bodies that will impact this, so there is still quite a bit of work to be done,” she said.

Tsiligiris also pointed to elements such as the reference to ‘reasonable and transparent fees’ which is subject to different interpretations, and the restriction on online and distance programs, which “may be regarded as barriers by foreign universities”.

The draft notes that international campuses cannot offer online and ODL delivery, and stipulates that qualifications awarded in India must be “equivalent to the corresponding qualifications awarded… in the main campus located in the country of origin”.

“[UGC] wants to start off with a focus on face to face and doesn’t want to be simply looking at online or blended learning delivery,” Heneghan said. “That’s an area where there might be further discussion… You can have fantastically high quality, online and blended experiences.”

The requirement for degrees to be equivalent to those offered at home universities could cause issues, she suggested.

“If you look at the Graduate Route in the UK, if you’ve studied at the campus in the UK and achieved your master’s degree, you will be able to get your graduate visa. If you study the same course at the campus in India, that won’t necessarily be the case.

“It’s not necessarily within the university’s gift to be able to say that that will be [equivalent]. It cannot be treated as equivalent in every way, but I think these things will be worked through.”

Asked whether recent recognition of qualification developments with the UK and Australia will favour institutions from the respective countries, Heneghan – who has previously spoken of the importance of quality attached to the NEP in the country – pointed to one edge the UK could have.

“What gives UK universities an advantage is the existing reputation for quality, good employability, which is always very important to Indian students, but also the experience in delivering campuses overseas.”

“Lots of other countries are focusing on India”

Yet mutual recognition is an important element in “building blocks that are coming together”, such as the bank of academic credit, regulations allowing for collaboration provision, which are all “making India a far more open higher education sector” and is beneficial for international cooperation.

“But lots of other countries are focusing on India,” she continued. “It’s not just what we would call the usual suspects such as Australia, the US, Canada, etc. but also many of the European countries are very engaged now and looking at deepening their engagement with India.”

Indeed, UGC’s Kumar noted that European countries were keen on establishing their universities’ campuses in India.

“But also what you’ve got to think about is other countries where there will be some sort of cross-border collaboration,” Heneghan said.

“We’ve already seen that the IITs are looking to the Gulf where they will set up. There may be some quid pro quo going on there…

“It’s a question of ‘watch this space’ and be ready to deepen engagement with India because this is now a real opportunity. I think that’s important to note,” Heneghan concluded.

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