India’s special economic zone is open to the top 500 ranked foreign universities, free from the regulations that govern the rest of the country. But setting up operations abroad can be a serious risk for institutions and some may be reluctant to part with the cash required.
Service and infrastructure providers instead offer the chance to explore franchise-style operations.
Regulators are set to publish rules outlining how infrastructure providers can operate in the city in the coming weeks and begin granting licences to eligible companies soon after.
Global Education Holdings (Gedu), which runs institutions including Global Banking School, is one of those set to begin operating with 30,000 square feet of space reserved for around 1,000 students.
It is currently looking for partners and promises to front all of the initial capital expenditure and oversee teaching delivery and student recruitment, if required. University partners will be expected to provide academic oversight and quality assurance.
Speaking to British university representatives visiting the city as part of a higher education trade mission, Ray Lloyd, chief academic officer at Gedu, said, “This is about offering opportunities for a high-quality British education to people who wouldn’t normally have access because they can’t afford it.”
Gedu’s space is in the same building as Australia’s University of Wollongong’s teaching location. Wollongong plans to commence computing courses by the end of 2023, with additional programs launched the following year.
While courses must replicate those on offer at home campuses, universities are free to set their own tuition fees. Wollongong’s prices will be 50% cheaper than those paid by international students at its Australian campus.
“The GIFT City regulations are very attractive to international universities”
Deakin University, the other Australia institution set to open in the city, plans to commence two postgraduate courses in cybersecurity and business analytics no later than mid-2024. It will initially enrol 50-60 students per course.
“The GIFT City regulations are very attractive to international universities,” said Dipankar Chakraborty, regional director for South Asia and the Middle East at the University of Birmingham.
“There are several incentives like no capping of fees and salary for hiring academic staff, charging for programs in international currency, tax holiday as well as allowing full repatriation of profits.
“Although universities will be able to offer programs in a limited number of areas, presence of reputed businesses in the ecosystem will help foster industry-academia collaboration and spur innovation.”
While universities may be enticed by the promise of not having to pay any taxes on their operations for 10 years, it is unclear what will happen after this point. Some are also sceptical about how much profit branch campuses generate more generally, regardless of tax incentives.
There are also questions around student accommodation, with much building work still ongoing. Regulators suggested that students may choose to live in nearby towns or that universities could work with property developers to establish housing within the city.
For some, the rankings requirements are also proving to be a barrier.
“I think it’s a wait and watch,” said Debra Hinds, pro vice chancellor international at Arden University, which, as a relatively young university, does not currently enter into rankings.
The city now spans 886 acres, with provisional plans to expand to 3,300 acres in the future.
It is home to 24 banks including Barclays and JP Morgan, as well as investment firms, insurance companies and aircraft-leasing companies. Google and consultancy firm Capgemini are among recent additions.
Courses foreign universities can offer are limited to those that will help prepare graduates for working in these sectors, including financial management and STEM subjects.
They are expected to attract students who cannot afford to go abroad for an education or have ties that prevent them from leaving India.