• Narayanan Ramaswamy, Partner |
5 min read

Recently UGC announced the much-awaited regulations for establishment of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions (FHEI) – including universities on Indian soil. In my view, this is a significant milestone in the evolution of Indian Higher Education (IHE) sector and perhaps is the beginning of India’s ascent in the global Higher Education (HE) landscape.

Globalisation has become inevitable today. Across sectors, Indian players have only been benefitted by the globalisation drive. Education sector has been one of the last bastions resisting globalisation drive, even though, the product of this sector has experienced big success in the global arena. So, what does it mean to open this sector to foreign players? Some often-repeated questions in our minds are: Are our Indian institutions ready to compete with much older, reputed foreign institutions? On the other hand, what if fly-by-night operators see this as an opportunity to lure uninformed Indian students? Will it affect the number of Indian students going abroad? Will the fee for higher education increase in India? If they can repatriate money to their countries, aren’t they allowed to profiteer? On the other hand, if they are not allowed to repatriate, who will be interested? Will these universities award the same degree/other programs here? What about fee determination? Reservation? and so on.

Now, the overarching objective of getting FHEI of repute to India is to bring the benefit of global education to more Indian students (beyond those who can afford to travel abroad) and that eventually increases the quality and throughput of Indian higher education. While the objective is clear, given the sensitivities, it was not easy to bring in this change. “UGC - Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India - Regulations, 2023” (FHEI Regulation 2023) is a journey for over a decade, which culminated in this regulation.

The first attempt in 2010 through the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, could not materialise. The bill lapsed before it could be taken up. Later in 2020, National Education Policy (NEP 2020) was announced - which had clear recommendation to allow top global universities to set up campus in India. In 2021, with the aim of preparing Indian Higher Education sector for globalisation, guidelines for Internationalisation of Higher Education in India were released. This laid emphasis on strengthening the international outlook of Indian HEs. It also allowed twinning arrangement, collaboration with foreign universities, credit recognition and transfer, brand building (of Indian institutions) abroad, setting up office of international affairs etc. In 2022, guidelines for joint programs beyond twinning such as joint degrees, dual degrees were allowed. Later in the year, International Financial Services Authority (IFSCA) released regulations permitting FHEI to set up their branch campuses and offshore education centers in GIFT city, Gandhinagar. In January 2023, UGC came up with draft UGC regulations for setting up and operations of FHEI campuses in India and finally in November 2023, FHEI Regulation 2023 was announced, inviting FHEI to apply for setting up their India campus.

This regulation, for the first time, allows competent (Top 500 in global rankings) foreign universities and other foreign educational institutions who are not Universities to set up their campus in India, offer degree and other formal programs. This can be in collaboration with an Indian institution/Indian company as well – if the majority shareholding is in FHEI. The programs offered should be at par with what is being offered in their parent campus – permitting any mobility, credit-transfers between these campuses. Two or more FHEIs can come together for setting up the India campus. UGC will recognise these programs at par with similar Indian university programs making them relevant for Indian market as well. The regulation attempts to keep non serious players away by not permitting franchises, study/learning centers, representative office/out-reach centers – whose primary interest is marketing for their main campus. FHEIs have complete autonomy in academic and commercial matters, can offer scholarship to worthy students, can undertake research activities and can also attract students from outside India. In all these, especially in governance, repatriation related areas, they will have to comply with the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999/The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010. So FHEI can bring in dollars to invest in India campus and repatriate back to their parent country when there is a surplus.

This as a big step forward and beginning of a new phase in Indian Higher Education sector. Over time, many marquee institutions will look at having a campus in India to accommodate aspiring Indian students – who contribute disproportionately to their international student quota in their main campus, today. While the Indian youth will benefit from these institutions, I see global students (particularly from this part of the world) preferring the India campus of these Universities – given the cultural and cost advantages. Indian faculty will benefit with exposure to these globally renowned institutions and FHEIs should find the vibrant Indian Higher Education sector a compelling proposition. When they are in India, FHEIs’ collaboration with Indian industry and Indian institutions would increase and help bring in deeper research and innovations relevant to this region.

It is important that we handle this (entry of FHEIs in India) carefully. While we welcome all, we should be clear in giving greater autonomy to those institutions of high standards and facilitate their establishment in India. Ideally, this would also help in increasing the exposure and reach of Indian institutions as well. In time, this would bring the golden era for Indian Higher Education.

A version of this article was published on Nov 27, 2023  by Financial Express Online