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17th Aug 2012

Indian government puts foreign university legislation on the shelf

Editor's Note: Our follow up article published in April 2013 indicates that after a two-and-a-half-year delay, the foreign education providers bill was cleared by a parliamentary committee and is now going to parliament.

In an apparent nod to political opposition against expanded foreign university participation in Indian higher education, the Indian government has shelved pending legislation that would allow foreign universities to establish campuses and award degrees in India. The government has set a target to triple the country's higher education enrolment (currently 16 million students) by the year 2020. With this ambitious goal in mind, Indian legislators have positioned the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill as an important step in expanding opportunities and raising the quality of higher education for Indian students. However, political opposition has been mounting to expanded foreign institutional operations within India, and the Human Resource Development Ministry recently opted to set the bill aside for the current legislative session in favour of three additional bills focused on higher education reforms - prevention of malpractices, setting up education tribunals and mandatory accreditation for institutions. A recent article in The Economic Times sums up the situation: "The human resource development minister Kapil Sibal's decision to put the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill on the back burner is in line with the strategy adopted in the Budget session: move ahead with the less contentious bills to create a momentum...The minister is well aware that a bill as contentious as this one, which allows foreign education institutions to set up campuses in India, could well derail his entire legislative agenda." As of 2010, there were 631 foreign education institutions operating in India - some of these through delivery of programmes from their home campuses, others via linkages with an Indian partner. Times Higher Education notes that very few of these 631 active institutions maintain a campus in the country, and that even fewer enjoy government accreditation. "Five had campuses in India but just one, the Schulich School of Business, was accredited. Graduates of unaccredited universities find it difficult to get government jobs or progress to postgraduate study at local public universities." Some UK vice-chancellors and international higher education experts said that interest in India among UK universities was now declining because of high levels of bureaucracy and because the country lacks a coherent regulatory framework.

"There's a genuine worry about doing business in India, not just because of the bill but other regulatory activity and the difficulty of getting permits," said John Fielden of Chems Consulting, which advises on transnational education.

Higher education in India is governed by both state and federal law, and registering as a foreign provider can be a long process. Contrary to the situation in other developing markets, there are no financial incentives on offer for those wanting to set up in the country. "Countries such as Burma [Myanmar], Kurdistan, Vietnam and Brazil are now considered preferable," Mr Fielden added.

New guidelines

In an apparent recognition of the political hurdles ahead for its foreign universities bill, the Indian government has recently directed The University Grants Commission - the funding and standards body for higher education institutions in the country - to establish expanded guidelines to regulate partnerships between Indian and foreign institutions. Universities News reports that only high-quality institutions will be eligible for twinning arrangements or partnerships under the new guidelines: "The regulations mandate that only institutes graded 'A' by the National Board of Accreditation or the National Assessment and Accreditation Council can collaborate with foreign institutes, which, in turn, must figure in the list of top 500 global educational institutes, as ranked by the Times Higher Education Rankings or the Shanghai Rankings." Under the new UGC guidelines:

  • Any partnership agreements must be approved by the UGC;
  • Approvals are given for periods of five years with provisions for ongoing UGC review and renewal;
  • Students may earn a degree from both the Indian institution and the foreign university partner.

Existing linkages between Indian and foreign institutions have been given six months to comply with the new UGC guidelines. In cases where they are not able to do so, the institutions involved are obliged to terminate their partnership agreements. Sources: The Economic Times, Times Higher Education, Universities News

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