Deliberation over India's much-delayed Foreign Universities Bill to allow international universities to set up campuses in the country may be dragged out even further after the student body of the ruling Congress party raised a series of concerns over the proposed legislation.
The National Students' Union of India (NSUI) petitioned parliament's standing committee on human resource development, demanding a cap on fees charged by foreign universities wanting to set up in India.
"If the government does not control the fees of the foreign universities or implement quotas, these universities will only serve the elite. Does the government want foreign universities for the rich and Indian universities for the poor?" asked a NSUI member from Delhi University, not wanting to be named due to the sensitive nature of the debate.
He denied that the NSUI was going against its parent party. "We are a democracy and as the youth we have the right to a debate. These are valid concerns and the party [Congress] should address them before moving forward on the bill," he said.
But the student stance could become an embarrassment for the Congress party, which is committed to allowing in foreign institutions and whose Secretary General Rahul Gandhi has been investing a lot of time and energy in re-inventing the Youth Congress and the NSUI.
Gandhi, son of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who it has been said is being groomed to lead the country, has also stated that he wants the NSUI to play an active and influential role in debates over public policy.
Although the NSUI broadly welcomed the bill, it has called for a common entrance examination for admission to all foreign-backed universities, a demand that may put off many foreign universities.
The student petition to parliament also demanded a limit on the number of foreign students foreign universities would be allowed to enrol in their Indian campuses and wants quotas for 'scheduled castes', 'scheduled tribes' and other so called 'backward' category students, in line with the current policy for public institutions - although private universities are not required to maintain student quotas.
All these demands are contrary to the government's position on the bill. The government is concerned that the best universities across the world will not respond positively to over-regulation, and may choose to stay out of India.
According to senior officials in the Education Ministry, the NSUI's demands will further complicate the government's long-standing efforts to pass the bill, which has already been opposed by parties on the Left.
The student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad party, the All India Students' Federation backed by the Communist Party of India, the Marxist party-linked Students' Federation of India and other Left-leaning student bodies have also petitioned the standing committee.
The parliamentary committee, which is at a key stage of deliberations on the bill, has summoned Education Ministry officials to respond to the petitions.
Government sources accepted that the substantive nature of the concerns raised by the NSUI could prove an impediment to the passage of the legislation.
The Foreign Universities Bill was introduced in parliament in May 2010. It was referred to the standing committee, which was to submit its report in two months. But opposition from various quarters has meant that the bill has been with the committee for over a year now.
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