INDIA: Long wait ahead for foreign universities

Foreign universities keen on setting up in India have a long wait ahead. The Foreign Education Providers Bill to allow foreign educational institutions to open up branch campuses in India remains stuck in parliament.

The bill tabled in parliament in May 2010 has not seen any progress yet, and according to Education Minister Kapil Sibal (pictured) it could be another year before it becomes law.

In interviews with local media he expressed disappointment at the lack of progress. "In any policy framework or decision-making process, the ministry represents only one limb. I can draft the legislation, but ultimately it all depends on standing committees and parliament and whether parliament is allowed to function or not.

"I am happy that I was able to complete my process in time, but I am disappointed that important legislation could not be discussed and passed," Sibal said.

Sibal was referring to the stormy winter session of parliament that ended in mid-December and was disrupted by opposition lawmakers over a telecommunications scandal that has cost the country billions. Many bills have been stalled as a result of the telecommunications uproar.

"The process has not moved forward because parliament has not worked," Sibal said. "I would assume that it [the Foreign Education Providers Bill] would be delayed by another quarter. However it should be passed by December 2011."

The bill is not expected to have a smooth ride through parliament, which will reconvene in February. Opposition parties such as the left-aligned CPI (M), are set to oppose it tooth and nail.

"The draft bill shows clearly that there is no regulation on fees or admission procedures for foreign universities. There is also complete absence of social justice implications that universities in India follow," said senior CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat, who is a member of the upper house, the Rajya Sabha.

"Moreover, the bill was supposed to attract the best foreign institutions. But we have all heard Harvard and Yale and the other Ivy Leagues say they are not interested in opening a campus in India," Karat said.

Senior government officials said the bill would be passed this year. "There is a lot at stake. Some very influential players in India are backing the Foreign Education Providers Bill. There will be opposition from left parties but ultimately the bill will be passed," said an official of the education ministry.

Anand Sudarshan, CEO of Manipal Education, said the lack of progress was frustrating. Manipal has a number of branch campuses outside India, notably in Dubai and Malaysia, and is hoping to collaborate with foreign universities within India.

"We have been getting feelers from many universities from across the world expressing their wish to tie up with us to start campuses here or to start joint programmes. We have also been in talks with some Ivy League institutions. But with no clarity with regard to government policies, not much has been happening," Sudarshan said.

Nonetheless, the bill's status has not affected the enthusiasm of foreign governments or overseas universities. As a first step, several foreign universities have announced joint degrees with Indian institutions.

The UK's Northampton University plans to launch a masters in environmental technology this year, in collaboration with Madras University. Carnegie Mellon University also recently announced a partnership with the Shiv Nadar Foundation to provide undergraduate programmes in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering to Indian students.

"The Foreign Education Providers Bill will enable setting up a physical campus for foreign universities. But setting up collaborations, joint degrees and research can be done without the bill," pointed out Professor Mrinal Miri, former vice-chancellor of North Eastern Hill University in Shillong.

"The higher education environment in India is today very open to foreign collaboration and institutions should take advantage of this. The bill will eventually come," Miri said.

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