25% extra places, no entrance exams for foreign students

In a major step towards achieving greater internationalisation of India’s higher education as outlined by India’s National Education Policy 2020, the country’s higher education regulator the University Grants Commission (UGC) has approved an additional 25% of university places for foreign students to be admitted to undergraduate and postgraduate courses across India.

These will be ‘supernumerary seats’ or places over and above the intake approved for individual institutions and by regulatory bodies, so that universities will not have to cut back on their intake of Indian students in order to bring in more foreign students.

As the 2022 intake is already in place, this is unlikely to be implemented by institutions until 2023.

The additional seats will not include international students involved in student exchanges between different institutions or under memoranda of understanding between the Government of India and another country.

According to the UGC guidelines released on 26 August, the number of places will be decided by universities themselves, keeping in mind infrastructure, faculty and other requirements, and specific guidelines by regulatory bodies.

Notably, as many as 10% of supernumerary seats were already reserved for foreign nationals across the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) since 2016, and this will now also increase to 25%.

Balanced tuition fees

Institutions may also set their own fees for foreign students, though UGC Chairman Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar cautioned that setting fees too high will mean foreign students will not come.

Higher education institutions “need to strike a balance in fixing the tuition fee appropriately”, he said.

Kumar said the UGC was encouraging all good institutions to work towards increasing the number of foreign students. However, “initially, only those HEIs [higher education institutions] that have good infrastructural facilities and academic programmes may attempt to admit foreign students,” he said.

Institutions can estimate the number of foreign students to be admitted based on available labs, classrooms and hostel infrastructure, he added. Although there will be no additional government resources, he said, “admitting foreign students will help [institutions] generate internal resources through tuition fees that can then be used to further improve the infrastructure to attract more foreign students”.

The Indian authorities have noted that opportunities to attract international students, academics and funding are increasing and many higher education institutions are now committed to expanding their international reach.

Admission processes

Foreign students will not have to take any of the highly competitive Indian examinations for admission to Indian institutions on the basis that they would be unlikely to be able to prepare for the exams in the way that Indian students do. Indian students who are living abroad with foreign passports will also be entitled to admission in reputed institutions without appearing for entrance tests.

The UGC has issued guidelines to admit foreign students through a transparent admission process similar to processes followed by their institutions abroad.

“Indian institutions may admit international students based on the equivalence of entry qualification held by them. The equivalence is to be determined by the UGC or any other body recognised by the UGC for such purpose or the concerned regulatory bodies of the country,” the UGC guidelines read.

Other regulatory bodies include the All India Council for Technical Education, the Pharmacy Council of India and the Council of Architecture, among others.

Kumar added that seats that remain unfilled in the supernumerary category shall not be allocated to anyone but an international student, who must be in possession of a foreign passport.

Students from developing and neighbouring countries

Many academics said allocating a generous proportion of seats to foreign students does not mean that more foreign students will come to India for higher studies. They expect mainly students from developing and neighbouring countries, due to the lower costs of education in India compared to the West.

SV Satyanarayana Raju, a professor and coordinator of the International Centre at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said BHU has been declared an ‘Institute of Eminence’ by the Ministry of Education and many of the BHU faculties have very good infrastructure and other facilities.

“If they increase these seats by 25%, we can accommodate that many students. Mostly we receive applications for agriculture, visual arts and performing arts. The science and commerce departments also have very good infrastructure and facilities. So overall we welcome this decision by the UGC and are ready to accommodate foreign students,” he told University World News.

However, Sri Niwas Singh, director of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management at Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, said: “Earlier we also had provision for supernumerary seats like the DASA [Direct Admission of Students Abroad] seats, but the students are not coming. They normally go to the US, Canada or the UK because their priorities are these three countries.”

“Those who are coming here belong to an economically weaker background,” Singh said, noting that India is a cheaper option for students from countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

“In my institute, I already have the ‘Study in India’ programme and we have 10 students from Nepal. By increasing the seats, they will not come to you [India],” he said.

Prestigious brands

Singh added that students would likely try to come to IITs because of their prestigious brand, but they would be interested in mainly the older IITs which have established reputations.

Singh said foreign students should be encouraged to study in other IITs, not just premier ones. “It will help in improving the health of other institutions. If they put 25% in institutes like IIT Delhi and Mumbai, then everyone will go there,” he told University World News.

Others said many were unlikely to fill the 25% seats for foreign students. Indian institutions needed to make themselves more attractive to foreign students, as well as providing education on par with international standards, according to research published by Brookings India just before the pandemic.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, a total of 23,439 foreign students came to India in 2021. This is 14% more than the figure of 20,561 foreign students who came a year earlier, in 2020. However, this number was much higher in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic when the number of foreign students dipped sharply.

In 2019, about 75,000 foreign students came to India for higher studies, while 72,268 students came in 2018 and over 70,000 in 2016 and 2017.

National tests to be extended abroad

Although foreign students will not need to take national tests, the National Testing Agency, which conducts the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) exams for admission to undergraduate engineering and medical courses respectively in India, is working to extend exam centres in 63 countries to benefit Indian students who are abroad and who wish to study engineering and medicine in India.

Students of Indian origin with foreign nationality can write the NEET and JEE entrance exams provided they fulfil all the eligibility criteria.

The UGC said that to promote India as a global study destination, the National Education Policy 2020 stipulates various measures which include facilitating research and faculty collaborations, student exchanges with high-quality foreign universities and signing relevant mutually beneficial memoranda of understanding with foreign countries.

According to the UGC, 179 universities have established an office for international affairs in India and 158 of them have set up ‘alumni connect’ cells.