Foreign branch campuses: Draft regulations are unveiled

The much-anticipated draft regulations for setting up and operating campuses of foreign universities stipulate, among other requirements, that education quality at Indian branch campuses must be equivalent to what is provided at the university’s home institution.

The regulations, issued by the higher education regulator the University Grants Commission (UGC) on 5 January 2023, state that a foreign university intending to set up its campus in India should have secured a position within the top 500 in overall/subject global rankings.

However, foreign education institutions that do not participate in global rankings, but are highly reputed institutions in their home jurisdiction, will also be considered.

UGC chairperson Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, in a news conference on Thursday 5 January 2023, said: “The foreign university/HEI [higher education institution] will have to give the undertaking that the quality of education imparted by it in its Indian campus will be at par with that of the main campus in the country of origin, and the qualifications awarded to the students in the Indian campus will be recognised and treated as equivalent to the corresponding qualifications awarded by the foreign HEIs in the main campus located in the country of origin for all purposes, including higher education and employment.”

He said the foreign campuses in India will provide an international dimension to higher education, enable Indian students to obtain affordable foreign qualifications, and make India an attractive global study destination.

‘As much autonomy as possible’

Elaborating on autonomy and quality of education, Kumar said: “We are focusing on providing as much autonomy as possible to the foreign HEIs and also to ensure that quality of education should be of certain standards. So there is not going to be any interference at all from the UGC from the operations point of view of setting up a campus in India, other than in terms of academic programmes and infrastructure in the campus.

“[T]he UGC regulations say that UGC has the right to inspect facilities and academic programmes. India has matured now … this is going to provide … greater opportunities to Indian students to get high quality international education in their own country,” he added.

Permission to operate in India will be granted initially for a period of 10 years. Foreign institutions will have to apply to the UGC for renewal of the operation of the campus at least one year before the expiry of the approved period, according to the draft regulations.

Permission for 10 years

Most academics feel the permission for a period of 10 years will not be a deterrent.

Dr Sudhir Gavhane, former vice-chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi Mission University, Aurangabad, told University World News it would not deter foreign universities as any university offering quality education would be ready for review at any time.

“Even if the [Indian] government changes, they will not like to go back from the reforms. We have to move forward with liberalisation that has begun in India.”

He said the reforms will also improve local institutions as they will want to compete with foreign universities.

However Dr Pushkar, director of the International Centre in Goa and a former academic at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science – Pilani – in Goa, argued that the 10-year review might be a deterrent for foreign institutes.

“The devil may be in the details about what the review means, but yes, I think it will [be a deterrent],” said Pushkar.

According to Kumar, foreign university campuses can adapt their admission processes and criteria to admit domestic and foreign students and can decide their own fee structure, which should be transparent and reasonable.

The UGC draft guidelines say foreign institutions will have the autonomy to recruit faculty and staff from India and abroad, according to their recruitment norms. However, the qualifications of faculty should be on par with the main campus of the country of origin and they must stay at the campus in India for a ‘reasonable’ period.

Kumar said: “The foreign HEIs must not act as a representative office of the Parent Entity to undertake promotional activities for their programmes in their home jurisdiction, or any other jurisdiction outside India.”

Interests of local students

In order to safeguard the interests of Indian students, the UGC has specified that foreign institutions will not discontinue any course or programme or close the campus without prior UGC approval.

In the case of a course or programme disruption or discontinuation, the parent entity will be responsible for providing an alternative to the affected students. Additionally, the foreign entity will have a mechanism to address student grievances. Students may appeal to the UGC if the foreign institution does not adress grievances.

Kumar also said foreign institutions will be allowed to repatriate funds under certain regulations.

“If they generate any revenue through tuition fees or any other means our regulation is very clear. Under FEMA [Foreign Exchange Management Act] 1999 they can do the repatriation of funds generated in India,” said Kumar. He added that institutions will establish their campuses in India via the companies’ act, limited liability partnership act, through joint ventures or by opening a branch office. Repatriation is allowed under those regulations.

Guidelines welcomes

Academics welcomed the UGC guidelines for establishing and operating foreign institutions, noting that enough care has been taken to protect the interests of Indian students.

Many said there had been rapid growth in the number of Indian students wanting to study overseas. However, recent situations like the spread of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war, which have seen the disruption of the education of Indian students abroad, along with the high cost of education in a foreign country, may discourage many of them.

Now, those who cannot go abroad will have access to high quality education provided by top foreign universities in their own country.

Stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on the draft guidelines to the higher education regulator until 18 January 2023. The final guidelines are expected to be issued by the end of the month.