Universities eye India as branch campus guidelines published

Led by two Australian universities, which are to start branch campus operations next year, top international universities are now also poised to enter India following the issuing by the Indian higher education regulator of final guidelines for the setting up of foreign university campuses.

The foreign universities will have the autonomy to determine admission processes and fee structures although the University Grants Commission (UGC) retains the authority to closely monitor their operations.

The foreign higher education institution will also have the autonomy to recruit faculty and staff from India and abroad as per its recruitment norms. However, the qualifications of the faculty must be on par with the main campus in the country of origin and enjoy the same recognition and status as those qualifications earned on the main campus in the home country.

While whole courses cannot be delivered by online mode, online lectures are allowed to contribute to up to 10% of programme requirements, the guidelines, issued on 8 November, state.

UGC Chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar said the guidelines aim to ensure parity of education between the Indian and main campuses and conformity with applicable rules and regulations.

In order to qualify to set up a campus in India a foreign university must be ranked among the top 500 universities in the world. However, the regulations also cover other eminent universities that do not participate in global rankings.

“There are universities that may not participate in global rankings, but they are reputed and possess outstanding expertise in a particular area, such as the institutions that are part of the Max Planck Society which has 84 institutions and they offer PhD programmes,” said Jagadesh Kumar.

“All these institutions that participate in global rankings and others of repute will be considered under these regulations,” explained Jagadesh Kumar.

Fee repatriation

Significantly, the new regulations allow the foreign institutions to fully repatriate the profits earned in India to their parent institution in the home country without any restrictions. So far, transfer of funds out of India has not been permitted and has been a major hurdle in the establishment of foreign campuses.

A new clause has also been added to the new version of the regulations concerning the receiving and use of donations ‘from any foreign sources’ which will require prior permission of the central government and must include compliance with the country’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.

Sources noted that the government wanted additional safeguards against financing from sources such as non-governmental organisations and institutions such as the World Bank without prior approval, and to avoid funding that is currently prohibited to be channelled through universities.

Universities in India said this was more likely to affect collaborative research programmes rather than branch campuses.

In its assessment of the 8 November announcement the Australian Department of Education said the regulations would “provide flexibility for foreign universities to establish operations in India and make decisions on courses, fees and hiring decisions without undue interference by the University Grants Commission”.

It continued: “Foreign universities will however need to ensure they source expert advice with regards to the business operating environment, so as to ensure they operate in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act and comply with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (as well as other relevant tax and business regulations).”

Approval process

The approval process involves an online application, followed by a comprehensive review to be undertaken by a standing committee appointed by the UGC.

The standing committee will assess each application, including the credibility of the educational institutions, the programmes to be offered, their potential to strengthen educational opportunities in India, and the proposed academic infrastructure.

The guidelines say the recommendations of the standing committee will be placed before the UGC within 60 days from the date of receipt of the application. Based on the recommendations of the standing committee, the UGC may initially grant in-principle approval and issue a letter of intent to the foreign higher education institution to set up a campus in India within two years from the date of approval.

While the initial draft of the guidelines specified a 10-year permission period, the final guidelines do not mention the length of permission although they stress the need for a quality assurance audit and reporting to the UGC in order to be granted extensions.

Australia leads the pack

Meanwhile, two Australian universities, Deakin University and the University of Wollongong, are set to welcome students to their campuses at Gujarat International Finance Tec City, or GIFT City, in Gandhinagar in the western state of Gujarat in the next academic year. They will be the first foreign universities to set up campuses in India.

The Deakin campus is likely to be completed by January 2024 and will be spread over a 25,000 square feet area.

The announcements regarding the opening of the Australian universities were made at an event called ‘Arambh (the Beginning): Australian University Campuses in India’ at GIFT City on 7 November.

Union Minister of Education and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan and his Australian counterpart Jason Clare attended the programme.

Speaking with local media Clare noted that Australian institutions “already run courses” in Indian universities.

“Now, Australia has an opportunity to run campuses as well and educate more Indian students in India ... You don't have to come to Australia to get an Australian qualification. You can do it here in India and the two Australian campuses in GIFT City are great examples of that,” he said. “I hope that is just the start,” he added.

Pradhan said at the event that the introduction of foreign university campuses in India aligns with the vision outlined in National Education Policy 2020. Pradhan said the policy emphasises internationalisation at home and aims to create a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive educational environment within India.


The minister said the foreign campuses also signify a giant leap towards globalising India’s education system, bringing world-class learning opportunities to the doorstep. “The campus of these two Australian Universities in GIFT city is truly a gift that the nation has been looking forward to,” he said.

Pradhan explained that the presence of renowned international institutions would foster rich cultural and academic exchanges, where students and faculty from different countries would collaborate, learn, and grow together. “This will not only elevate the quality of education but also empower our students with a global perspective, essential in today's interconnected world,” he said.

At the event, Deakin University announced applications for the Master of Business Analytics and Master of Cyber Security (Professional) programmes, which will begin from July 2024. Students will have to pay an annual fee of INR1.07 million or about AUD19,000.

A University of Wollongong (UOW) spokesperson said UOW India will offer a Graduate Certificate in Computing and Master of Computing (Data Analytics), followed by further undergraduate programmes in 2025.

“Initially, we will have a small intake of students but will be able to accommodate up to 1,000 students at this location in the coming years with the capacity to expand further as course offerings also expand,” said the spokesperson.

He said that student fees would be set at 50% of those incurred by international students studying at UOW’s Australian campuses. “This will be supplemented by merit scholarships to ensure bright and capable students can study at UOW GIFT City campus,” the spokesperson said.

“The campus at GIFT City will have faculty members from India and Australia and students will study the same syllabus as the one offered at UOW's Australian campus. The students will earn a degree from UOW Australia on completion of the course,” he added.

UK and US interest

A UK delegation of universities to India in September, coordinated by the UK Department for Business and Trade, included representatives from 31 UK higher education institution and bodies who met with key officials from Indian universities, but no specific announcements were made on possible campuses, acknowledging that Australian universities, particularly those with experience of setting up branch campuses in other countries, were leading the field.

Members of UK ENIC, the UK national agency for international qualifications and skills, were part of the delegation. ENIC has been running workshops with the Association of Indian Universities. These include training for institutions, both in the UK and India, about how to harmonise programmes and courses, looking at issues such as equivalence, credit values and courses, an ENIC spokesperson told University World News.

A source within the UK delegation noted that there was some lobbying by universities for a relaxation of the rankings criteria, which has led to the addition of institutions “with exceptional expertise in a specific area”. Universities can also be part of a consortium as long as each partner in the consortium fulfils the criteria.

Six Australian research universities have signalled their intent to collectively establish a consortium campus in India, Australian officials said. They include Flinders, Griffith, La Trobe, James Cook, Canberra, as well as Western Sydney and Murdoch which have already signalled their separate intent to set up branches.