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Is it Really a Good Idea To Set Up Foreign Universities in India?

"Student don't go abroad just to get a foreign degree, but for different experiences," says DU Prof Abha Dev Habib.

4 min read
Hindi Female

(This article was originally published on 6 February 2023 and has been reposted in light of the announcement by Australia's Deakin's University that it will set up a campus in India.)

"Cambridge University knows what it takes to become Cambridge. You can't just replicate excellence."

Abha Dev Habib, Associate Professor at Delhi University, is not convinced about the Indian government's plan to invite foreign universities in India. "I don't think many foreign institutions will set up their campuses in India," she tells The Quint.

In January this year, University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar released the draft regulations for "Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India."

The draft says that foreign universities will be invited to operate in India to provide foreign qualifications at affordable costs – and will exercise freedom to formulate their own admission policy and set their own curriculum.

But the larger question is will there be any takers? If yes, can foreign universities in India even succeed? The Quint speaks to experts to understand the problems they see with the government's vision.

Is it Really a Good Idea To Set Up Foreign Universities in India?

  1. 1. Will Ivy League Universities Set Up Campuses in India?

    One of the eligibility criteria for foreign universities coming to India is that they should have secured a position within the top 500 global rankings.

    “Replicating excellence is seldom done. It's not a frequent phenomenon. We have so many Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) but all of them are different and are known for different departments. It is difficult to generate the excellence in the same shape and form somewhere else,” Habib explains.

    In a piece in The Indian Express, academician Pratap Bhanu Mehta had highlighted that very few top-tier institutions have foreign campuses, and that over 30 percent of the foreign campuses receive some form of subsidy from the country they are setting up their campus in. "Can India justify subsidising top-tier foreign institutions with public money?" Mehta had noted.

    "First of all, I don't think many universities anywhere in the world operate on this principle of multiple campuses. The whole USP of a good university is that it is exclusive. For instance, a Harvard University in Boston in the US, would not be the same as a Harvard in Beijing in China," says Rohit Azad, Assistant Professor at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

    Questioning why Ivy League universities will set up campuses in India, Azad adds, "Even if an Ivy League does come here, the quality of education will not be the same. It will feel like a distance education programme where the quality is not as good as the parent institution."

  2. 2. Will Students Go To Foreign Universities in India?

    According to the draft, foreign universities will be invited to operate in India to provide foreign qualifications at affordable costs.

    "Students don't go to different countries just for a foreign degree. They go there for new experiences and opportunities. Some also go with an aim to settle there. They are not going to stay here. These foreign institutions will end up becoming like private Indian universities," says Habib.

    Further, she believes the universities will only cater to the elite if they set up shop in India.

    "This is like destroying your own public-funded universities and turning them into open campuses,” Habib adds.

    "The government should not outsource the responsibility of providing quality education to foreign universities. They themselves should take the responsibility. Also, quality education should be for masses, while these institutions will only be able to cater to very few elites. Good quality education for all can only happen by spending on your own public-funded institutions."
  3. 3. 'Autonomy for Foreign Institutes – But What About Indian Universities?'

    The UGC chairman said foreign universities coming to India will have the freedom to formulate their own admission policy and set their own curriculum.

    “And what are they doing to with their own public funded universities?” asks Habib.

    "On one hand the government is providing all of this freedom to foreign institutes, and on the other hand they are also bottling up their own institutes."
    Abha Dev Habib

    Habib laments that the UGC has controlled admissions through the Common University Entrance Test. "Earlier, subjective questions in entrance exams would assess a student’s aptitude. Now, we have multiple choice questions. We are totally dependent on the National Testing Agency for admissions. The government also dictates the course curriculum for some courses. They have derailed everything."

    Moreover, as per the draft regulations, the foreign institutes that will set up campuses in India will not be allowed to impart education through the online mode. They will have to conduct regular, offline classes.

    It is pertinent to note that the Centre is expanding online education in the country by announcing the constitution of institutes such as the National Digital University.

  4. 4. What About Good Teachers?

    Regarding appointment of teachers, the draft regulations say "the foreign higher educational institutions shall have the autonomy to recruit faculty and staff from India and abroad as per its recruitment norms."

    “What some foreign universities are might do is poach or employ the best of teachers that we have in various public funded universities. The concern is that it may lead to an exodus of good teachers," Habib says.

    "Indian public institutes have their own crisis, which might get worse with time," says Amman Madan of Azim Premji University, a private institution. He adds that many professors in top public institutes are pursuing "fashionable" research on subjects preferred in the West.

    "These institutes are dealing with internal mismanagement which will get accentuated when foreign universities offer higher salaries to those who are working on these fashionable scholarships, which cater to western countries," adds Professor Madan.

  5. 5. Will This Impact Indian Institutes?

    "Foreign universities will not come to India for philanthropy. They will come here to make money. Moreover, this draft also allows them to repatriate money to their home institution," Habib adds.

    Professor Azad, too, makes the same point and elaborates, "These kind of institutions are more of a money-making institute. What other incentive would they have to come to India to open a campus?"

    Professor Habib opines that a big concern is whether Indian private institutes will seek similar rules that will allow them to earn profit just like the foreign universities.

    "They may charge more for their already expensive degrees," she says. And, this will impact our students because a majority of our engineering and medical students study in private institutions," Habib concludes.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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