With Budget 2022 offering ease of access to foreign universities at Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) in Gandhinagar, a more enabling environment is being envisaged for them. The move, say experts, will give foreign universities the autonomy from regulatory authorities such as the UGC and AICTE, but may not create a level playing field for the private players as they will not have similar ease of doing business.
“The idea of opening doors to foreign universities is not new, as it is part of the internationalisation of education strategy. In 2005, the UGC had considered a proposal to establish Education Excellence Zones on the similar lines of SEZs (Special Economic Zones). The NEP 2020 recommends that India may be promoted as a global study destination providing premium education at affordable costs. High-performing Indians will be allowed to set up campuses abroad and top-ranked foreign universities will be encouraged to operate in India. UGC has released guidelines on the internationalisation of higher education in June 2021. Institutions of Eminence have already been permitted to have offshore campuses. However, these guidelines are silent regarding opening doors to foreign universities in India. Allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in GIFT city may be a good idea as a proof of concept but needs careful consideration due to their long-term implications,” says Bhushan Patwardhan, former vice chairman, University Grants Commission, and national research professor – Ayush Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Savitribai Phule Pune University.
The government, he adds, must also ensure the same level playing field for Indian universities. “Many private universities from India have shown great potential to innovate and become global players. Such universities should be given a free hand on par with foreign universities in regard to autonomy, favourable regulations, taxation etc. This will bring healthy competition and may also ensure required class and quality in education. If the GIFT city model is successful, then similar zones may be established in other regions of India. Academic City in Dubai and similar experiments in other Middle east countries have been successful. We are in a way late in taking this decision,” Patwardhan says.
Vikram Pandya, director – Fintech, SP Jain School of Global Management, is however, optimistic about the prospects of private entities. “While competition is good, the government may make some changes to ensure that there is level playing field by incentivising more investment in facilities and innovation hubs for private players.”
Competition, he says, is always better for quality of education and overall talent pool. However, these foreign universities will be mainly competing against Ivy league education institutes in India and will be catering to HNIs (high net worth individuals) and higher middle class.”
Mahalaya Chatterjee, professor, Department of Economics, Calcutta University, holds a similar view, as she says, “Most middle-class students seek overseas education based on scholarships. Foreign campuses here may compel them to take loans which can put them in a financial trap, considering the country’s job scenario. The students may not also want to trade their international study experience for similar courses on Indian soil.”
Foreign campuses offering market linked courses augurs well for the country’s education, Pandya emphasises, since few of the courses, namely fintech, data science, AI/ML etc are more dynamic in nature and these global universities will be able to add more context and global coverage. As for their freedom from regulatory controls of UGC and AICTE, Pandya believes it is understandable, given that their unique selling proposition is their curriculum and pedagogy. “However, they will be subject to rules set up by IFSCA (International Financial Services Centres Authority) to facilitate availability of high-end human resources for the financial services and technology. Repatriation of profit and tax incentives (the advantages of being in GIFT city) are required to attract these universities and it is in line with global practices,” he adds.
Financially, foreign presence may save huge foreign currency that goes out due to Indian students going abroad for studies. “This can open new opportunities to get more foreign students and therefore more business opportunities. Study in India so far has remained dominated by Afro-Asian and students from developing countries because of affordability. State-of-the-art world-class campuses set up by global brands can help India become an attractive destination for students from Western developed countries as well,” Patwardhan adds.
“But then, the internationalisation of education should not lead to creating a new caste system in our education sector. This can be addressed by taking steps including credit transfers, scholarships, ease in student mobility etc,” Patwardhan says.