Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale could set up campuses in India soon with the government asking its policy think tank, Niti Aayog, to prepare a framework for opening doors to foreign universities.
The initiative, part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign that seeks to draw foreign investment, can potentially fetch millions of dollars and revolutionise the country’s higher education sector.
Sources say the National Institution for Transforming India (Niti) Aayog will hold consultations with various stakeholders, including the ministry of human resource development (HRD) and state governments, on new regulations like leaving foreign institutes out of higher education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC)’s purview.
“We are working on different models for the government to adopt. Very soon we will submit a report to the Prime Minister’s office,” a senior Niti Aayog official said.
This includes a draft bill that aims to provide transparent and single-window clearance for foreign education providers and a set of regulations to ensure their academic and administrative independence is not jeopardised.
Thousands of students from India head to institutes in the US, UK and Australia every year in search of quality education with the country on the cusp of a surge in its working-age population.
Some foreign schools run programmes in India through local partners but are yet to build bricks-and-mortar facilities here, objecting to being governed by the UGC.
Officials said the proposed legislation will provide a central policy guideline for such institutes and will be a mix of seven models available across the world.
“We will also delve into whether for-profit education institutions can be allowed entry or not,” an official said.
According to the HRD ministry’s data, 631 foreign education providers were operating in India in 2010. Of them, 440 were functioning from their home campuses and 137 had collaboration with Indian institutes. The number of foreign education providers in India saw a fivefold increase between 2000 and 2010. Around 75% of the courses offered by these schools were of business and hotel management.
Modi held a meeting with officials from the Niti Aayog, HRD ministry, UGC and commerce ministry in early June on the possibility of transforming India into an Asian higher education hub with several foreign universities expressing interest in setting up campuses here.
Foreign universities can bring an investment of $11 million in the first year, the commerce ministry has estimated. The UPA government twice tried to allow such institutes to open campuses with minimal government regulation.
In UPA-1, there was a major push to allow foreign universities in India and a bill was also drafted on recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission headed by Sam Pitroda, who served as an advisor to the PM. But the initiative did not see the light of day because of opposition by Left parties that were part of the ruling coalition.
After the UPA returned to power, HRD minister Kapil Sibal introduced the Foreign Education Providers Bill in the Lok Sabha allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in partnership with domestic education providers.
Only foreign universities of excellence from across the globe were to be permitted to open independent campuses as per the bill. However, the term “excellence” was not defined. The legislation amended on the basis of recommendations from a parliamentary standing committee in 2013 could not be introduced because of continued logjam in both Houses over the coal and 2G spectrum scams. Sibal’s successor, MM Pallam Raju, also felt the bill might not be passed because of the Left’s continued opposition and the government issued an executive order to pave the way for foreign education providers. But it could not come up with a long-term policy.
Sources say the NDA government believes getting the bill ratified in Parliament is possible as the Congress is in principle agreeable to the idea of allowing “reputed” foreign universities to set up campuses in India. This would boost the PM’s flagship “Make in India” campaign in higher education and ensure competition between high-cost private education providers and quality foreign universities.