The Foreign universities bill 2010 has attracted lot of curiosity and interest from media and universities to assess its potency and implications. The bill is still pending after three years and it is pretty much written off. However, the recent executive order by the University Grants Commission allowing foreign universities to enter India has reignited the curiosity. In my commentary article “How to Engage Foreign Universities in India” published in Business Standard, I argue that the optimism is unfounded and it will again be a non-starter. The proposed order is not aligned with the reality of global higher education and the needs of Indian higher education. Here is the excerpt.
Will foreign universities establish campuses in India? This has been one of the recurring questions over the last few years. Unfortunately, not only the question but also the corresponding answers have been far from the reality of global higher education and its fit with the needs of India.
The proposal of allowing foreign universities through an executive order of the University Grants Commission, bypassing the pending Bill, is one such recent development. Like the Bill, the intention of the proposal to allow foreign universities is laudable. However, the execution is still questionable on at least three grounds: it lacks understanding of the segments of foreign institutions and creates impractical barriers to entry; does not recognise the diversity of needs of India, and misses a perspective of transparency for student decision-making.
Here are three suggestions to better facilitate engagement of foreign universities in India:
Understand segments of foreign universities and eliminate impractical barriers to entry: Global higher education systems are diverse and within each system there are a wide range of institutions with varying missions and quality. However, there are two primary motives for institutions seeking to enter India – prestige or profit/revenue. Between these two extremes, there are many foreign institutions with a different mix of prestige and profit motives that can be broadly classified as prestige-enhancing, prestige-seeking and profit-maximizing.
Prestige-enhancing: This segment of top-ranked universities is not interested in India as a source of revenue and would not establish full-fledged campuses in India. However, they would be keen on establishing partnerships with universities in the form of student exchanges, faculty exchanges and collaborative research projects.
Prestige-seeking: This next tier of institutions seeks internationalisation to build their prestige and, at the same time, seeks opportunities to enhance revenue. They are more likely to engage in more extensive arrangements including joint degrees and twinning programmes and are still constrained by investments needed in establishing campuses.
Profit-maximising: These institutions are primarily looking for additional sources of revenue/profit through quicker increase in enrollments. This segment aims to address the mass market of students. Many are quite keen on coming to India; however, current policy directions indicate that for-profit institutions will not be allowed in India.
Current policy directions are attempting to attract only the prestige-enhancing segment by creating requirements such as requirement of a deposit of Rs 25 crore or a world ranking of being among the top 400 institutions or not-for-profit status. These requirements are not only impractical, but also fail to leverage the opportunities from other segments.
While it is imperative to ensure that quality is maintained and profiteering is contained, the requirements are missing the diversity of institutions across the world – what are their motivations to be in India and what role they can play? For example, there are many private liberal arts colleges in the US that are not listed in the top 400 but have a great potential to improve the quality of three-year degrees in India.
Dr. Rahul Choudaha