UGC woos foreign universities with autonomy promise; chokes the best at home

UGC, Higher education, foreign university
The UGC will invite applications from foreign universities seeking to set up campuses in India once the proposed guidelines are approved by the government.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) had earlier announced that it will open doors to foreign universities to set up campuses in India to help Indian students get foreign degrees without going abroad. The apex agency on higher education will soon come up with a rulebook that is expected to give these universities full freedom in setting up curriculum and academic course structure, faculty hiring and salaries, even while it is tightening its grip on universities at home.

The government’s move to allow setting up of foreign varsity campuses comes at a time when universities at home are altering their courses under pressure from the government. The BJP has been engaged in an ambitious overhaul of the Indian education system. In 2020, it rolled out the first National Education Policy since 1986. In such circumstances, it remains to be seen whether famed foreign universities in liberal arts will also bow down to pressure from the government.

The UGC will invite online applications from foreign institutes seeking to set up campuses in India once the propsed guidelines are approved. A committee of experts will evaluate the applications based on the credibility, eligibility, courses on offer, and the ability to start and maintain a campus in India. The committee will submit its report to the UGC in 45 days. Once the Commission gives its approval, it will go to the ministry of education for final clearance.

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UGC chairman M Jagadesh Kumar had earlier said that some countries have shown interest in entering the Indian higher education space. The government is also working to enable Indian institutions, state-funded, private and central universities, to be able to go and open campuses abroad.

The good, the bad and the ugly

India has the second largest education system in the world. At the higher education level, there are 3.74 crore students enrolled in close to 1,000 universities, 39,931 colleges, and 10,725 stand-alone institutions. India may have a handful of good universities, but none of them feature in the top 100 universities in global rankings. Not even IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, University of Delhi or JNU made it to the top 100 in QS Top Universities Ranking, 2022.

This is especially worrying considering India is soon to become the world’s most populous nation. Where will this brimming population end up without good education? Meanwhile, the government wants to raise India’s Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.

Affordability factor in higher education 

While the draft regulation recommends charging reasonable fees to keep these universities affordable, it is expected that UGC will grant higher autonomy in standardising fee structures meaning that the government will not have a final say in fees structure. This issue remains thorny even if the government presses on mandatory full disclosure of fees breakup.

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However, all of this remains irrelevant considering the Narendra Modi government is a big supporter of privatisation. The government has also been in favour of privatisation of education by granting autonomous status to prominent colleges under central universities such as DU, which essentially means higher course fees and elitism. However, setting up campuses of foreign universities in the country may help students save up on accommodation costs abroad.

Changes in higher education

The new National Education Policy (NEP) brought in by the Modi-led NDA government has a renewed interest in the internationalisation of education in India, while at home it believes education must be controlled by the authorities. The University Grants Commission recently allowed Indian institutions to offer twinning and dual degree programmes in collaboration with foreign educational institutes. To that end, the agency has earmarked 250 institutions across 60 countries for possible collaboration.

Universities and higher education institutions across India will now also be allowed to create up to 25% supernumerary seats for foreign students in their undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) programmes.

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Prachi Gupta is an Assistant Editor with Policy Circle. She is a post graduate in English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College For Women, Delhi University. Prachi started her career as a correspondent with She specialises in policy impact studies.