“However, the idea of opening the doors to foreign universities is not new because it is part of the strategy of internationalization of education. In 2005, the UGC considered a proposal to establish zones of excellence in education on the same model as SEZs (special economic zones). The NEP 2020 recommends that India can be promoted as a global study destination offering quality education at affordable costs. Top performing Indians will be allowed to set up overseas campuses and top foreign universities will be encouraged to operate in India. The UGC published guidelines on the internationalization of higher education in June 2021. Institutions of eminence have already been authorized to have offshore campuses. However, these guidelines are silent on opening doors to foreign universities in India. Allowing foreign universities to establish campuses in the city of GIFT may be a good idea as a proof of concept, but needs careful consideration due to its long-term implications,” says Bhushan Patwardhan, former Vice President of the University Grants Commission and National Research Professor – Ayush Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Savitribai Phule Pune University.
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Equal opportunity needed
The government, he adds, must also ensure a level playing field for Indian universities. “Many Indian private universities have shown great potential to innovate and become global players. These universities should have a free hand on an equal footing with foreign universities in terms of autonomy, favorable regulations, taxation, etc. This will bring healthy competition and can also ensure the required class and quality in teaching. If the GIFT city model is successful, similar zones could be established in other parts of India. Academic City in Dubai and similar experiences in other Middle Eastern countries have been successful. We’re kind of late to make that decision,” Patwardhan says.
Vikram Pandya, Director – Fintech, SP Jain School of Global Management, however, is optimistic about the prospects for private entities. “Although the competition is good, the government could make some changes to ensure a level playing field by encouraging more investment in facilities and innovation hubs for private players.”
Competition, he says, is always better for the quality of education and the overall talent pool. However, these foreign universities will mainly compete with the Ivy League educational institutes in India and will cater to HNIs (affluent individuals) and the upper middle class.
Mahalaya Chatterjee, a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Calcutta, has a similar view, as she says: “Most middle-class students seek education abroad through scholarships. Foreign campuses here may require them to take out loans which may put them in a financial trap, considering the employment scenario of the country. Students also may not want to trade their international study experience for similar courses on Indian soil.
Foreign campuses offering market-related courses bode well for the country’s education, Pandya points out, as few 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 the regulatory controls of UGC and AICTE, Pandya thinks that’s understandable, given that their unique selling proposition is their curriculum and pedagogy. “However, they will be subject to the rules established by the IFSCA (International Financial Services Centers Authority) to facilitate the availability of high-end human resources for financial services and technology. The repatriation of profits and tax incentives (the advantages of being in the city of GIFT) are necessary to attract these universities and this is in line with global practice,” he adds.
Attractive study center
Financially, the foreign presence can save huge foreign currencies that come out of Indian students going to study abroad. “This can open up new opportunities to attract more foreign students and therefore more business opportunities. So far, studying in India has remained dominated by Afro-Asians and students from developing countries due to affordability. State-of-the-art world-class campuses set up by global brands can also help India become an attractive destination for students from Western developed countries,” adds Patwardhan.