New Delhi: Academics and industry experts had differing views on the University Grants Commission's draft norms for the establishment and operation of foreign universities in the country with some saying such universities would not be able to address the unique problems of the Indian education sector.
Noting that foreign universities with campuses in the country can only offer full-time programmes in offline mode and not online or distance learning, University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar said the foreign universities and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) would need a nod from the commission to set up their campuses in India.
UGC to be dismantled?
Abha Dev Habib, a professor at Delhi University, questioned how the UGC was formulating the norms when it was supposed to be dismantled under the National Education Policy 2020.
"It is only unfortunate that the UGC, which is going to be dismantled, is making all the reforms. The very fact that the government does not have the will to discuss them as bills in Parliament is the reason that it is getting them introduced through the UGC.
The UPA (Congress-led United Progressive Alliance) had tried to bring the Foreign Universities Bill but it was shelved by the Rajya Sabha Standing Committee around 2012-13. At that time, the BJP and the Left had opposed it. But the BJP is now doing it," she added.
Foreign varsities in multilingual country
Concurring with Ms Habib, Surajit Mazumdar, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, opined that he did not see much logic behind allowing such campuses to open in India.
"What is the rationale behind this move? Academic interaction can happen across borders. But our own requirements are specific. We are a country affected by global inequality.
We are also a country with special problems, including that of language since multiple languages are spoken here. We have to deal with challenges in universities since the majority of learners in higher education are first-generation.
We have concrete requirements specific to our education system and I cannot see foreign universities having extra know-how in addressing these issues," he added.
The 'feel' of studying abroad
When students opt to study abroad, they want to enter a new system, a new country, a new culture, Ms Habib added. They also look to settle there. "With the kind of atmosphere currently, I do not think we will be able to invite good universities. Moreover, what will happen to the public education system here since these varsities will be poaching professors by paying them good packages? Our good professors will be hired there," she said.
Clarity needed on UGC rules
On the other hand, Vivek Kathpalia, Managing Director and CEO - Singapore, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, said the UGC's draft regulations were quite flexible but stressed that some more clarity would be welcome. Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is India's leading law firm that advises leading institutions, edtech companies, investors and policymakers.
"The draft regulations published by the UGC are quite clear and flexible. They are in a way in line with the regulations that were introduced recently for the GIFT. Previous attempts through complex legislation didn't work and a regulatory approach appears far more feasible.
There are some areas where more clarity would be welcome, such as the role of AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) for technical courses. The draft regulations have a catch-all provision that could empower the authority to change the goalpost. This should be avoided and suitably clarified as regulatory certainty is key," Mr Kathpalia said.
Chairman explains draft rules
UGC Chairman Jagdish Kumar added that the initial approval would be for 10 years. The approval will be renewed in the ninth year, subject to the meeting of certain conditions. "These institutions shall not offer any programme that jeopardises the national interest of India or the standards of higher education here", he added.
The UGC announced the draft regulations for 'Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India' and the final norms will be notified by the end of the month after considering feedback from all stakeholders.
While these universities will have the freedom to decide their admission criteria and fee structure, the commission has advised keeping the fees "reasonable and transparent".
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