UGC Draft Guidelines for Foreign Branch Campuses Unveiled

The much-awaited draft rules for establishing and operating campuses overseas in India have been revealed. The University Grants Commission (UGC) issued the Draft Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India Regulations on 5 January, 2023. As India aims to reach a 50% Gross Enrollment Ratio(GER) from 27.3% currently by 2035 as per the recent National Education Policy, this is a welcome step in the right direction.

According to the draft, the quality of education at the Indian branch campuses should be at par with the quality offered at the home institution of the university. The regulations also state that the Foreign Higher Education Institutions (FHEIs) aiming to establish its campus in India must be placed among the top 500 in subject/overall worldwide rankings. However, exceptions will be considered in the case of FHEIs that are not part of the international rankings, but have a great reputation in their home country.

Dr. Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, the chairperson of the UGC, said that the qualifications received by students in Indian campuses will have the same weight as those offered at the main campus. When it comes to further studies or employment, the degree received in India will be the equivalent of the corresponding degree earned at the university’s home campus. These regulations have opened up the possibility of setting up various partnerships under a Transnational Education (TNE) partnership. However, the UGC has ascertained that this will not include online degrees.

The UGC added that Indian campuses will offer an international dimension to further studies, and Indian students will be able to obtain affordable international degrees without leaving India.

This move also echoes India’s commitment to the ‘Study in India’ campaign under the National Education Policy, 2020, hoping to make India a favored study destination for international students as well.

Quality of education through autonomy – the point of focus

The UGC chairperson elaborated on the quality of education and autonomy. He shared that the focus was on offering a great deal of autonomy to foreign institutions while ensuring the highest standards of quality. He added that the UGC will not be interfering with the operations of establishing campuses of foreign universities in India. The only concerns of the higher education regulator revolve around the campus’ infrastructure and the academic programmes they offer.

According to the UGC regulations, the regulator can inspect academic programmes and campus facilities at any time to ensure they are of a certain standard. A standing committee of UGC will examine applications of the FHEIs, keeping in mind the credibility of the educational institution, the programmes to be offered, their potential to strengthen educational opportunities in India, and the proposed academic infrastructure, among others. Mr. Kumar states that Indian students will have greater opportunities to obtain high-quality global education within India.

10-year permission for foreign branch campuses in India

The draft regulations state that to operate in India, foreign universities will be granted permission for a 10-year period. To extend the timeline, institutions must apply for a renewal to the UGC at least a year before the completion of the predetermined period of operations.

Most academics are of the belief that the 10-year permission will not cause any deterrence to foreign universities. They say that renewals will happen as and when required. Mahatma Gandhi Mission University’s former vice-chancellor, Dr. Sudhir Gavhane, stated that even if there is a change in the government, the reforms will remain. He added that these reforms will also improve the quality of education offered by local institutions due to the increased competition and high standards of foreign universities.

Complete autonomy

Foreign institution campuses will be allowed to have their own admission criteria and selection processes to admit both local and overseas students. They can determine their own fee structure as long as it is reasonable and transparent, said Mr. Kumar.

According to the draft regulations, foreign universities will have complete autonomy in terms of recruiting staff and faculty from India and overseas. However, the faculty’s qualification requirements must be equivalent to their counterparts in the institution’s home campus. The draft regulations also require faculty from the home institution to stay and teach at the Indian institution for a reasonable period.

Safeguarding the interests of Indian students

The UGC has taken measures to safeguard the interests of Indian students. The regulator has stated that foreign universities cannot discontinue any programme or course without prior approval from the UGC. It added that no foreign university campus can close either, before attaining approval from the higher education regulator.

In case a programme or course is discontinued, the home campus will have to provide an alternative to the students affected by the same. Moreover, student grievances will also have to be addressed by the home branch of the institution. If the foreign university fails to address grievances, students can appeal to the UGC.

Academics across the country have welcomed the draft regulations put forth by the UGC. They believe that the interests of local students will be protected, and that the overall quality of education will improve significantly through this move.

And Still…Questions Remain: Public Comment Due January 18, 2023

Sannam S4 Group’s Acumen and Seamless are soliciting feedback from our networks in order to support the efforts of the UGC and globally ambitious institutions eager to expand to India.  Comments on the draft guidelines are due on January 18, 2023 and the Group will be sharing feedback with the UGC and other relevant Government of India stakeholders.

Questions persist such as:

  • How will the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) impact the ability for universities to move funds into and out of the country? This is pertinent because education within India is seen as a not for profit activity and FCRA governs the regulations in relation to foreign contributions in nonprofit sector in India
  • Is the expectation that only for-profit governance structures are viable? This is an important consideration to incentivise foreign universities to make an investment
  • Concerns about the subjectivity of criteria regarding qualification of institutions, application and reapplication approvals, and audits.
  • What is the level of infrastructure investment and operational commitment required at the moment of application?
  • What is the dispute mechanism/recourse in case of unfavourable UGC decision or interpretation of the rules?
  • How might matters of national interest, security, public order or morality that may trump institutional autonomy and academic freedom?

Please share your comments with by January 16, 2023 for our submission or share thereafter as Sannam S4 Group has an ongoing dialogue with the Government of India on these matters.