UK universities await UGC’s final norms for foreign campuses

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New Delhi: British universities are waiting to see the fine print of the University Grants Commission’s proposed norms before they consider setting up campuses in India, Professor Sir Steve Smith, the UK Government International Education Champion, told ThePrint Tuesday.

Nine months have passed since the UGC released draft regulations for foreign universities looking to set up and operate campuses in India, but the higher education regulator is yet to release the final draft of the norms.

UGC chairman Professor M. Jagadesh Kumar told ThePrint in a statement Tuesday that the regulations “are in the final stage and will be announced by UGC soon”.

On whether British universities have shown interest in setting up campuses in India, Kumar said, “UK universities are interested in setting up campuses in India. Once the details in the regulations are announced, many universities are expected to take advantage of these ‘light but tight’ regulations, and establish their campuses.”

Asked how British universities view the opportunity to set up campuses in India against the backdrop of the ongoing British Council-led India-UK higher education conference, Professor Sir Steve Smith, however, said the “devil is in the details”. 

Smith, who was appointed UK’s first International Education Champion in June 2020, said whether British universities will consider opening campuses in India “really depends on the exact regulation, how you fund it, who owns the land, who holds the intellectual property, what happens to the capital investment, the fees, the quality assurance etc.”

He added, “I don’t think we should expect anything immediately. And the reason for this is that we first need to see the exact regulations.” 

A former vice-chancellor of Exeter University, Smith said that “about 27 British universities have international branch campuses in some form,” but will consider coming to India depending on whether it is “right for them”.

“They need clarity on all key aspects like whether the process of education will be Indian or British? Or will the degree be recognised etc.? Governing bodies of universities can only decide to invest if they see the regulations first,” he said.

A delegation of 31 British universities and colleges, represented by their vice-chancellors or pro-vice chancellors, are currently in India to promote Transnational Education (TNE) between the two countries, as well as the British Council’s Going Global Partnerships (GGP) programme. The delegation also comprises officials from the UK government’s education and business departments.

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UGC draft norms & suggestions

On 5 January this year, the UGC released and invited comments on its Draft (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations, 2023.

The draft regulations said that foreign universities in the top 500 of “overall/subject-wise global rankings” will be permitted to set up campuses in India. It also proposed giving foreign universities the freedom to set up a “transparent and reasonable” admission process and fee structure, besides endowments and scholarships. Further, the draft norms recommended autonomy for universities to decide on who they wish to admit, the fee they wish to charge and the amount of financial support they can provide for potential students.

In April, the UGC chairman had told ThePrint that courses offered by foreign universities are likely to include cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, biotechnology, financial management, and business analytics, which are “sought after” by students and offer good job prospects.

By July the UGC received suggestions from over 200 stakeholders including universities in India, the UK, Australia, the US, Canada, Italy, France and Russia. These included The University of Melbourne, Northeastern University, University of Oxford, University of Queensland, St Petersburg University and Istituto Marangoni.

Some had suggested allowing foreign university clusters to set up campuses in India, clearly spelling out faculty eligibility criteria and in the case of foreign faculty, stating the required duration of their stay in the country.

So far, two Australian universities, Deakin and Wollongong, have announced their plans to set up campuses in India. Deakin University said that it plans to begin operations “as early as possible and by no later than mid-2024,” while the University of Wollongong hinted in July this year that it may set up its campus in India by the end of 2023.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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