The Government of India is hoping to increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education to 50 per cent by 2035 from the 27.1 per cent in 2019-20.

Over the years, the level of higher education in the Indian landscape has improved significantly — as many as 41 Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) from India made it to the QS World University Rankings 2023, and around 75 HEIs featured in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023. However, India’s HEIs have not yet found a place in the top 100s of these global rankings. Accordingly, many students tend to move abroad for pursuing higher degrees. As per the government data, over 6.5 lakh Indian students went abroad in 2022 to pursue higher education.

A significant step was taken by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in January to further liberalise the entry of foreign educational institutions (FEIs) into India, when the draft UGC (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations, 2023, was put up for comments.

As per these draft regulations, for the first time in the history of Indian education, FEIs will be able to set up campuses in India and conduct undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral, post-doctoral and other programmes and award degrees, diplomas and certificates in all disciplines, on a standalone basis, with the prior approval of the UGC.

The primary eligibility criteria for such entry of foreign universities is that they should have secured a position within the top 500 of overall/subject-wise global rankings. The FEI must also be an institution-of-repute in its home country. A Standing Committee constituted by the UGC will examine inter-alia the FEI’s credibility, programmes to be offered, proposed infrastructure, and its potential to strengthen educational opportunities in India, and give its recommendations to the UGC.

Upon the selection, a letter of intent will be issued to the FEI by the UGC, which will be later followed by a notification for the commencement of operations. Intially, the permission will be granted for 10 years.

‘Major overhaul’

A noteworthy aspect of the draft regulations is that autonomy will be given to FEIs with regards to the fee structure, and recruitment of faculty/staff, salary structure and other services conditions (so long as qualifications of the faculty are at par with their main campus).

It is expected that the higher education sector in India will witness a major overhaul if the draft regulations are brought into force. For students, it would mean having access to world-class education from the world’s top universities without having to spend an exorbitant amount on the cost of living abroad; for faculty, it would mean better opportunities; for universities, it would mean an international level of competition; and for the economy, it would mean increased foreign investment in the education sector, leading to further economic growth.

In a survey conducted in 2021 among the top 200 universities by the National Institute of Education Planning and Administration (NIEPA), it was found that eight foreign universities have said that they would ‘definitely consider’ India to set up a branch.

The writers are Partner and Senior Associate, respectively, at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, a law firm