With the Union Cabinet clearing the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill on March 15, foreign institutes will eventually be able to start institutions in India. A look at the pluses and minuses of the Bill.

“One has to keep in mind the fact that universities grow in organic connection with their social, cultural and geographical surroundings and even the best of them cannot be transplanted somewhere else and expected to do as well. A university is known not only for its courses, it is the physicality of it, which gives it a unique character. As has been rightly said, education is a touch-sport. Before taking any decision on allowing foreign universities to operate in India we have to be very clear about the purpose it is going is achieve. Don't we want the best learning experiences to be shared by our students? If so, can this not be done by opening our doors to foreign scholars and making our rules more flexible? Interaction with the best minds of the world would only enhance the quality of our universities. But giving an open license to all and sundry carrying a foreign ownership tag to function like universities in India, most of them not even known in their own countries would only help them earn profit for their parent institutions located outside or accrue profit to the shareholders. If the best of foreign universities, say amongst the top 200 in the world, want to come here and work, they should be welcomed. Any decision in this regard has to be taken with utmost care keeping in mind the features, which are essential for an institution to be called a university. Such institutions should give an Indian Degree and be subject to all rules and regulations that would apply to any Indian University.”

—Report of the Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education in India (Yash Pal Committee).

With the Union Cabinet clearing the ‘Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill on March 15, foreign institutes appear to be just a parliamentary session away from being able to set up educational institutions in India.

This is for the first time that the Central government is attempting an umbrella approach at regulating the operations of foreign institutions wishing to offer educational services in India. In 2005, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) had notified the ‘Regulations for Entry and Operation of Foreign Universities/ Institutes Imparting Technical Education in India'.

In a globalised environment and against the backdrop of the relevant provisions of the WTO agreement which seek to allow for trans-national movement of educational service providers, the absence of a regulatory framework which ‘defines the envelope' for such providers was seen by many as an unacceptable lacuna.

For starters, the Bill has conjured up visions of a Harvard University in Delhi or an Oxford University in Mumbai. To flesh out this vision: a student from Kerala would now be able to study ‘in a foreign university' at a fraction of the cost required to actually go to say, the U.S. or the U.K. for a similar course.

That student may be able to do part of this course in India and then go to the parent institute to complete the programme. More, that student would also be able to reap the benefits of being taught by world-renowned teachers whose services were hitherto available only to a select few. In short, international quality education is coming to India Are these just fond hopes or does the Bill have provisions to ensure that the quality of higher education in the country would go up several notches?

According to sources in the government familiar with the provisions of the Bill, only those institutions which have been offering educational services for 20 years or more in their parent country would be allowed to apply to come to India.

Such institutes should also have been accredited by a competent agency in that country. Before commencing operations here, a ‘Foreign Educational Institution' (FEI) would have to get designated as a ‘Foreign Education Provider' (FEP) by the Central government. This would be done based on the recommendations of the University Grants Commission or any body which would replace it in the future.

An FEI should first apply to a Registrar who would examine the institution's credentials. An FEP would not be allowed to offer degrees/ diplomas or any other equivalent qualification in the distance education mode. Each FEP should have a corpus fund of Rs.50 crore. Any surplus generated by the FEP should not be taken out of the country but can be re-invested for the growth and development of the educational institutions run by that FEP.

The Bill also reportedly stipulates that the FEPs should abide by Indian laws, including the proposed legislations relating to the National Educational Tribunal and the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities.

The FEPs should mandatorily disclose details of their fee, number of seats for a course, admission norms and so on through the publication of a prospectus and through advertisements in the media.

The Centre would have the right to de-notify an FEP which is found violating any legal provisions.

The institution stands to lose its corpus fund and any financial gains made by it, among other penalties. The Centre would have the right to refuse entry to an FEI.

On the academic front the Bill stipulates that the quality of programmes offered by an FEP should be in conformity with the standards laid down by the competent statutory authority in India and should be comparable to the programmes offered by it in its home country.

The Bill also allows an advisory board—comprising three national research professors—to provide exemptions to the FEPs from some provisions in the Bill. However, no exemption shall be given on the provision that surplus funds cannot be taken out of India and on the provision that domestic laws would be applicable to an FEP. Sources in the government who spoke to The Hindu-EducationPlus on the Bill said an FEP has two routes to offer educational services in India—establish an university or establish a college. If an FEP establishes a college—to offer, say, an engineering programme of a medical course—the fee for such courses would be regulated by Indian agencies which now regulate fee in engineering/ medical colleges in the private sector. If an FEP sets up a university the fee structure would not be regulated by any government agency.The fee charged by an Indian university is not fixed by the government, one source pointed out.

“When an FEI is designated an FEP it need not automatically be given the right to award a degree. An example would be an MBA institute. Since FEPs would be given what is called ‘national treatment' the provisions applicable to an approved MBA institute here would be applicable to the one run by the FEP. There can also be instances where an FEP's institute would have to be affiliated to an Indian university so that it can offer degrees. The degree would then be that of the Indian university,” the source explained.

The downside

According to many academics who spoke to The Hindu-EducationPlus the new ‘foreign education' could well be limited to those courses/ programmes which are deemed lucrative by an FEI. The establishment of full-fledged campuses of a foreign university could take years to materialise. Though it is very probable that FEPs would offer research programmes in India, this may not benefit Indian scholars numbers-wise.

Moreover, FEPs, relatively free of social pressures felt by State universities, could offer lucrative pay packets to attract teachers and then pass this on to students.Even then these courses would be attractive to students as they would be cheaper than their counterparts in the U.S. or the U.K., many academics pointed out.

At a time when the full contents of the Bill are not known the mood in academia seems to be one of cautious optimism.