The decision of the University Grants Commission to defer a move to accommodate foreign higher educational institutions as deemed universities is sensible, considering that starting universities generally requires Parliamentary sanction. Using the UGC to help entities from abroad make a covert entry would be grossly improper when the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 has stalled in the Rajya Sabha. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development has raised several issues relating to the legislation and called for a centralised policy and regulatory regime. What needs to be done immediately is to curb the operation of many unauthorised entrants that are exploiting the prevailing policy vacuum. It is true that a large number of Indian students leave for foreign campuses every year to secure a degree. There is much to be gained, therefore, if the best universities abroad open campuses in India, and offer courses that live up to their reputation for academic rigour. For the student, such an option can mean much lower costs.
Evidently, the passing of a robust law is essential to make sure that exploitation of students by foreign institutions does not take place. What has happened so far in the area of technical education and management courses offered by foreign entities, under the rules of the All India Council for Technical Education, is far from encouraging. The Standing Committee says the AICTE rules have failed to regulate the activities of such institutions, and only a handful of unapproved entities have been proceeded against. A large number of foreign institutions operating twinning programmes partnered unaffiliated and unapproved domestic organisations. As a result of such carpetbagging, the UGC has now initiated a clean-up by laying down that twinning or joint ventures can be undertaken only with the top 500 names in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and a similar list of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. This is a welcome advance over the present situation but no substitute for hard decisions on issues such as registration, transparent accreditation, socially-relevant medical education, faculty training, mutual recognition of degrees by the respective countries, and crucially, a check on profiteering. It must be emphasised that while an international education can expose some of India's youth to global excellence, equitable access to higher education will depend on a rapidly expanding public university system.