The University Grants Commission (“UGC”) in line with the recommendations of the National Education Policy, 2020, (NEP) initiated several measures for the internationalisation of the higher education system in India. Since the NEP has envisioned that top universities in the world need to be facilitated to operate in India, UGC has devised a legislative framework facilitating such entry of foreign institutions in India. The draft University Grants Commission (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations, 2023 (Draft Regulations) were notified on January 5, 2023 to invite public comments from the stakeholders until January 18, 2023.
The Draft Regulations provides for regulation of entry and operation of Foreign Universities/Institutions (“educational institution”) in India which are interested in offering undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral, post-doctoral, and other programmes and award degrees, diplomas, and certificates across disciplines. Further, ‘foreign higher educational institutes’ have been defined under the Draft Regulation to include ‘Foreign Universities’ as well as ‘Foreign Educational Institutes’. ‘Foreign Universities’ have been further defined as a university that has been duly recognised and established or incorporated in any legal manner in the country of origin of such university. Additionally, such Foreign University should be authorised to offer academic and research programmes at the undergraduate or higher levels within its home jurisdiction and outside as well.
Moreover, ‘Foreign Educational Institution’ has been defined to mean an educational institution in a foreign country duly recognised and established in any legal manner in the country of the foreign educational institution and is duly authorised to offer academic and research programmes at the undergraduate or higher levels, within and outside of its home jurisdiction.
Eligibility criteria for foreign universities and foreign educational institutions to set up in India
The Draft Regulations have listed out the following as the eligibility criteria for such educational institutions to set up in India:
- Such educational institutions have to take approval from the UGC for setting up;
- In case it is a foreign university, it should have secured a position within the top 500 of overall/subject-wise global rankings, as decided by the UGC from time to time; and
- In case of a foreign educational institution, the same should be a reputed institution in its home jurisdiction.
Procedure of application
As regards the procedure of application of such requests upon fulfilment of the eligibility criteria, the Draft Regulation have laid down the following:
- The foreign higher educational institution needs to apply online on the UGC portal along with the non-refundable processing fee, that will be decided by the UGC from time to time;
- A set of documents needs to be submitted by the applicant educational institution:
- Permission for establishing campuses in India;
- Information regarding facilities, including infrastructural, faculty, as well as fee structure, academic programmes, courses, financial resources, and any other detail that may be sought;
- In case there is a disruption or discontinuation or closure of campuses, details of alternative arrangements to safeguard the interests of the affected students, including reallocation to the course or programme;
- An undertaking to the effect that:
- The quality of education imparted in India is at par with that of the main campus in the country of origin;
- The qualification awarded to the students in the Indian campus shall be recognised and treated as equivalent to the corresponding qualifications awarded by the educational institution in the main campus for all purposes, including higher education and employment.
- The latest accreditation/quality assurance report from a recognised body;
- Any other document as specified in the online portal of UGC.
Method of examination of the application
As regards the examination of such application, the Draft Regulations have proposed the constitution of a Standing Committee to examine matters under the Draft Regulations. The Committee shall assess the applications on several factors including merit, credibility, programmes to be offered, potential to strengthen the educational opportunities in India and thereafter make relevant recommendations. The recommendations of the Committee will be placed before the UGC within 45 days of receipt of such application. Based on the recommendations, the UGC, within 45 days, may grant an in-principal approval and issue a letter of intent to the educational institution to set up campus in India within two years of such approval. Thereafter, upon receipt of such approval, the applicant educational institution has to convey its readiness for the commencement of its academic operations to the UGC. Thereafter, the Standing Committee will examine such claims of readiness and provide its recommendation to the UGC. The UGC shall, within 45 days of the receipt of such recommendation, consider and issue a notification so that the educational institution can commence the operation of its campus in India (with or without conditions). While the permission by the UGC will be granted for a period of ten years, the educational institution will have to pay the UGC an annual fee which will be decided by the UGC from time to time.
Renewal of permission granted to the foreign educational institution
Further, as regards the renewal of such permission, the educational institution needs to apply to the UGC at least one year prior to the expiry of the approved period. The process for renewal will entail submission of an online form on the portal along with a non-refundable fee, to be decided by the UGC. Upon approval of the renewal request, the permission shall be valid for another ten years.
Manner of functioning of foreign educational institutions
The Draft Regulations have prescribed provisions concerning admission and fee structure of such foreign educational institutions as well. The educational institutions have been provided with the option to evolve their own admission process and criteria to admit both domestic and foreign students to their institutes. While they have the liberty to decide their own fee structures, the same has to be transparent as well as reasonable. The Draft Regulations have imposed a compliance on educational institutions to make their prospectus available on their website at least 60 days before the commencement of admission, and the same should contain details pertaining to the fee structure, refund policy, number of available seats in the programme as well as eligibility qualifications and admission process. Further, the educational institution can, based on an evaluation process, offer full or partial need-based scholarships as well.
The Draft Regulations have further provided for provisions relating to the appointment of faculty and staff as well. The educational institution has been given complete autonomy to recruit faculty and staff from India as well as abroad as per its own recruitment norms. Further, it has the autonomy to decide the qualifications, salary structure as well as other conditions of service for the appointing faculty and staff. However, the educational institution has to ensure that the qualifications of the faculty appointed is at par with the faculty at the main campus in its home jurisdiction. Lastly, the educational institution has to ensure that the foreign faculty appointed to teach at the Indian campus stays at the campus in India for a reasonable period of time.
The Draft Regulations have laid down certain general conditions for the educational institutions, which will have to be adhered to by them in order to set up their campus in India. The educational institution is not permitted to admit students and collect fees until the educational institution has been duly approved under the Draft Regulations by the UGC. Further, the educational institution has to ensure that the quality of education imparted by it in its Indian campus is at par with that of the main campus in the home jurisdiction. Additionally, the programmed offered under the Draft Regulations are not allowed to be conducted in online and online/distance learning mode. The qualifications awarded to students in the Indian campus are to be recognised and treated as equivalent to the corresponding qualification awarded by the educational institution in its home jurisdiction. Moreover, the qualifications awarded under these Regulations shall be equivalent to any corresponding degree awarded by an Indian higher education institution, subject to the stipulation that, there shall be no further requirement of seeking equivalence from any authority and that the degree shall have all benefits, rights, and privileges as obtained in the case of a degree awarded by an Indian higher educational institution. The educational institution is barred to act as a representative office of its parent entity to undertake any promotional activities for any programmes being run in their home or other jurisdictions outside of India. They have to additionally undergo a quality assurance audit and submit a report to UGC at the time of renewal of their permission.
As regards the annual report and maintenance of accounts, the Draft Regulations have stated that the educational institution has to submit to the UGC an annual report containing details of programmes offered, the number of students admitted and passed out as well as qualifications awarded. The annual report has to be made available on the educational institution’s website as well as its campus. The Draft Regulations further state that the cross border movement of funds and maintenance of foreign currency accounts, modes of payments, remittance, repatriation and sale of proceeds if any, have to be in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 and the rules thereunder. Further, an audit report stating compliance with the aforementioned legislations as well as the other applicable laws of India, needs to be submitted by the educational institution to the UGC annually.
Responsibilities and liabilities of foreign educational institutions
In order to safeguard the interests of the students, the Draft Regulations have mandated that the educational institutions shall not discontinue any course or programme or close the campus without the UGC’s prior approval. Further, in case of a course or a programme disruption or discontinuation, the parent entity has to be responsible for providing an alternative to the affected students. Lastly, the educational institutions need to have a mechanism to address students’ grievances, and the students may appeal to the UGC in case the educational institution does not redress the grievances.
The Draft Regulations have further stated that the UGC will have the right to inspect the campus and its operations at all times to ascertain that the infrastructure, academic programmes and overall quality and suitability are up to the prescribed standards.
In addition to the above, the Draft Regulation have stated that in case the educational institution violates the Draft Regulations, the UGC shall impose a penalty and/or suspend/withdraw approval at any time in the event of the following events:
- The campus has failed to adhere to or has violated the Draft Regulations;
- Its activities or academic programmes are against the interest of India;
- It has failed to abide by the undertaking given at the time of application;
- It engages in operations other than the ones permitted under the Draft Regulations;
- In case of any adverse finding, misappropriation and suppression of facts.
The Draft Regulations seem to present a rather comprehensive set of guidelines for the operations and setting up of campuses of foreign institutes and universities in India. When it does come into force, it is expected that it’ll open up doors for many students across the nation who are interested in joining foreign educational institutions but were unable to go abroad owing to various factors (such as financial constraints, etc.). It also seems like a lucrative opportunity for foreign educational institutions to establish their presence in India and tap on the volume of students looking for high quality higher education in India. It will be rather exciting to witness the implementation of the Draft Regulation and the expected resultant transformation of higher education in India.