Foreign universities opening campuses in India will have full autonomy, many have expressed interest: UGC chairman

The new UGC draft regulations will now allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India? How does the government plan to implement this?

Prof M Jagadesh Kumar: The National Education Policy (NEP) spoke of the internationalization of Indian education and has two components. One is to internationalize our own native education and therefore we should allow our best institutions to go outside India and set up their campuses. Some IITs are already doing this – IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur and IIT Madras are working towards setting up campuses outside the country. But we also have excellent universities within the university system. UGC is working to draft a regulation that will allow universities to open their campuses abroad. It is now almost in the final phase. The other part of this internationalization is inviting some of the best foreign universities to open their campuses in India. At the same time, the National Education Policy also says that these campuses should be given as much autonomy as we are giving to our Indian institutions. So, in this new regulation, we also said that these foreign universities will have complete autonomy in deciding their admissions process, hiring of faculty and staff, tuition structure, and their academic program. So they will have autonomy in every area, just as we have autonomy for Indian institutions.

Tamil Nadu rejected this draft. Many teachers’ associations also opposed it. They are concerned that this will allow for explicit profit making in higher education. What’s your take on this?

Prof Kumar: The main goal of all these reforms that we are introducing is to give students (with) more freedom, more flexibility and greater choice… I’m sure we can all agree on this because ultimately our students are more creative and more innovative, and that will help the whole country become stronger in terms of technological innovation and academic growth. So we are all on the same page when it comes to giving students freedom, flexibility and choice. Currently, when students need to pursue higher education, they only have two options – one is they choose the best institutions in India and study here, and the other option, if they have enough money, go abroad and study there in the best universities . Now we offer an additional choice that falls between these two. I want to stay in India but I want to have access to foreign higher education and this has been made possible by these regulations. So better education should make everyone welcome and I don’t see how that will cause problems. For the simple reason that even when foreign colleges come here, they need to adjust their fee structure to be able to attract large numbers of students to their campus. If they charge exorbitantly, they will not be able to attract too many students, which may not be a viable exercise for them to start a campus. Although we do not oversee the tuition structure, it will itself act as a regulatory mechanism and they will choose the tuition structure appropriately. But again, there will always be some students who are financially sound to join this campus. If you look at the top universities around the world, they have a program known as partial scholarship and full scholarship. This is based on an assessment process and these are need-based grants. So, our regulations also state that these institutions must award such partial scholarships and full scholarships if they are prevalent in the main campus abroad. These regulations are also intended to take care of the needs of financially weak students.

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In 2022 alone, according to available data, almost 4.5 thousand students went abroad for higher studies. What’s behind it? Are we unable to provide quality higher education?

Prof Kumar: We are a democratic country, people can make their choice. So you will always have some students going abroad. Why talk about it now? For thousands of years, our Native Americans have gone abroad, spreading our culture and heritage around the world. Today we have the strongest Indian diaspora in the world and they are doing very well. We are very proud of this, so students will continue to go there to make a better choice. However, our education system is too big. Maybe 4.5 million students went abroad last year, but there could be twice as many who wanted to go but couldn’t because of financial problems. Now, when these (foreign) universities come and set up their campuses, they will of course see the ability of Indian students to pay and make the tuition fees, which are part of the expenses, reasonable. The other is the cost of living. It is almost the same as the tuition fee. But if you live in India, the cost is minimal. Many students can afford an education abroad, but there is also a social component – ​​when they go abroad they come back to visit their parents or relatives, maybe after a year or two because the return trip is expensive. Here, students are free to travel and visit their parents or relatives. So from a social point of view, it will be a very good opportunity for the students.

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How many foreign universities have shown interest in establishing campuses in India?

Prof Kumar: I read an article in a newspaper that there is a team from the University of Penn State in Mumbai and the dean of that university said it was a great opportunity (and) they would be interested. Many universities were interested in establishing their campus in India but there was no regulatory framework. Also, we need to see this regulation in the context of what is happening in India as a whole. India is opening up to foreign direct investment not only in education but also in technology. The ecosystem in our country is now very, very welcoming. A recent survey shows that the top 200 universities have shown interest in India as their ideal destination and we are also in talks with several other universities in Europe who are also interested in setting up the campus.

Last year CUET was introduced and the students faced many challenges such as technical problems and exams being postponed several times. What is the plan for better execution this time?

Prof Kumar: While I’m aware that there have been glitches and issues, the overall response to CUET has been very welcoming. The students felt like it gave them a kind of level playing field, they don’t have to worry about getting 99.8, 99.9 percent grades on their board exams. So there is a positive aspect of the CUET. This year we have already announced the exam dates for CUET UG and PG and students have enough time to prepare well. We also started our work well in advance to identify centers across the country. About 14.9 000 students showed up for exams last year, for which we needed about 450 centers every day. Now we are working on about 1,000 centers across the country. Even if you need 500-600 centers per day, you have backup centers and if there is any disruption or technical issue, we have other centers available. So many ground preparations are made to ensure students have a good experience during the exams.

A total of 6,180 teaching posts are vacant at the central universities. When are these expected to be filled?
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Prof Kumar: Filling the vacancies is the responsibility of the individual universities and is a lengthy process – from the advertisement to the receipt of the applications to the pre-selection and conducting of job interviews and so on. A cycle can therefore last between 4 and 6 months. Even if you do it in the most efficient way, you can do this faculty recruitment cycle twice a year. Now, the other faculty recruitment challenge that any institution faces is selecting the right type of person, as you need to select those individuals who have the potential to advance academically and perform outstanding research. So even if you post, say, 10 positions, you may only be able to fill half of those positions, and then you have to move on to the next cycle. As you do that each year, at least 10-15 percent of faculty members are also retiring. So that’s the biggest challenge… and that’s why the UGC is raising awareness among rectors, especially central university rectors. We write to them on an ongoing basis and also check how many positions have been filled. This recruitment process will remain a challenge for all of us.

Any news on The One Nation, One Entrance Test?

Prof Kumar: That’s the idea we’re floating on. There is a debate because the National Education Policy also states that our students should not be stressed by these multiple entrance exams. Whenever we introduce this, it is only after a multi-stakeholder debate and discussion. Even if we make a final decision, students will be given sufficient time – at least 2 years before the introduction of the uniform entrance exam – to mentally prepare for it.

UGC has said distance and online degrees are equivalent to a traditional degree. But people still think that distance and online degree does not equate to a physical mode degree. What do you make of it?

Prof Kumar: We will slowly transition from distance learning to online learning that knows no geographic boundaries. The quality of education we offer in online classes, particularly through the National Digital University, will be on par with, or in some cases better than, physical education classes. So there’s a reason why UGC said you can’t differentiate between a degree earned in physical mode or online mode. If students have problems with the recognition of their online degrees, they can always write to the UGC and we will take care of it.