UGC Approves Regulations for Foreign Higher Education Institutions Establishing Branch Campuses in India

In a significant stride towards globalising higher education in India, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has recently given its nod for the establishment of branch campuses by Foreign Higher Education Institutions (FHEIs). This development marks a crucial milestone in the pursuit of academic excellence, cross-cultural collaboration, and the creation of a diverse learning environment in the country.

The idea of FHEI’s setting up branch campuses in India has been a subject of deliberation and discussion since the implementation of the National Education Policy (2020) with the UGC having released draft legislation on the topic last year. The aim is to leverage the expertise and resources of reputed international institutions, fostering a more inclusive and comprehensive educational landscape in line with the goals of the NEP 2020. With the UGC now formalising the regulations, a clear framework is in place to guide the entry and functioning of these foreign institutions.

The UGC’s approval comes with a detailed set of regulations aimed at ensuring that the establishment of branch campuses aligns with the standards and norms of Indian higher education. These regulations cover various aspects, including academic programmes, infrastructure, faculty qualifications, and financial sustainability. FHEI’s seeking to set up branch campuses will need to adhere to these guidelines, fostering a harmonious integration with the existing education ecosystem.

One of the key criteria for FHEIs to submit their application to the UGC in order to establish a branch campus is the requirement for them to be within the top 500 institutions of the world either in overall or subject rankings respectively. Another key aspect of the regulations pertains to the academic programmes offered by FHEI’s in their branch campuses. The UGC emphasises the need for alignment with the national priorities and demands of the Indian job market. This ensures that the programmes contribute meaningfully to the development of skills and knowledge that are relevant in the Indian context.

Furthermore, the regulations stress the importance of maintaining academic autonomy while complying with the standards set by the regulatory authorities. This balance is crucial to encourage innovation and diversity in educational offerings, while also ensuring that the quality of education meets established benchmarks.

The UGC’s regulations place a strong emphasis on the infrastructure and resources that FHEI’s must provide in their branch campuses. This includes state-of-the-art facilities, well-equipped classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and other essential amenities. The aim is to create an environment conducive to learning and research, mirroring the standards upheld by the best educational institutions globally.

To maintain high academic standards, the regulations outline specific criteria for the qualifications of faculty members in branch campuses. FHEI’s are required to ensure that their teaching staff possess the necessary expertise and experience in their respective fields. Additionally, the UGC encourages the inclusion of diverse faculty members, fostering a multicultural learning experience for students.

The regulations also address the financial aspects of establishing and running branch campuses in India. FHEI’s must demonstrate financial sustainability and transparency in their operations. This ensures that the branch campuses can operate effectively without compromising on the quality of education or facing unforeseen financial challenges.

The approval of these regulations heralds a new era for Indian students, offering them access to a broader spectrum of educational opportunities. By bringing in the expertise and global perspectives of FHEI’s, students in branch campuses can benefit from a more comprehensive and diverse learning experience. This exposure can enhance their employability on a global scale and prepare them to navigate the complexities of an interconnected world.

The UGC’s approval of regulations for FHEI’s establishing branch campuses in India is a positive step towards fostering international collaboration in higher education. By providing a well-defined framework, the UGC ensures that the entry and operations of foreign institutions contribute to the growth and enhancement of the Indian education system. This development holds the promise of creating a more inclusive, diverse, and globally competitive educational landscape in the country.

The overall intent and some conditions mirror what we see from the regulators India’s first operational smart city in Gujarat – GIFT City who have already paved the way for the first two Australian universities to open their campuses in 2024 in its special jurisdiction. As in GIFT, the Commission will reserve a “right to visit” and require an annual report to be submitted to ensure quality and alignment with the policy and other applicable laws including the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) or the Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA).

While this is a welcome move, the requirement to obtain approval under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 for receiving or utilising foreign contributions, will act as a major impediment to the foreign universities’ plans in India as obtaining approval of FCRA is a very time consuming and long drawn process. Further, it has been stated that no programmes can be offered online or in Open and Distance Learning modes under these regulations. This may also impact how the existing programs are being currently delivered by the FHEI in India and will need to be re-evaluated under these regulations. To fast-track the process, the facilitation of FCRA has to be the next big move to fully accomplish the objective.

With these considerations in mind, the release of the guidelines permitting the establishment of foreign branch campuses is a welcome development as India has now opened the floodgates for Transnational Education (TNE) provisions in India. Given that India has the world’s largest university-age population and has seen phenomenal growth in study abroad over the last few years, this is also reflective of the Indian government’s aggressive promotion of the  Study in India campaign to attract more overseas as well as local students.