Why Should India Not Outsource Higher Education to Foreign Universities?



25 January, 2023

Why Should India Not Outsource Higher Education to Foreign Universities?

Around 2,000 years ago, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Vallabhi and Takshashila gave us gems like Chanakya, Brahmgupta, Bhaskaracharya, Aryabhatta and others. These great scholars have given the world the fundamentals of Mathematics, Science, Humanity, Morality, Human Behaviour or any other field that you can name. Due to this, India has gained attraction and acceptance from around the world in the field of knowledge and education. But over the period of time, we lost the leading role in the education sector. This is because of the change in the political scenery of the country, numerous invasions or perhaps many other factors. 

The  National Education Policy 2020 has given the roadmap so that India can regain the status of “King of the Education Sector” position and once again become a global leader. Thus, it has kept the principle of “Internationalisation of Higher Education” at the core. In line with the same, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has introduced a new regulation that allows foreign universities to set up campuses in India, thus, encouraging foreign investment in the sector. 

What Does the New Regulation Say? 

On January 5, 2023, the UGC released a draft stating that Foreign Universities are officially welcome to open campuses in India. The draft laid down some ground rules for them to become a Partner University. These are:

  1. The universities that are among the top 500 in QS Ranking in the overall category or subject-wise category are eligible to apply in India 
  2. If the universities do not participate in such rankings, then they must be reputable in their country
  3. The foreign university can decide its fee structure, hiring process, admission process, and the Indian government will not have any say in such matters
  4. The foreign universities can repatriate to their parent university
  5. The courses offered by these universities should not be against India’s national interests and beliefs  
  6. The universities can only offer offline classes. The UGC regulation has completely ruled out online classes. 
 Additionally, the UGC has given the following privileges to foreign universities: 
  1. Autonomy 
  2. Can set their own Fee & Admission Process 
  3. Can have their own Hiring Process 
  4. Have the liberty to Repatriate to their parent 

What is This Reform Supposed to Achieve?

The reform was introduced to attract and encourage foreign investment in the education sector. Thus, it will aid in the development of the education industry in India while also contributing significantly to the country’s GDP. Furthermore, it will encourage national universities to update their curriculum and adopt advanced pedagogy in order to stay in competition with the incoming foreign universities. This will encourage innovation and promote infrastructural development in national universities like IITs, IIMs and private universities.

The move will not only benefit the education sector but will also make a positive impact on other sectors. For instance, it will decrease the mobility of young human resources outside the country. It will also reduce the underlying visa and other immigration issues in the country.

Foreign Universities in India: A Breakthrough or a Gimmick 

This is not the first time that talks around bringing foreign universities to the country have been making circles. In the year 1995, soon after the establishment of the World Trade Organization, a bill was introduced in the parliament to allow foreign universities to build homes in India. Then again, during 2005-06, a similar proposal was initiated during the first term of the United Progressive Alliance, but it got rejected. Another bill was introduced in 2010 during the second term of the UPA government. That too lapsed eventually.

Finally, in the year 2023, the UGC has successfully released this draft. But, it comes with many questions. First and foremost, whether or not this is a good reform? 

“Two-thirds of India’s universities and 90% of colleges lack quality education, Political backing was required from the top rank of Vice-Chancellor to many other university appointments. Favouritism and corruption exist.” 

Manmohan Singh, the then-Prime Minister (speech 2007)

The opening of these universities does raise a dire concern among many experts and scholars that foreign universities will focus more on profit-making rather than improving the quality of education in the country. The fact that the UGC has allowed the universities to repatriate funds to their parent university makes the concern even more relevant. Doesn’t it look like a money-making scheme in the name of foreign investment? 

The draft has introduced the concept of “Education Abroad in India”. According to the UGC regulations, the qualifications of the faculty will be at par with that of the faculty at the parent university. The foreign faculty will only be willing to move to India if they have the guarantee of a better lifestyle (particularly the reason why Indian students move abroad) or if they are offered a decent salary hike. 

The UGC has given autonomy to Partner Foreign Universities. On the contrary, the UGC wants to set a definite admission process and is taking a keen interest in all matters when it comes to domestic universities. This is what Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a columnist with The India Express has called “reverse discrimination against Indian” 

No doubt, it is a progressive move but at the same time, it also has many loopholes. The reform does intend to introduce equality. Clauses allowing foreign universities not having to follow the reservation system and giving autonomy in the hiring process are pragmatic in  nature. Although, the autonomy status does question the genuinity of the reform but it also comes with certain perks. 

Why Can This Reform Fall Apart? 

These are many hypothesis for this, here are three of them: 

1. Cost of Study

The set of foreign universities seems a mere theory and the practical aspect seems blurry. Indian students must pay approximately Rs 70 lakh per annum to study at Harvard, Yale or Stanford and over Rs 55 lakh per annum to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Thus, the tuition fees alone would be about 15 times more expensive than Indian private universities and over a hundred times more costly than most Indian public universities. Therefore, it seems that foreign university campuses will only be for the rich. 

2.Cost of Setting and Quality of Education

India is proud to have many multi-millionaires in the country. But, do they want to invest in the country’s higher education? No! Why? And if they don’t want to invest, why would foreign universities want to do that? 

Along with that, here are some of the problems that may arise while setting up campuses in India: 

  1. The cost of setting up a campus is a herculean task because land and capital is not cheap
  2. The quality of education and research in an overseas campus can not be at par with the primary campus
  3. Why would people in foreign countries want to shift to India when Indian students visit their country for a better lifestyle

3. Physical Set-Up is Not Necessary 

The rise of online and distance education has transformed the way universities perceive education. Many foreign universities have collaborated with various online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy and others to impart education. Hence, it suggests that a physical set-up of campus is not necessary to gain an excellent education. 

Over a period of time, the universities are open to collaboration with other institutions nationally and internally. Through these collaborations, the universities offer faculty exchange programmes, semester abroad programmes, research facilities, and much more. This has increased the mobility of faculty, services, and students which requires less face-to-face interaction. 


It is a bold move that can surely help improve the quality of higher education in India. But in order to achieve the goal of becoming a global leader in this domain, we must focus on improving the quality of education in national universities. Only then the goal of becoming students’ favourite education destination can be achieved. Therefore, rather than rolling out the red carpet for foreign universities, the government should focus on the infrastructural development of domestic institutions. The National Education Policy 2020 has laid out the roadmap for realising this vision. Now, the need is to walk along the principles set by it.

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