Editorial Team

While COVID-19 has affected plans of a number of foreign universities to expand their operations, a few of them are still contemplating the move to set up campuses in India in the current scenario. This is reflected in a recent survey conducted by the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), a Delhi-based research-focussed institution.

It has been one year since the National Education Policy, a key feature of which was to recommend letting top global universities operate in India, was announced by the Modi government. Lawmakers are also optimistic about foreign universities setting up their campuses in India, with 34 percent young talent aged between 15 and 34 years and over one million students spending about $15 billion each year on international education. 

The global survey of the “Top 200” category universities (per the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021) was conducted between December 2020 and February 2021 to ascertain the foreign institutions’ willingness to set up branch campuses in India. As many as 43 respondents from varsities in 11 nations participated in the survey, out of which, three belonged to the ‘top 10’ category of the THE World University Rankings 2021.

Participants from eight institutions said that their universities would “definitely consider” India a potential destination for establishing their international branch campuses (IBCs). Many universities, however, are going for a “wait and see” approach mainly due to the lack of a proper regulatory framework and obtainability of monetary and non-monetary incentives.

Suneetha Qureshi, President of the Global Marketing Office (GMO) of international education platform M Square Media (MSM), cites the need for compliance. “Setting up campuses in India is a good proposition, provided all procedures are compliant with the Indian government regulations. Many times, universities don’t follow this and the student suffers in the end,” says Qureshi, whose company helps colleges and universities in Canada, US, UK, and major student destinations increase their international students. 

The universities which expressed interest in setting up branch campuses in India prefer those which are partially supported by the Indian government in terms of facilities, fellowships, buildings and scholarships etc. Other options are campuses partially supported by Indian private companies, education hubs or cities promoted by private organisations and the government, and spaces owned by existing Indian public colleges or universities.

Setting up a campus in India would mean institutions will have to charge tuition and other fees at a lower rate, reminds Qureshi. Huge investments in not just the physical campus but also training staff, teaching infrastructure, delivery, legal and regulatory costs etc can become expensive. Bureaucratic and regulatory issues, potential issues with local operations including limitations on repatriating profits, and issues related to dilution of a foreign university brand, huge land or building expenses, finding the right faculty and attracting students can also be a deterrent, she adds. 

Smaller institutions which cannot set up campuses in India at the moment, or those countries with little or no international student markets, can collaborate with student recruitment platforms to tap in on the India market. 

Qureshi says: “Establishing strong partnerships with institutions in India which can cover areas such as faculty and student exchange, common innovation projects, summer schools and research can work well for global institutions. To do this, they need to understand the Indian market demand and how to model their recruitment strategies.” 

Experts have also encouraged the Indian government to make stronger efforts to pull in overseas universities, not necessarily for setting up branch campuses but for other initiatives such as joint education activities. Pathway, joint and hybrid courses are a step in this direction. 

“Setting up campuses in India will have a steady flow of students and ideally, a hybrid model would be the best choice. Giving the student the opportunity to complete the programme in their parent countries will be more successful,” says Qureshi.

On-the-ground teams can play a major role by recruiting students, too. “Creating brand visibility of the programme, ensuring that the recruitment targets are fulfilled, counselling students through seminars and webinars, and agent vetting and training are some key things we do at MSM and have brought results to partner colleges, many of which previously didn’t enjoy brand visibility outside of their cities or regions,” she adds.

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