Two Australian universities, ranked among the world’s top 300, have reached out to the Union government to set up independent offshore campuses in India.
The two higher education institutions are in talks with the International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA) to establish independent “international branch campuses” in GIFT City near Gandhinagar in Gujarat.
The development comes four months after the IFSCA (the GIFT City regulator) framed the rulebook to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India through GIFT City.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had first announced in her Budget speech last year that world-class foreign universities and institutions would be allowed in GIFT City to offer courses in financial management, FinTech, science, technology, engineering and mathematics “free from domestic regulations”.
On Thursday, IFSCA formally started inviting applications from foreign universities.
In 2022, in both the Australian universities, Indian students made up the largest cohort of foreign students and represented at least a quarter of foreign student enrollment in their Australian campuses.
The interest expressed by the Australian universities comes at a time when the University Grants Commission (UGC) is drafting rules to govern foreign educational institutions that want to set up campuses in India. However, the UGC rules will be applicable to all such potential projects, except those in GIFT City, where only the IFSCA guidelines will be applicable.
The degree, diploma or certificates will also have to be identical, the regulations state. These shall also “enjoy the same recognition and status as if they were conducted by the parent entity in its home jurisdiction”.The regulations also allow foreign institutes to repatriate profits from campuses they set up in GIFT City.
Governments in the past have made several attempts to enact legislation for the entry, operation and regulation of foreign universities in the country. The first was in 1995 when a Bill was introduced but could not go forward. In 2005-06, too, the draft law could only go up to the Cabinet stage.
The last attempt was by UPA-II in 2010 in the shape of the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, which failed to pass muster in Parliament and lapsed in 2014 since the BJP, Left and Samajwadi Party opposed it.