Setting up a campus in India: The ten-point plan 

Dr Ashwin Fernandes with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

An ever-present conversation topic at QS India Summit 2024 was the Indian government indicating they’re more open to international universities operating in India. Dr Ashwin Fernandes, QS Executive Director for Africa, Middle East & South Asia, explores what Indian universities can do to set themselves apart from international universities, what the new regulations are, and a plan for setting up an international branch campus in India. 

What is the new regulatory framework for international institutions?  

The National Education Policy 2020 has envisioned that “top universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India.” For this, “a legislative framework facilitating such entry has been in place, and such universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India.”  

The University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations on Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India have been framed to allow the entry of higher-ranked Foreign Universities to provide an international dimension to Higher Education, enable Indian students to obtain foreign qualifications at affordable cost, and make India an attractive global study destination. 

Two key aspects under the Foreign Higher Educational Institutions (FHEI) Act are: 

  1. The FHEI must hold majority ownership/equity in the Joint venture which sets up the FHEI. 
  1. The FHEI campus in India should have its independent campus with the physical, academic and research infrastructure and facilities required to conduct its academic and research programmes. 

How can Indian universities better appeal to domestic students? 

As we explored in a previous article, Indian students are looking to study abroad for various reasons: exposure to diverse cultures, a wider range of academic programmes to choose from, and post-graduation career opportunities. However, it’s not always an easy process, and some students do not want to travel abroad at all. 

To fully realise the NEP 2020, more Indian students will have to study in India. What levers can Indian universities pull to draw in domestic students and induce demand? 

  1. Simplifying the admissions process: This is what university admissions will look like in ten years. Indian students typically apply for undergraduate or graduate programmes in foreign universities. The admission process involves submitting standardised test scores such as SAT (for undergraduate) or GRE/GMAT (for graduate), academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, and sometimes English proficiency test scores like TOEFL or IELTS. This can be streamlined according to the Indian market. 
  2. Safety: The recent crimes against Indian students has become a top concern for those pursuing higher education in the US. This is mitigated if the academic progress that the student aspires to can happen on Indian soil. 
  3. Costs: One of the bottlenecks for Indian student aspirants for education abroad is the cost factor. While universities do provide financial aid is many cases, they are simply not enough to sustain for years at a stretch for bright minds that come from middle-class Indian families.  
  4. Visa caps: Visa caps for Indian students in foreign universities typically depend on the immigration policies of the respective countries and may vary over time. They are dictated by factors not in the student’s control and can completely dampen the student’s spirit when he or she qualifies in every single way, but still is not granted a visa to study abroad. 
  5. Recognition: While Indian higher education is a diverse sector, it is not a mature one yet. As it stands, few universities have international recognition for their academic or research quality. Aligning with international universities – be that through international branch campuses, or research collaborations for example – can evidence an Indian institution’s quality.  

All these factors can be mitigated largely by a well laid-out expansion plan for universities in India, and mutually beneficial partnerships with established, international institutions can further help Indian universities. 

Setting up in India: The ten-point plan 

Setting up campuses in India for international universities involves several steps and considerations due to legal, regulatory, cultural, and logistical factors. For more bespoke guidance, QS can be your strategic advisory partner. 

  1. Market research and feasibility study: Undertake thorough market research to assess the demand for the programmes that the universities can offer in India, as well as the competitive landscape. Identifying potential locations and target demographics based on factors such as population density, economic development, geographic trends in education and educational infrastructure will be crucial. 
  1. Legal and regulatory compliance: Develop a solid understanding of the regulatory framework governing foreign educational institutions in India. International universities must be FHEI-compliant and obtain necessary approvals from regulatory bodies like the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry of Education. 
  1. Partnerships and collaborations: Establish partnerships with local educational institutions, government agencies, or corporate entities to navigate the regulatory environment, access resources, and gain credibility in the local market. 
  1. Infrastructure development: Next, identify suitable infrastructure for the campus, including classrooms, laboratories, libraries, administrative offices, and recreational facilities, while ensuring that they comply with local laws and regulations. 
  1. Faculty recruitment and training: Recruit qualified faculty members with expertise in relevant fields who can deliver high-quality education. They should also be provided training and support to ensure they understand local academic practices, cultural nuances, and regulatory requirements. 
  1. Curriculum development and adaptation: Adapting the university’s curriculum to suit the needs and preferences of Indian students while maintaining the academic standards of the parent institution will be another challenge, though it can be greatly rewarding when done with care and attention. Incorporating local case studies, examples, and cultural perspectives to enhance relevance and engagement is key in this process. 
  1. Student recruitment and admission: Marketing strategies to attract prospective students should be geared towards an understanding of education needs and student interest. 
  1. Financial planning and sustainability: Develop a comprehensive financial plan that accounts for initial setup costs, ongoing operational expenses, and revenue streams such as tuition fees, grants, donations, and research collaborations. Ensure that the business model is sustainable in the long term. 
  1. Quality assurance and accreditation: Implement mechanisms for quality assurance and continuous improvement to maintain academic standards and credibility. Seek accreditation from relevant bodies to enhance the reputation and recognition of your programmes. 
  1. Community engagement and stakeholder relations: Engage with local communities, government authorities, industry stakeholders, and other relevant stakeholders to build trust, foster partnerships, and address any concerns or challenges that may arise. 

Setting up a campus in India for international universities requires careful planning, collaboration, and adherence to regulatory requirements, but it can also offer significant opportunities for academic excellence, cultural exchange, and global impact. Consulting legal experts, educational consultants, and industry professionals familiar with the Indian market can help navigate the complexities and maximize the chances of success. 

As we’ve explored, top international universities should consider India as an expansion hub, and it’s mutually beneficial for the Indian partners and students too.  

Indian universities gain international recognition, increase their student enrolments and diversify their revenue streams. Students receive a high-quality education, fit for their dream career. 

International universities gain ground as educational behemoths and tap into the vast resources India has to offer on its own soil. This way, the international university, in concert with India, can empower the next generation of workers and leaders through a skills-first approach, agnostic of where the education is imparted geographically.

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Dr Ashwin Fernandes

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