They discussed strategies and shared their experiences, but overshadowing the deliberations of Canadian university administrators at a recent workshop on engaging with India was the bill. The legislation in question, known as the Foreign Education Providers Bill, sets the ground rules for foreign universities looking to establish campuses and grant degrees in this populous nation.
While parts of the proposed legislation may seem vexing, “the most important thing to bear in mind about this bill is its positive intent,” said Tim Gore, speaking in Ottawa this past June at the workshop organized by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. AUCC has made strategic engagement with India a priority and is organizing a mission of up to 20 Canadian university presidents to the country in November.
The workshop featured experts from India, the United Kingdom and elsewhere to explore successful models of engagement with Indian institutions; it attracted more than 50 representatives from 30 Canadian universities. “If you are a university with global aspirations, you simply cannot ignore India,” said Mr. Gore.
As former director for education at the British Council in India, Mr. Gore has closely followed the evolution of the Foreign Education Providers Bill (PDF) since it was first drafted four years ago. An earlier version of the bill was shelved due to political opposition, but a new government took office in June 2009 and its minister of human resource development, Kapil Sibal, is determined to see the legislation passed.
India’s ruling Congress Party “now has the mandate and wants to push this through,” said Mr. Gore, who now directs the Centre for Indian Business at the University of Greenwich in England.
India historically has restricted foreign higher education providers in the country and disallowed them from offering degrees. Nevertheless, in the absence of a regulatory framework, many foreign universities have successfully collaborated with private Indian institutions at the program level, and hundreds of such partnerships exist today. The problem is that many fly-by-night foreign operators also have been active in India, offering programs of dubious quality.
Under the new bill, the Indian government has final say in approving any foreign university seeking to operate in India. The bill states that foreign universities must be accredited in their home countries and must have existed for at least 20 years.
One of the bill’s more contentious aspects is the requirement that foreign institutions wishing to set up shop in India provide a “corpus fund” – essentially a deposit – of $11 million US to the Indian government. The money is meant to safeguard the interest of students in case the institution violates Indian law or otherwise runs into trouble.
Mr. Gore said he believes the corpus fund is intended for institutions wishing to establish a full campus in India, but the current reading of the bill “suggests it applies even to a twinning program or partnership where you’re just offering one degree.” The vast majority of partnerships with India at the moment are very small, “and so all of those would close tomorrow if … they had to pay a corpus fund.”
Another restriction would prevent foreign universities from sending any earnings back home. Any surplus revenue would have to be reinvested in India, in line with Indian laws that define education as a non-profit activity.
Pawan Agarwal, a senior Indian civil servant and author of the book Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future, largely agreed with Mr. Gore’s assessment. He told workshop participants that the key to this “landmark initiative” lies in allowing partnerships between foreign and Indian universities, and he said the ambiguity over the corpus fund must be clarified. He nevertheless urged participants not to get too caught up in the details of the bill, and noted that the overwhelming intent is to welcome foreign providers. “It is the right time for Canada to engage with India,” he asserted.
Mr. Gore, for his part, encouraged Canadian university representatives to communicate their concerns about the bill to the Indian government. (AUCC has since done so.)
About 15 million people in India are enrolled in higher education, with enrolment expected to double within 10 years. The number of universities is predicted to triple from today’s 525 over the same period.
Pari Johnston, director of international relations at AUCC, said several Canadian universities have had long-standing relationships with India, primarily through faculty linkages. “The breadth of the engagement has really ramped up, particularly in the last five years,” she said.
Still, Canada’s presence in India has not been as strong as that of the U.K., U.S. and Australia. A strong message from the workshop, said Ms. Johnston, was that Canada needs to invest more significantly and strategically in marketing its universities to India and promoting research collaboration. Since then, the prime ministers of Canada and India signed a memorandum of understanding on higher education.
Ms. Johnston said the imminent mission of university presidents to India should “create some buzz” and demonstrate that Canada is serious about making a long-term commitment to partnering with India’s higher education institutions.