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Coming soon: Offshore campuses of Indian institutes

The effort is part of a brand-building exercise by the Indian government to portray India as an international study destination

August 04, 2021 / 09:44 AM IST
Education ministry estimates indicate that close to 200,000 students travel abroad every year for higher education, resulting in an outflow of almost Rs 50,000 crore ($6.7 billion) every year.

Education ministry estimates indicate that close to 200,000 students travel abroad every year for higher education, resulting in an outflow of almost Rs 50,000 crore ($6.7 billion) every year.

Don't be surprised if your favourite college or university sets up a campus in the United States or United Kingdom. The government, under the University Grants Commission (UGC), will now allow colleges and universities to set up offshore campuses abroad.

Sources said that detailed guidelines on the category of institutes, based on academic history, batch size and courses, will be released by the government in the coming weeks.

“This is part of brand building of Indian institutes. At present, India is not top-of-mind for international candidates, especially from the West, and we want to change that,” an official said.

Once the guidelines are released, it is likely that an initial list of institutes will be drawn up to gauge their interest in setting up campuses abroad.

What does this involve?


Internationalisation of India's higher education system has been a key focus of the National Education Policy (NEP) – 2020.

Addressing a virtual gathering on July 29, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said an 'office of international education' has been set up at 250-plus universities in India and this will enable them to attract foreign students.

Education ministry estimates indicate that close to 200,000 students travel abroad every year for higher education, resulting in an outflow of almost Rs 50,000 crore ($6.7 billion) every year.

Conversely, it is estimated that 48,000 international students study in institutes across India.

Promoting 'Brand India'

The education ministry wants to promote 'Brand India' as a study destination through a mix of schemes, including global campuses, incentives to foreign institutes to set up Indian campuses, as well as 'twinning programmes'.

“Many institutes in India have international alumni who are now employed in large corporations. The institutes will be asked to make use of this alumni network as part of the brand-building exercise,” another government official said.

Once the Indian institutes set up offshore campuses, they will be able to give international students a teaser of what is on offer. These students would then be encouraged to take up other programmes at the Indian campuses.

Will it work?

While the Indian regulatory authority for universities, the University Grants Commission, will give the go-ahead to set up offshore campuses, the real test would lie in getting approvals from country-specific regulators.

In the United States or United Kingdom, for instance, new institutes (even offshore campuses) would need to set aside fixed capital for students and infrastructure. A detailed verification of the institute's financial background, statement of purpose and safety standards is also carried out.

Prashant Maheshwari, an overseas education consultant based in New Delhi, told Moneycontrol that even if the Indian government is able to secure faster approvals through its diplomatic relations with a country, the initial students would primarily be Indian.

“If you look at the US for example, students are very wary of new entrants. Even if an Indian institute that has a 100-year legacy sets up an offshore campus in the US, say, in popular locations like New York, Boston, Texas or Atlanta, the initial batches could consist mostly of persons of Indian origin,” he said.

However unlike former US President Donald Trump, current President Joe Biden is receptive to new educational institutes being set up.

President Joe Biden had stated in February 2021 that he plans to increase grants for new and existing higher education institutes to improve graduation rates and reduce income disparities.

Here, any educational institute helping improve career outcomes for low-income students, students of colour, first-generation students, and students with disabilities will be provided funding.

In the UK, the USP of an institute and whether it is needed in the country is assessed before approval is granted. It is not a simple statement, but 'evidence of need', as the UK government puts it.

This would mean that an Indian institute setting up a UK campus would need historical evidence of how it is essential for UK residents and how different its courses would be from those offered by existing higher-education institutes. Final approvals are based on this data.

The West Africa and East Asia opportunity

Stephen Duraiswamy, Managing Partner at study-abroad advisory BreakHigh Consulting, explained that instead of aiming for the typical Western markets, Indian institutes looking to expand via offshore campuses should target markets such as West Africa and East Asia.

“Places like Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Taiwan and Mongolia are where Indian institutes should eye a presence. These regions would benefit from quality international education and they are also home to a large expat community, which will aid brand building for Indian institutes," he added.

Twinning programmes would be a precursor to this offshore campus expansion. Here, students from India could study one semester at an institute abroad through a partnership and vice versa.

Once the offshore campuses are set up, Indian students in domestic campuses could also get an opportunity to pursue a part of their degree programmes at these international locations.
M Saraswathy is a business journalist with 10 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, she covers consumer durables, insurance, education and human resources beat for Moneycontrol.
first published: Aug 4, 2021 09:44 am

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