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Parliament considers a controversial bill that could redefine higher education.
Photo caption: An Indian youth practices his football skills at the Allahabad University campus in Allahabad on June 10. Indian parliament is now considering a bill that would open up the country to foreign universities. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, India — Parliament is considering an education bill that would allow foreign universities to legally set up shop in India. But, ironically, many say requirements included in the bill may actually deter institutions from doing so.
Among the bill's potentially onerous stipulations is that a foreign institution must have been accredited in its home country for at least 20 years. The institution must also set up a bank account in India with a minimum of about $11 million, and universities are forbidden from funneling surplus revenue back home. The Indian government maintains final say over which foreign universities get to operate in India.
Other facets of the bill appear less troublesome. The bill does not require that foreign universities abide by India's elaborate system of quotas, in which almost 50 percent of students at public universities need to be from various castes or ethnic groups. Nor does it set tuition caps. And, the bill states that the federal government may exempt institutions with solid international standing from all but a few provisions of the bill.
The downside to that freedom, though, is that the government would then become involved in running the institution through an advisory board of academics it nominates.
The future of the bill — which is the product of a very public four-year debate — remains to be seen. In March it won the approval of the prime minister's cabinet, but now it sits with parliament, where a multi-party committee will evaluate the bill and propose changes, if any, to the ministry in charge of higher education. Once that is complete, the revised bill goes to a full parliamentary vote.
India’s higher-education system needs help. That much almost all agree on. No more than 10 percent of India's 90 million college-age citizens go to college. While the most underprivileged members of that age group don't even make it through high school, many students in the country's rising middle class, too, are unable to find places in public higher education institutions because the system is so small. India has very few good government-approved institutions.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, says India must not look at foreign universities as separate and apart from domestic university reform.
"The ideal situation is one in which there is comprehensive regulatory reform of which foreign universities are one aspect," said Mehta. India needs foreign universities to meet student demand, he says, and to ensure that the country can recapture some of the $4 billion that the 200,000 or so Indian students studying abroad spend each year.
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Kipal Sibal, the minister in charge of higher education, had said he hopes the bill will pass before the end of the year.
Even though some foreign institutions currently operate in India illegally, there has been resistance among Indian officials to the idea of allowing them in formally. Even some members of the leading Congress Party are not in favor of the bill, though the party as a whole has aggressively pushed the idea of opening India up to foreign institutions.
Leftist parties have categorically said they don't want foreign universities in India, fearing that they will become enclaves of the rich.