The National Education Policy, 2020 (“NEP”), is only a few days old and has been garnering a lot of attention. Indeed, this is only natural, given the impact it can have on the large student community of India. In addition, given that it is the first education policy in 34 years, both in subject matter and approach, it has demonstrated significant shifts. In some ways, it is substantially different from last year’s draft National Education Policy, 2019 (“Draft Policy”).

One of the areas in our country’s education policy that has always garnered attention and curiosity is the role that foreign educational institutions can play in India and their direct entry into the country. Hereinbelow, we will check what the NEP says in this regard, and what could be expected in the regulatory landscape as a result.

The Good News

For those who have been looking forward to foreign universities playing a more direct role in India or setting up campuses here, the NEP comes as an affirmation. Their entry into India was already foreshadowed in the Draft Policy, and the NEP has put its stamp of approval on this formally. There are a couple of key elements to this:

  • MOUs would be signed with relevant foreign countries, and research and collaboration between Indian institutions and foreign institutions would be encouraged. Given that there are certain countries that have historically attracted Indian students in large numbers (like the US, UK, Singapore and Australia), it is expected that viability of MOUs with these countries will be considered in the future. Alongside, there would be an increased thrust on student as well as faculty exchange. This is expected to support internationalisation of course curriculum as well as pedagogical standards in India.
  • Select universities from the top 100 in the world would be allowed to set up campuses in India. While it will have to be seen what metrics may be applicable to determine which foreign institutions are covered within this 100 (which effectively forms the long list from where the universities would be shortlisted and selected for setting up campuses in India), the NEP recognises that appropriate legislative framework would have to be put in place to facilitate the same. Therefore, overall, this is good news for various foreign institutions, who have been looking to set base in India.

New Regulations and Regulators Expected

Against this backdrop, it is important to shed some light on what the regulatory framework (that is likely to be transitioned out) has been so far and what the future may hold. It must be recognised that past attempts at parliamentary legislations under the erstwhile regulatory set up have not been successful, sometimes because the existing role of regulators and the intended legislative changes have not been in sync. Examples of this are the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, which lapsed; and the more recently proposed Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Act 2018 (“Draft HECIA”), which remained in the draft form as well. Given that the NEP contemplates the Higher Education Commission of India (“HECI”) being set up with a wide role in Indian higher education, it is expected that the Draft HECI would reach the Parliament in a revised avatar, taking into account the new requirements under the NEP. The HECI is now expected to have four distinct verticals under its umbrella, which are as follows:

  • National Higher Education Regulatory Council, intended to be a single point regulator for the higher education sector;
  • National Accreditation Council, which will deal with accreditation of institutions;
  • Higher Education Grants Council, which will be tasked with carrying out funding and financing of higher education; and
  • General Education Council, the final vertical, is expected to have a more academic based-role, as it will frame expected learning outcomes for higher education programmes.

Accordingly, the regulatory framework for foreign institutions that will enter and operate in India is also expected to fall within this purview. The Draft HECIA did not have this clear distinction, but as and when the new bill is formulated, it is expected that these would be factored in.

It remains to be seen what role that the Universities Grants Commission (“UGC”) and the All India Council for Technical Education (“AICTE”) will play in this direction, if any at all. Both these bodies have played a role thus far in relation to the involvement of foreign institutions in India. For instance, the UGC has been administering the University Grants Commission (Promotion and Maintenance of Standards of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2016, and the University Grants Commission (Establishment of and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities) Regulations, 2003, where the latter included foreign institutions as well within its purview. Similarly, the AICTE, through its Approval Process Handbook, had been facilitating collaboration between Indian and foreign institutions in the field of technical education, research and training.

It may be noted with interest that the Draft HECIA had anticipated that the UGC itself would transition into the HECI with its new roles and powers, from a regulatory standpoint. However, the NEP appears to contemplate the UGC as continuing as an independent research funding body. It appears to make no specific mention of the AICTE.

Closing Remarks

It is clear that the NEP is a fresh starting point for the role that foreign institutions can play in India. The facilitation of their increased involvement is expected to see significant regulatory overhaul, which if carried out well, would lay a successful path ahead for institutions as well as the student community.


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