Partnerships, not branch campuses, seen as likely in India

Brick-and-mortar foreign universities not viable without further details, conference hears

August 28, 2020
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India’s long-awaited move to open doors to foreign universities, announced this month as part of the new National Education Policy (NEP), has drawn international attention.

However, university and business leaders at the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) online conference, which ended on 27 August, did not anticipate foreign campuses opening in the next few years. Instead, experts felt that other types of partnerships, including digital cooperation, were the way forward.

Ravneet Pawha, deputy vice-president (global engagement) at Deakin University, and one of the AAERI speakers, told Times Higher Education that it was “unlikely we would build and operate our own campus in India”.

“India is hard work. Setting something up is not easy,” she said during her AAERI talk. “For any foreign university, there has to be a model that is financially viable. And setting up a campus without revenue is not viable, with unclear guidelines.”

Unlike in China, where the Chinese government or “parent” Chinese universities underwrite joint venture campuses with foreign partners, there is no such funding model announced yet in India.

Maheshwer Peri, founder of a major education services company, Careers360, explained that “if you want to establish a university in India, it has to be a not-for-profit”.

Ms Pawha said that her institution would seek out partnerships instead. “We are really keen to deepen our strategic engagement with India and that is likely to include greater in-country delivery,” she told THE. “Our preferred approach is to work with Indian partners through hybrid transnational education approaches.”

“There’s scope for all countries to work more closely with India,” she added. “Australia will likely grow its market share through collaborations.”

Ms Pawha said there were potential opportunities in credit-sharing, digital teaching and blended learning, which were improved during Covid campus closures.  She also cited the “learning centre model”. For example, a student taking online classes through an Australian university might complete laboratory work near home in India.

Lakshmi Iyer, executive director and head of education for Sannam S4, a company specialising in market entry services, said that foreign campuses might open in India, but only in the next five or 10 years.

Ms Iyer noted that only a small percentage of Indian students ever made it overseas, and that the focus was on improving domestic institutions. The NEP includes plans to expand local higher education dramatically, which could encourage more students to follow the government’s “Stay in India” campaign. 

A more immediate concern for India-Australia relations are Covid-19 restrictions that have cut travel between the two countries. Both India’s airspace and Australia’s borders are essentially closed.

Ravi Singh, the AAERI president, urged Australia to loosen restrictions. He suggested setting up quarantine facilities for foreign students so the country could open its borders and save its universities.

Currently, the only exception to Australia’s ban on foreign student entry is a pilot scheme, scheduled for September, which will let 300 students fly from Singapore to South Australia.

India normally sends about 100,000 students a year to Australia, putting A$5.5 billion (£3 billion) into the economy. It is quickly catching up to China as the top source of foreign students.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com 

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