UK branch campus in India announcement ‘weeks away’

British universities look set to follow their Australian counterparts in expanding into India

July 4, 2024
Students go to campus through the park of Bannares Hindu University on January 3, 2013.
Source: iStock/Radiokukka

UK universities are set to announce plans to establish branch campuses in India in coming weeks, a conference has heard.

“There are British universities that are wanting to set up shop,” said Avantika Tomar, a partner in EY Parthenon’s education practice. “There are certainly UK universities [that] are very close to announcing their India branch campus presence very soon.”

Speaking at the India Week Education Innovation Conference in Oxford on 3 July, Dr Tomar added that some institutions might go public with the news in “a few weeks”, while for others it might be “a few months” away.

It comes as speculation continues about which UK institution will be the first to take the plunge, after India released regulations allowing foreign universities to establish campuses in the country.

Institutions can also set up in GIFT City, a special economic zone in Gujarat that is free from the financial regulations that apply to the rest of the country, meaning that universities can fully repatriate their profits. Two Australian universities, Wollongong and Deakin, have already established teaching bases in the aspiring financial hub, and the sector has been keenly watching to see who will be next to move in.

As of yet, no international university has announced plans to set up a branch campus in the rest of India, where the complex regulatory environment is seen as a challenge.

“GIFT City…came first in terms of regulations, and therefore it’s a bit more clear,” said Dr Tomar. “There is [a] precedent of two Australian universities already having set up, and therefore for any UK university…you have something to follow.”

Given the financial challenges currently facing British universities, many might also struggle to front the cash required for a fully fledged new campus. They might instead choose to open a smaller teaching space, as Wollongong has done in GIFT City, or partner with a private company.

There is also growing international interest in transnational education partnerships, such as joint degrees and twinning programmes, with Indian institutions, which are keen to develop global collaborations in line with the aims set out in the 2020 National Education Policy (NEP).

However, Tara Panjwani, higher education lead at the UK India Business Council, warned international institutions not to “overestimate the demand” because of the country’s “massive growth figures” and population size.

This “then leads to inaccurate student enrolment and budgeting projections”, she said. “Have a risk management strategy, which factors that in.”

She also advised universities to “broaden” their scope beyond tier-one and tier-two cities, and top Indian universities. “Don’t neglect this expanding new system of really fantastic universities which have the resources, have the appetite and the students,” she said.

Ms Panjwani added that because many Indian universities were still “building their institutional capacity”, UK universities should “consider investing to develop those core capabilities and therefore making your partner much more able to roll out this partnership”.

“It will be more costly, it will take more time, but actually, it will be worth it in the long run,” she said.

Speaking at the same event, Mike Winter, director of international affairs at the University of London, urged the Indian government to begin recognising degrees obtained from foreign institutions via distance learning.

He said the institution had about 1,000 Indian students taking courses from their home country, a mode of study that is sometimes “their only viable option”.

“I have heard the objection many times that this does not align with the internationalism ambitions of the NEP because no one gets to travel,” he said. “I think that’s a little…oversimplified.

“There are many ways in which international perspectives are built into the programmes of study under our transnational arrangements. A good number of our students use the qualification to progress into work in multinational settings and pursue their postgraduate studies in the UK or elsewhere.”

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