Quality Education: India must be more open to Foreign Universities

By Kevin McCole

Restricting the ‘foreign universities in India’ vision to only the global top-200 will mean foregoing world-class expertise the ranked >200 can offer. This is an Op Ed written by UKIBC COO, Kevin McCole, as published in the online and print editions of the Financial Express.

India is at a crucial turning point on the path to becoming a global 21st century economic and political superpower. To succeed, India needs world-class engineers, data scientists, healthcare professionals, social workers and a whole range of trained professionals on an unprecedented scale. With half of India’s 1.25 billion population under 25, India’s long-term success may, therefore, rest on the imminent report by the K Kasturirangan Committee on reforming Indian higher education.

The scale of India’s challenge will require ambitious reforms. In 2014, the government set the goal of increasing the higher education enrolment rate to 30% by 2020. Although lower than the 48% rate in China and 68% in the EU, this means providing 40 million extra university seats across India—14 million more than currently exist. As well as a lack of physical infrastructure, there is also a shortage of faculty, by 30-40% according to some estimates. So, if India reaches its enrolment targets, there is likely to be a reduction in quality of education. The quality of a graduate links directly to employability. A 2016 report by Aspiring Minds found that more than 80% of engineers in India are “unemployable”.

This was reflected at a recent UK India Business Council focus group involving leading UK varsities and major employers in India who reported significant in-house costs on retraining graduates. The case is clear. Higher education reforms need to deliver on India’s long-term economic interests. This means ensuring equal access to excellence, and employability for all Indian students as the sector expands.

One critical issue universities and employers will be looking-out for is the role foreign universities can play in India. The earlier TSR Subramanian Committee for the ‘Evolution of the New Education Policy’ expressed openness to foreign universities operating in India, but only “the Top 200 [globally ranked] Universities be facilitated to have collaboration arrangements with Indian Universities”. Indian policy makers are right to only want the best the world has to offer.

However, limiting participation to the top 200 globally ranked institutions will not deliver what India needs. First, it will not mobilise sufficient global expertise, resources, and investment to build a sector worthy of India’s ambitions. And, crucially, universities that do not fall into the ‘top 200’ globally frequently offer world-leading education in topics vital for India’s economic and social development. At the same time, under the “top 200” approach, institutions that have an overall ranking in the ‘top 200’ could bring courses to India that are ranked very lowly.

It would be perverse that a policy to enable top-ranked institutions into India would lead to institutions establishing poor-quality courses, but prevent high-quality, in-demand, courses coming from universities outside the top 200. Not only this, but adopting a ‘Top-200’ approach relies on international rankings that frequently contain geographic biases and reward research over teaching, making them a poor proxy for the needs of India’s employers and wider economy.

This is why the UK India Business Council makes the case that the New Education Policy allow foreign institutions to award degrees (through online and offline courses) and establish a physical presence in India based on criteria matching the needs of India’s students, employers and overall economy, rather than base their entry on overall global ranking.

NITI Aayog’s ‘Three Year Action Plan’ recommends that only a select few elite institutions be afforded the ability to partner Indian institutions. This means most Indian institutions will not be able to benefit from in-depth international expertise This would significantly limit access for Indian institutions to excellence, thus limiting access to quality for students.


This is an Op Ed written by UKIBC Chief Operating Officer, Kevin McCole, as published in the online and print editions of the Financial Express.


Get a free consultation with one of our India Advisers