Reflections on the largest Higher Education delegation to India

By Tushar Chaudhury

It was an absolute pleasure to be part of the recent UK Higher Education delegation to India, led by Sir Steve Smith, UK Government International Education Champion.

India is one of the top five priority HE markets for the UK. This is reflected in the commitment and excitement within the delegation – not just the biggest UK HE delegation to India but the biggest ever delegation from the UK to any international market.

The delegation consisted of about 30 UK Universities and 40 colleagues from HE sectors, Department for Business and Trade, British Council, UUKI, BUILA, DfE and others. The focus is to promote the internationalisation of higher education and the promotion of transnational education between the UK and India. It also aimed to boost higher education partnerships, aligning with the goals outlined in the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) and the UK-India 2030 Roadmap.

The delegation ran for a week, with about 200 Indian and UK delegates starting in Delhi on day 1 and 2. From Delhi, the UK delegation then spread to two different tracks to either Ahmedabad + Mumbai or to Chennai. I took the former route.

Day 1 and 2 – British Council, New Delhi

The first couple of days included visits to IIT Delhi and Ashoka University, alongside an India UK Higher Education conference hosted at the British Council Building in New Delhi. Panel discussions focused on TNE activity, related policies, and opportunities and barriers, as well as mutual recognition of qualifications (MRQs). UKIBC and our member Pearson hosted a panel discussion about the pivotal role that industry-academia partnerships can play in supporting employability and workforce ready youth in India in this era of rapid digital transformation. Get in touch with my colleague Tara Panjwani if this area is of interest!

The government of India wants to increase the GER from 28% to 50% by 2035, as laid out in the National Education Policy 2020. To achieve that, it has proposed several complementary initiatives, including a focus on increased internationalisation – facilitating foreign universities to operate in India (via IBC at Gift city in Ahmedabad) and development of transnational education (TNE) partnerships with approval from University Grants Commission via Joint degree, Dual Degree or Twinning programmes. It is important to note that, no prior approval is required for TNE for top 1000 ranking international Universities to partner with any Indian institution (public or private) listed Top 100 NIRF ranking or NAAC accreditation score of 3.01. We also discussed opportunities and pathways towards facilitating online degrees provided by a foreign university in India, for which there are currently no provisions or recognition mechanism.

There was also a British Council announcement for successful bids for Phase 2 of the Going Global Partnership (GGP) which aims to encourage collaboration between UK HEI, Indian HEI and Industry partner on shared problem-solving and skill enhancement through Industry-Academic partnership for greater good of society. In total 13 consortium bids were announced, involving 10 UK Universities, 12 Indian HEI along with 13 industry partners, with 4 UKIBC members – UCL, Swansea University, Cardiff University, and University of Nottingham – successful. Congratulations to all!

Day 3 – Ahmedabad (GIFT City):

For those delegates who were off to Ahmedhabad, we travelled to GIFT City for the third day of the delegation. (For those who don’t know, GIFT city is India’s first operational greenfield smart city and international financial services centre. Spread across 886 acres of land, it is located between Ahmedabad and Gandhi Nagar. In Prime Minister Modi’s own words, “the vision is to create a world class Finance and IT zone for India to provide services not only to India but to the entire world”).

Buzzing with growing economic activity and financial institution, GIFT city has:

  • 545+ IFSCA registered entities as of July 2023
  • A monthly turnover of USD 60 Bn on IFSC international stock exchange
  • 500 institutions with 5,000 + employees working at GIFT city
  • 64 investment funds and 25 Indian and International Banks generating USD 500 Bn – cumulative banking transactions.
  • Two Universities have announced to set-up IBC in GIFT city: Deakin University offering master programme in Cyber Security and Business Analytics and UOW – offering master’s programme in Computing.

During the Union Budget announcement of 2022, Finance Minister Sitharaman introduced a proposal to allow the entry of world-class foreign universities and institutions in Gujarat International Financial Tec-City IFSC (GIFT IFSC). This regulation allows international HEIs to set up International Branch Campuses (IBCs) and Overseas Education Centres (OECs), to offer courses related to financial management, fintech, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, in Gujarat.

In GIFT city, we met with the regulatory body IFSCA, visited Gujarat Biotechnology University, UKIBC Strategic Partner GEDU/Global Banking School, and took part in sessions with regulators and legal experts to answer any related clarifications on regulatory / legal aspects. A useful session for the universities interested in setting up in GIFT City as there are some great incentives but necessary stipulations for setting up and operating. GEDU/GBS hosted a dynamic lunch meeting to discuss Regulation, Legal and Finance considerations in GIFT City and took the delegates for a tour of its new campus.

From IFSCA meeting, the delegation went to see India’s first dedicated Biotechnology University, Gujrat Biotechnology University (GBU), a public university which has strategic collaboration with University of Edinburgh. GBU is situated in the domestic zone of Gift city, right at the outer periphery of International Zone. It was great to see such strategic collaboration between UK University and Indian public university.

Day 4 – Mumbai:

From Ahmedabad, the delegation moved to its final phase to Mumbai to have similar govt and academic visits to explore TNE opportunities with Indian HEI in Maharashtra.

Actions to take away

It was a fantastic, exciting delegation to be a part of and team UKIBC comes away with lots of actions and insights going forward to support our members. The commitment and enthusiasm between UK and Indian HEIs for more partnerships is evident with a myriad of opportunities for such partnerships. From Joint degree, Dual Degree or Twinning programmes to online degrees, to industry-academia and skill-based partnerships, there are avenues for more bilateral collaboration, to the benefit of students, employers and more widely. If India is going to achieve its 50% GER, international institutions will be key.

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