For-profit Universities Not Welcome in India

India plans to shut its doors to the world’s public and private universities that operate for profit, thus blithely believing that the move would keep the education sector free of rampant commercialisation. So the University of Phoenix, of the US, or the aggressively expanding Monash University of Australia, or Britain’s first private company-university BPP College of Professional Studies, would not be permitted to set foot in the country.

This fine-print is the third restrictive clause the Union Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry has introduced in the Foreign Education Providers’ Bill, which aims to allow international universities to set up campuses in the country. The other two conditions include forbidding foreign universities from repatriating funds to their home country and setting up a minimum corpus of US $11 million.

Sources said the Bill, passed by the Cabinet, would be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament. "We are not going to permit every foreign university to come in. For one, universities listed on any stock market as well as for-profit universities would not be allowed to set up campuses in India," said a senior official in the HRD ministry.

Ever since the Cabinet approved the bill with the financial curbs, sceptics have been asking why an Ivy League institution would come to India. Universities have often spoken of India as being an "interesting place", but have not committed to anything more than setting up a research centre or starting joint programmes with domestic institutes.

Optimists believe that international universities are merely waiting till the full picture on India’s stand—together with its kickers—is out. "Not allowing for-profit colleges and universities would narrow the scope of institutes that can come in, but they are clearly in the education sector for financial gain and we are not very comfortable in allowing such players," added the HRD official.

There is no actual count of how many for-profit varsities there are. Experts around the world say it’s difficult to separate the for-profit universities from the private ones in countries where government supervision is shoddy.

"How do you differentiate the not-for-profit from the under-the-table for-profit institutes? And India should know this is a tough zone," said Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College.

What would make India’s job even tougher is that, globally, several universities are setting up corporate entities that are for-profit in nature. "Other types of for-profit activity are emerging, as universities based in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere establish profitable cross-border partnerships with private local partners. Universities that may be public in their home country operate as private enterprises abroad," noted Altbach.

At the most recent World Conference on Higher Education in Paris, the book ‘Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution’ points out that though for-profit institutes constitute a small subsector in the higher education space, there is a notable growth among them as government spending is shrinking. "Moreover, the for-profits represent the fastest-growing sector within US higher education, already incorporating some 8 to 10% of private higher education total enrollment, or more than one-third of total private enrollment, though this is concentrated in programmes of just one to two years."


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