A much-hyped Bill that would pave the way for foreign universities to enter India has been stalled amid disagreement over exceptions made for certain investors and the attention of ministry officials being diverted to the legal battle over broader caste-based reservations, according to a person familiar with negotiations.
The Foreign Education Providers Bill received the cabinet’s approval on 1 March. It was widely expected then that the Bill would be brought before Parliament this session, which most observers now say is unlikely. The current Parliament session ends on 22 May.
“The minister himself is against the bill in its current shape. He knows the views of the Left parties. Even if it gets tabled, it will immediately get referred to the parliamentary standing committee” for further amendments, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Anyway, ministry’s hands are full right now with quota.”
Arjun Singh, the minister for human resource development which oversees education, has been a key champion of implementing a 27% quota for other backward classes, or OBCs, but the Supreme Court has put a stay on implementing the quota this year, a ruling the government is fighting.
A senior leader of one the Left parties said she supports the foreign universities Bill but would prefer universities already in India be regulated first. Brinda Karat, member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and of the ministry’s parliamentary standing committee, said she was not aware when the Bill would be tabled. She said her party wants to see regulation of foreign universities who are already offering courses in India. They are doing so through partnerships with Indian institutions; the current Bill would allow for 100% foreign direct investment.
“The institutions which are already here require regulation. My party is for academic collaboration” with foreign universities, she said.
As it stands, the Bill says foreign universities in India will be regulated by the University Grants Commission Act, which allows the government to set fees and supervise admission procedures including setting aside seats for scheduled castes and tribes. If the government wins its fight for OBC quotas, that rule also would be imposed on the foreign institutions.
But, an important clause in the Bill, inserted under pressure from the commerce ministry, says that a committee of experts will review applications from “institutes of excellence” such as Yale or Harvard University, and give them certain exemptions, such as not having to employ quotas. It is this exception that Singh apparently opposes.
Through a spokesperson, Singh declined to comment.
A number of foreign colleges have common degree programmes or franchise operations with Indian colleges. The business school of New York’s Columbia University, for instance, offers an exchange programme with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
Officials in government have struggled for over a year to fulfil their commitment to the World Trade Organization to open up higher education to foreign investment.
When contacted by Mint, US embassy spokesman David Kennedy said he had not heard of the obstacles facing the education Bill. “We’ll be watching,” Kennedy said.