New Delhi: The Union government is putting its plan to allow foreign universities to operate in India on the back burner after pursuing it for the last several years and will instead focus on its world-class university plan.

“We are not looking at that plan (to allow foreign universities to operate here)," a top human resource development ministry official said Monday, on condition of anonymity.

“There is no work happening on that; instead the government will give more thrust to the domestic world-class university plan," said a second government official, who asked not to be identified.

The move fits in with the central government’s India-first approach across sectors.

As part of the foreign university plan, the human resources development ministry wanted to allow foreign universities into the country, where they could operate and offer degrees independent of the existing regulatory regime. Issues related to the repatriation of money they earned had to be thrashed out, though.

Pursuing the foreign university plan does not make much sense now as the Union cabinet has already cleared the institutions of eminence (earlier called world-class university) plan, the second official said.

“The formal rules for our institutions of eminence plan will be out and 20—10 private and 10 public—institutions will be encouraged through enabling regulatory and financial provisions to be counted as the best in the world," the official added.

As per a ministry note on the institutions of eminence, Indian students will get education comparable to that offered by top-ranked universities of the world because of the liberal provisions in the regulation. It says, the institutions of eminence will face “minimal interference from authorities, (have) freedom to recruit foreign faculty, (and) autonomy to admit additional foreign students up to 30% of the domestic students admitted".

To be sure, the foreign universities plan did not attract interest from top universities such as Oxford, Harvard or Yale.

“What we are doing right now in terms of regulations and new institutions of eminence, the results will be visible in a couple of years’ time. We have the potential to have more foreign students in our own institutions," said the first government official, adding that Indian institutions anyway have the option of collaborating with foreign institutions on education and research.

“What India needs is a bigger higher education reform. You need to have more hand holding and fewer regulations in the sector. If India is looking to have more foreign students…it must first work on making some of its top schools best in the world, just not in infrastructure but in research and development. The enabling environment the present government is talking about should not be for only few institutions but for a relatively larger pool of colleges and universities who are relatively better," said Harivansh Chaturvedi, alternate president of Education Promotion Society of India, a federation of education providers in India.

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