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[NEW DELHI] An Indian bill allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in the country has evoked strong criticism from the chair of a high-level national committee established to revamp higher education.

The government approved the bill, which allows foreign direct investment in higher education and regulates the entry, operation and maintenance of foreign education providers, earlier this year (February).

It is being spearheaded by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — led by the Indian National Congress under prime minister Manmohan Singh, who won a second term in May, with minister for human resources development Kapil Sibal in charge.

But the bill has drawn sharp criticism. Yash Pal, the former chair of India's University Grants Commission (UGC) who recently chaired a higher education committee established to revamp higher education in the country, said: "We don't need foreign universities — we need good teachers from abroad who will live here, teach here and [develop] here … Allowing foreign universities in India is a recipe for destroying the Indian institutions and turning education into a commodity," Pal told SciDev.Net.

He fears that contrary to expectations, the bill will open the floodgates for substandard commercial institutions. India does not have the infrastructure to attract the world's top universities such as Oxford or Harvard, he says.  

Jairam Ramesh, India's Minister for Environment and Forests, told the media this month (5 July): "I don't believe [the bill] can either stop the exodus of Indian students abroad or bring in the best universities from abroad."

The committee's main recommendations are to set up an independent, common regulator for all streams of education.

It also recommends that all universities and institutions should be free to choose their syllabuses and courses, and that speciality institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology should include subjects outside of their area to enable students to take up a mix of courses from both arts and science disciplines.

Currently the UGC sets a common syllabus for all universities and the Indian university system does not allow an arts graduate to take up a science course later.