The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SEZ: E for education

New Delhi, Oct. 3: After special economic zones, a trial balloon has been floated for special education zones.

In a consultation paper, the commerce ministry has suggested liberalising higher education with flexible rules to attract foreign direct investment.

“How much flexibility can be given to the foreign education providers in setting fees, admission, hiring of teachers, course and syllabi' What would be the role of University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council of Technical Education and the regulatory body in the home country of foreign education providers'” the paper asks.

“A balance has to be struck between domestic regulation and providing adequate flexibility to such universities in setting syllabus, hiring teachers, screening students and setting fees,” it adds.

The Left parties and the HRD ministry — both want foreign providers to be guided by the same rules as Indian institutions — see this as an attempt to create special education zones for foreign investors, along the lines of the special economic zones that have brought the Kamal Nath-led commerce ministry under fire.

Critics of the proposal say: “What they are suggesting are special education zones like the special economic zones.”

This would imply that the Centre would not insist on “national treatment” for foreign providers.

The Arjun Singh-headed HRD ministry and the Left parties hold that the foreign institutions must comply with all the rules that apply to national institutions, including reservation for SCs/STs and OBCs. They must get their syllabus vetted by a national regulatory authority, which would also regulate fees and admission policies. The HRD ministry has drafted a bill to regulate foreign universities that includes these points .

The commerce ministry is not suggesting doing away with all guidelines. It says India “should put in place a sound regulatory framework to govern private players (foreign and domestic) for setting the rules of the game and having student interest as the main objective”.

But it makes a case for preferential treatment of foreign providers. “Domestic laws and regulations are administered in an unfair manner. Minimum requirement for local hiring is disproportionately high. Repatriation of earnings is subject to excessively costly fees or taxes for currency conversion,” it says.

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