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Deemed route plan for foreign varsities

New Delhi, June 6: Deadlocked in Parliament, the Centre is exploring a short cut to let foreign universities into India as deemed universities.

Setting up a full-fledged university in India requires an act of legislature but the deemed university status can be granted to an institution through an executive decision, as long as the University Grants Commission (UGC) sends a recommendation.

Now the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry has set up an expert panel to find out whether foreign institutions too can legally be granted the “deemed” status through this route, without an act of Parliament.

Currently, India lacks a law that allows foreign universities to set up campuses in the country.

The government’s Foreign Educational Institutions (Entry and Operations) Bill, designed to fill the gap, has got stuck after a parliamentary standing committee suggested major changes. The Centre has desisted from pushing the bill for the past one year fearing opposition from allies such as Trinamul, whose objections have also stalled a move for FDI in multi-brand retail.

The 10-member expert panel, set up in April this year, is the Centre’s attempt to find a way around the stalemate.

“Section 3 of the UGC Act says the central government on the advice of the UGC may declare any institution for higher education, other than a university, as a deemed university. The committee will see whether foreign institutions can be allowed to set up shop here as standalone deemed universities,” a government source said.

If the move succeeds, working on Indian soil as a deemed university rather than a full-fledged one will not handicap foreign institutions in any way. A deemed university, for instance, cannot affiliate colleges — but foreign universities entering India were anyway not expected to do that.

The committee’s formation was not publicised, so most political parties were probably unaware of the move. However, the UGC last week discussed a similar proposal to let foreign institutions to operate as deemed universities in India but shelved it after some members stressed the need for wider consultations.

Sources would not explain why the UGC raised the issue by itself. One reason could be that it did not know about the government’s expert committee; another could be that this was done to test waters.

After the UGC discussion became public, the CPM criticised the idea of letting foreign institutions in as deemed universities. It said the proposal was in “contempt” of Parliament, which was already considering a bill on basically the same subject.

The expert committee members include academics P.N. Tandon, Govardhan Mehta, Mrinal Miri and M. Anandkrishnan, who had been part of the committee that had reviewed the functioning of deemed universities and drawn up a set of regulations that were adopted in 2010.

The rest of the members are the directors of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade in New Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai and The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, a representative from Manipal University and two government officials.