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Opportunities for Foreign Universities to Operate in India

The government of India is allowing premier foreign universities and institutions to operate in India. We’ll examine guidelines that institutions must follow.
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Between March 2021 and February 2022, researchers collected 903 responses from college presidents and senior higher education administrators about their institutions’ degree of global engagement.1 Two-thirds of colleges intend to increase their level of global engagement. As colleges and universities look to diversify their enrollment pipeline and student body, actively looking for opportunities abroad will be key.

Now the Indian government is taking steps to open prospects and give more students access to international exposure for college education. The objective is to more than double the number of 18 to 23 year olds who enroll in higher education from the current estimated 12% to 30%.2

India’s bold desired outcomes call for India to triple its current portfolio of universities and more than double its colleges to accommodate some 43 million more students. As the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) notes, the government cannot manage growth of this magnitude. “We will need another 800-900 universities and 40,000-45,000 colleges within the next 10 years. That’s not something the government can do on its own,” said HRD officials.

India’s prime higher education regulator has formed a committee to put forth rules that would allow foreign universities to open physical campuses in India. Regulatory reform on this topic has long been sought and cheered by the international educational community.

This is a significant development for non-Indian colleges and universities looking for ways to access the country’s educational market to help grow enrollment and expand their international profile and global strategy.

The government of India has noted that premier foreign universities (FUs) and institutions will now be allowed to operate in India. They can operate either under (1) University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines or in (2) Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City), a central business district in Ahmedabad, to offer courses in a variety of subjects and programs.

(1) UGC guidelines for allowing Foreign Higher Educational Institutions (FHEIs) to set up and operate campuses in India

In line with the National Education Policy, 2020, the UGC has issued regulations on the setup and operation of campuses by FHEIs in India. The regulations aim to internationalize higher education in India.

Offering & Criteria

These regulations empower FHEIs to offer certificate, diploma, degree, research, and other programs at the undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral, and post-doctoral levels. The eligibility criteria for FHEIs are to secure a position in the Top 500 overall category of global rankings or to secure a position in the Top 500 in the subject-wise category of global rankings at the time of application. In case of collaboration, each FHEI should independently meet the eligibility criteria.

Approval & Application

The approval process involves a detailed application along with an undertaking that FHEIs will ensure the quality of education, and the qualifications awarded in India shall be equivalent to those from the main campus in the home jurisdiction. Such application and prescribed documents will be filed online in the UGC portal. The detailed application will then be assessed by a Standing Committee, and approval shall be granted within 60 days, requiring the FHEIs to set up campuses in India within two years from the date of approval. The regulations cover admission processes, fee structures, faculty recruitment autonomy, and other operational aspects.

It is understood that these regulations also will apply where an FHEI enters into a joint venture with an Indian Higher Educational Institution.

Conditions to Comply

General conditions outline guidelines for program offerings, financial resources, infrastructure, and compliance with relevant acts. The regulations include the following:

  • An FHEI shall not admit students and collect fees unless approval is received to set up a campus.
  • Regulation prohibits online and distance learning programs, but online lectures not exceeding 10% of the programme requirements may be allowed.
  • Qualifications awarded to students at the Indian campus shall enjoy the same recognition and status as if they were conducted at the home jurisdiction.
  • Qualifications awarded under these regulations shall be equivalent to any corresponding degree awarded by the Indian Higher Educational Institution for all purposes.
  • An FHEI shall present its adequacy of financial and other resources required for establishing and operating its campus in India.
  • An FHEI shall not offer any such programme of study that is contrary to the standards of higher education in India.
  • An FHEI shall undergo a quality assurance audit and submit the report to the Commission.

Non-compliance with these regulations may lead to cancellation or suspension of approval.

Further, the FHEI shall be required to submit an audit report to the UGC certifying that the operations are following Exchange Control Regulations (Foreign Exchange Management Act) and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA). In addition, the regulations also provide for annual reporting, maintenance of accounts, and mechanisms for addressing student grievances. The Commission retains the power to resolve disputes and interpret the regulations, with courts in India having exclusive jurisdiction. The overall goal is to facilitate the entry of higher-ranked FHEIs into India, enhancing the international dimension of higher education and making India an attractive global study destination.

(2) Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City)

GIFT City is a central business district under construction in Gandhinagar district in Gujarat, India. It is India’s first operational greenfield smart city and international financial services center, which the government of Gujarat promoted as a greenfield project. GIFT International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) has bagged 10th place in Finance Industry and the top rank in emerging financial centres in the Global Financial Centres Index.34 As of June 2023, it is home to 23 multinational banks, including HSBC, JP Morgan, and Barclays; 35 fintech entities; and two international stock exchanges with average daily trading volumes of $30.6 billion; as well as India’s first international bullion exchange with 75 onboarded jewelers.56

Eligibility Criteria

For a foreign university to be eligible to apply for operating in GIFT City, there are certain criteria it needs to meet:

  • The university shall be within the Top 500 in global overall ranking and/or subject ranking in the latest QS World Universities Rankings.
  • It shall be a reputed institution in its home jurisdiction.
  • It is expected to have financial capability to establish and ensure continuity.
  • It is expected to have suitable infrastructure and facilities to conduct the permissible courses.
  • The university shall be engaged in offering permissible courses similar to its home jurisdiction.

The permissible courses that can be offered by a foreign university:

Financial Management - FinTech + Science / Technology - Engineering + Mathematics

Source: IFSCA7

Amid all, the education sector is poised to be the strongest growth sector and is said to undergo a sustained growth period. The education industry in India is estimated to reach U.S. $225 billion by fiscal year 2025,8 and since India has the world’s largest population of people between 5 to 24 years (500 million people),9 this provides a great growth opportunity.

2019-20: 38.5 million Enrolled / 2020-21: 41.5 million Enrolled

With the current infrastructure, there is a huge demand and supply gap with an additional requirement of 35,000 colleges and 700 universities.

Source: IBEF10

Tax & Regulatory Incentives

It is the ease of operations and fiscal incentives that makes GIFT City an attractive proposition for foreign universities that aim to explore the Indian education market. The foreign university operating in GIFT City will be outside the purview of education guidelines published by the UGC (UGC is the regulatory authority for education in India). There are tax holidays and regulatory exemptions that are available to foreign universities operating in GIFT City.

100% Tax Exempt (Available 10 yrs out of 15 yrs) > Lower MAT Rate > No GST > No Exchange Control

Source: IFSCA11

Since the foreign universities operating in GIFT City will be exempt from corporate tax along with no exchange control regulations applicable, the profits earned from operations will be allowed to be repatriated freely outside India.

Compliances to Be Undertaken

The regulations provide for compliances that a unit operating in GIFT City is required to undertake:

  • Maintenance of accounts – Records and documents must be maintained as specified by the IFSC Authority and books of accounts must be maintained in foreign currency as declared at the time of making the initial application.
  • Requirement to submit annual report – The foreign university is required to submit an annual report providing details like the number of students admitted, degrees/diplomas awarded, programs conducted, fees collected, amounts repatriated, investments made, etc.

Further, a foreign university is allowed to transact in foreign currency while operating in GIFT City but is not permitted to undertake any promotional activities while operating there except to promote its operations in GIFT City. With the overall scheme, it seems India wants foreign universities to tap into the unexplored education sector along with making India a potential hub for students from South Asian countries.

Registration Process

The process of registration is simplified. The foreign universities will first be required to undergo screening wherein credentials shall be checked along with other requisite documents by the International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA) board. Once the screening process is completed, then the foreign universities will be required to undergo registration as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which is a process to be undertaken online. When the SEZ approval is granted through a Letter of Approval, then the foreign universities will be asked to make formal application with the IFSCA, which will be the last step in granting approval to foreign universities for operating in GIFT City.

For more information on this topic, view our webinar archive, “Higher Education Opportunities in India.” If you have any questions or need assistance, please reach out to a professional at FORVIS or email

SW India Disclaimer

The content of this document is solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute professional advice or a formal recommendation. The document is made with utmost professional caution but in no manner guarantees the content for use by any person. It is suggested to go through the original statute, notification, circular, or pronouncement before relying on the matter given. The document is meant for general guidance and no responsibility for loss arising from any person’s actions or refrainment will be accepted by us. Professional advice is recommended before any action or refrainment.

  • 1 “Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2022 Edition,”
  • 2 “Three Steps to Expand Higher Education in India,”
  • 3 “GIFT City’s IFSC Bags 10th Place in Global Financial Centres Index,”, October 3, 2017.
  • 4 “GIFT-IFSC Among Top 15 Global Financial Centres,”, January 8, 2018.
  • 5 “Why Google Chose Gujarat for its Global Fintech Operations Hub,”, June 26, 2023.
  • 6 “Google to Set Up a Centre in GIFT City – Will This Boost the Fintech Ecosystem in India?”, June 26, 2023.
  • 7 IFSCA (Setting up and Operation of International Branch Campuses and Offshore Education Centers) Regulations,, 2022.
  • 8 “Market Size of Education Industry Across India in Financial Year 2020, With an Estimate for 2025,”, October 18, 2023.
  • 9 “India Emerging From COVID-19 as the Online Education Hotspot,”
  • 10 Education And Training Report,, May 2023.
  • 11 IFSCA (Setting up and Operation of International Branch Campuses and Offshore Education Centers) Regulations,, 2022.

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