India on Wednesday approved a plan to allow foreign universities to open campuses in the country as part of efforts to boost education to strengthen the economy as it struggles with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Politicians affiliated with the left as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party have opposed several attempts by previous administrations to open up the sector to overseas institutions.
But many government officials have been pushing the move as more than 750,000 Indian students study abroad, spending billions of dollars outside the country every year.
The government will allow “entry of top world ranked universities to open campuses in our country”, a government statement said after a cabinet meeting chaired by Modi.
Critics said it remained to be seen whether top-rated universities would open campuses, considering a regulatory framework that will also cap fees charged by educational institutions.
The change comes as part of a policy to increase public spending on education to nearly 6% of gross domestic product from around 4% now.
Education is among sectors Modi is aiming to reform in an effort to bolster the economy in the wake of the pandemic.
The government is seeking to expand access to higher education to 50% of high school students by 2035, aiming to add about 35 million new places for students, and achieve universal adult literacy before that date, Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare told reporters.
The reforms would also include directives such as making school education compulsory from the age of three and encouraging the study of Sanskrit and other Indian languages as well as the use of technology.
Nearly half of the 248 million Indian students studied in private schools in 2019, according to government estimates, as teaching standards in the majority of state-run schools remain low amid a shortage of teachers, poor regulation and inadequate funding.
India has suspended 39 licences to import 452,303 tonnes of refined palm oil after a surge in duty-free purchases from neighbors such as Nepal and Bangladesh which are not key producers, government and trade sources.
The suspension could reduce India’s palm oil imports in the next few months and pressure Malaysian palm oil futures, but could lift shipments of soyoil and sunflower oil.
“All these 39 licences for import of refined palm oil will be immediately put under suspension,” the government said in circular seen by Reuters on Monday.
India, the world’s biggest importer of edible oil, put refined palm oil and palmolein on a list of restricted items on Jan. 8, although New Delhi later issued licences to import refined palmolein.
Palm oil imports from Nepal jumped 314% to 189,078 tonnes in the fiscal year ending on March 31, while purchases from Bangladesh jumped 500%, the government said in the circular.
The shipments did not attract import tax as both nations are signatories, along with India, of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement that created a free-trade zone in the region.
A rising flow of duty-free edible oils was disrupting trade in India and undermining government efforts to boost oilseed prices with higher import taxes, said Atul Chaturvedi, president of trade body the Solvent Extractors Association of India .
Of the suspended licences, 37 were issued to source the commodity from Bangladesh and Nepal, while two were issued for Indonesian origin, the government added.
Palm oil accounts for nearly two-thirds of India’s total imports of edible oil, mainly sourced from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Indian refiners have long opposed imports of refined palm oil, saying they hurt domestic refiners and oilseed growers.
The suspension is unlikely to cause a shortage of palm oil in Indian markets as consumption has fallen as much as 40% after a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, said Sudhakar Desai, president of the Indian Vegetable Oil Producers’ Association.
India’s palm oil imports fell 46% in April from a year ago, provisional data from the SEA shows.