Australia’s Deakin University the first to open foreign campus in India

Indian students can access an Australian university education and experience in their home country.

Australian education achieved a global breakthrough in March 2023. During a visit to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that Deakin University would become the first overseas university to open a branch campus in India. It marked the culmination of Deakin University’s 30-year engagement with India.

‘Many Western universities are trying to gain a foothold in India’s fast-growing higher education sector,’ says Ravneet Pawha, Deakin University’s Vice President (Global Engagement) and CEO (South Asia). ‘Deakin got there first.’

Aussie education on Indian soil

Deakin’s international branch campus opened in Gujarat in 2024. According to Pawha, it’s a little piece of Australia. Admissions criteria are the same as in Australia. Course requirements are identical. Academic standards align with Australia’s national accreditation body.

‘When you visit the campus, you feel like you are walking into an Australian university,’ she says. ‘The lecture rooms look familiar. The digital experience is seamless. Our campus is designed to make students feel like they are studying in Melbourne.

‘The big difference is tuition costs. In India, our students will pay around half the cost of studying in Australia.’

Deakin’s syllabus is attuned to local needs. This includes engaging with Gujarat’s dynamic tech industries. For example, Masters’ students in cyber security and business analytics will take cadetships with local companies.

‘Deakin is creating amazing opportunities,’ says Pawha. ‘We have begun to admit our first students and our first Masters students will graduate in 2025. Prime Minister Modi has openly expressed how happy he is with what Deakin is doing here.’

The education revolution in India

Deakin is at the forefront of dramatic change in India, according to Pawha.

‘India is on a journey of opportunity,’ she says. ‘This is thanks to a strong economy and a large, young population. Young people today are incredibly hardworking and ambitious. They want to study. Parents are saving hard to invest in their children’s education.’

Public policy is adapting to change. The country’s new National Education Policy (NEP) dramatically expands options for studying in India. It includes policies to expand vocational and higher education in India. This means fewer students will need to travel overseas.

‘The NEP opens doors for overseas education providers,’ says Pawha. ‘It means overseas institutions can create genuine partnerships in India.’

The NEP coincides with closer ties between India and Australia. In 2023, Australia and India signed a mutual recognition agreement for qualifications. This means both countries recognise each other’s tertiary qualifications.

Collaboration comes at a pivotal moment. Pawha says demand for world-class academic studies in India is growing fast. She says the initiative supports capacity building to address this demand.

‘Our aspirational middle class is growing towards 400 million people,’ says Pawha. ‘That means there is huge demand for skills. Australia has a reputation for high-quality education – and that’s the opportunity that Deakin has seized.’

Deakin University overseas campus

Deakin University is the first overseas university to open a branch campus in India.

Deakin’s long march to pole position

Deakin’s proud moment arrived after 30 years of patient effort.

‘We’ve always had a passion for India and the latent potential for high-quality education,’ says Pawha. ‘But to succeed in India, universities need short- and long-term strategies.

‘To begin with, we pursued small initiatives. Starting in 1994, we built research engagements with India. We brought Indian PhD students to Deakin to start their programs. We invested in joint symposia.’

Deakin’s long-term goal, however, was to open a campus in India. One location in particular caught the university’s attention: the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City). Located on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, GIFT City includes a special economic zone (SEZ) designed to attract overseas investors.

‘GIFT City was the opportunity we were looking for,’ says Pawha. ‘Different regulations meant we could operate as a university in our own right. Also, the SEZ has financial incentives and different tax rules. Ultimately, this meant we could repatriate our profits.’

One other attraction was the sheer vibrancy of this new, financial centre. According to Pawha, GIFT City is set to be a dynamic, international business hub.

‘Around 600 companies operate inside the GIFT City zone,’ she says. ‘Many are startups and multinationals. This is important because we don’t just want to educate students. We want to set them going on dynamic careers.’

How Austrade helped

Austrade has worked consistently with Deakin for over 20 years. This includes helping university staff identify challenges and pursue opportunities.

Austrade’s current Senior Trade Commissioner in Mumbai, Monica Kennedy, helped assess the prospects for opening a foreign campus in GIFT City. She connected Deakin with GIFT City regulators. These regulators explained what the SEZ meant for overseas education providers. Kennedy also advised Deakin on how to interact with state government officials.

‘We had excellent support from Monica and her team during all the work to set up the campus,’ says Pawha. ‘The Prime Minister’s visit in 2023 was a high point in Deakin’s history. It was the culminating point of our 30-year journey in India.’

Kennedy says Deakin’s launch is also a big moment for Australian education.

‘The work that Deakin has done is amazing for the reputation of Australian education in India,’ says Kennedy. ‘It has helped put us front of mind. Australian education is now a leading brand.

‘Prime Minister Modi regularly mentions Australian education when he talks about skills: that’s a global triumph for Australia’s education sector.’ 

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