India - Country Commercial Guide
Education Services

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-10-22


India’s emphasis on the higher education sector has grown significantly in the last two decades.  India now has one of the largest higher education systems in the world, second only to China and the United States.  Per 2021 University Grants Commission (UGC) statistics, there are 998 universities in the country, including 429 state universities, 125 high performing institutes and universities, 54 central universities, and 380 private universities.  India has 130 Institutes of National Importance (premier public higher education institutions who receive special recognition and funding from the government).  In addition, there are 10 private and 10 public Institutes of Eminence (IOE) world class teaching and research institutions.  Together they offer a wide range of degree and diploma programs.  

The UGC is the regulator, providing grants, coordination, and standards for institutions of higher education.  The higher education sector in India can be broadly divided into two segments:  regulated and un-regulated.  The regulated segment includes central, state, and private universities, private/professional colleges, and technical and research institutions.  The unregulated segment includes online education, vocational training, finishing schools, professional development, and training and coaching classes.  The huge demand/supply gap, participation of a large number of private players, growth of the IT sector, demand for a skilled workforce, increasing FDI, disruptive innovation, and online education have all led to significant growth in this sector. 

In 2020, the GOI announced its National Education Policy 2020 (NEP), which replaced the National Education Policy of 1986.  The new NEP is the government’s vision statement for transforming the education sector.  Though policy drafting and implementation will take time, the NEP provides insight into India’s priorities.  For example, India plans to allow foreign universities (those ranked in the top 100 worldwide) to confer degrees and establish campuses in India.  Students will be allowed the option of completing their bachelor’s degree in four years (instead of the current three years) and can use part of the additional year for research.  Prime Minister Modi’s recent statements about developing a curriculum that creates global citizens and giving greater autonomy to high-performing Indian education institutions bodes well for greater collaboration between U.S. and Indian schools.  

India is one of the fastest growing sources for outbound students, outpacing China in terms of annual growth prior to the pandemic.  Even though India’s student recruitment market is still maturing, it is one of the fastest growing economies and international recruitment specialists anticipate a strong recovery post-COVID.  

As per the annual Open Doors Report in the 2019–20 academic year, 193,124 Indian students (at the graduate/undergraduate levels and those undertaking Optional Practical Training) were studying in the United States.  India is the second highest source of students coming to the United States, contributing approximately 18 percent of the total foreign student population.  Of the Indian student population in the United States, 44 percent are graduate students, 13 percent are undergraduate students, and 42 percent are classified as pursuing Optional Practical Training (OPT).  The number of Indian students in the United States dropped by 4.4 percent during the 2019-20 academic year.    

Traditionally, most Indian students studying in the United States opt for STEM and business studies. Out of the 193,124 Indian students, 34.7 percent study math and computer science, 34.2 percent choose engineering, and 10.9 percent select business studies/management. 

The study abroad market in India is seeing a steady rise in competition from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.  Indian students are choosing to study in these countries because of flexible visa and other immigration friendly policies and longer post-study optional practical training (OPT) conditions.  However, the U.S. still stands as the most preferred destination for higher education with significantly more attractive OPT opportunities.  The U.S. Mission in India issued over 55,000 students and exchange visitor visas during the  summer of 2021, a testament to the fact that Indian students prefer the U.S. for higher education. 

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 virus, more and more global higher education institutions are using new strategies and digital marketing to recruit international students.  For example, U.S. Universities have been engaging digital media experts and using virtual reality and other 3-D animation tools to provide virtual tours of their campuses.  Well-known social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, are being used to recruit international students.

The U.S. Commercial Service (USCS) has been at the forefront by bringing virtual tools to U.S. schools, allowing them to continue recruitment efforts during these challenging times.  To meet the needs of its clients, USCS has refreshed its service offerings to support U.S. schools in this arena and offers customized solutions and programs such as Virtual Education Fairs, Virtual Connection Programs, and personalized Virtual Trade Missions.  These programs have proven to be extremely successful to schools seeking to collaborate with appropriate partners for their recruiting efforts, and to facilitate collaboration between U.S. and Indian Universities.  For more information on our services please contact your nearest Export Assistance Center.

Leading Sub-Sectors 

Undergraduate and Graduate

India is a strong market for U.S.  graduate studies with 70 percent of Indian students pursuing graduate degrees.  Indian students accounted for the second highest number of foreign graduate students studying in the U.S.  Undergraduate candidates comprise 30 percent of Indian students and has been the engine for growth of new Indian students traveling to the U.S. for their education experience.

Over 30 percent of India’s population is entering college age, which will fuel continued growth in demand for higher education.  According to industry insiders, India lacks the infrastructure to meet this growing demand.  Limited scholarships and the increasing cost of a U.S. education are major deterrents to U.S. institutions attracting Indian students.  In 2020, India contributed the second highest number of undergraduate international students to the U.S.  

The undergraduate and graduate recruitment market in India is highly competitive.  Indian students take into account numerous considerations, such as university rankings, CPT/OPT options, and financial aid when choosing a university.  In their promotional materials, U.S. schools should underscore any niche offerings, safety, on-campus employment, and campus life when marketing its programs in India.  It is highly recommended that universities leverage their alumni networks when marketing internationally.

Community Colleges 

Community colleges, especially those with well-established and reputable transfer programs with four-year U.S. universities, have generated growing interest among Indian students in recent years.  These institutions are known for affordable tuition, international immersion programs, and academic credits that are recognized by four-year universities.  However, a key drawback for students applying to community colleges is the high rate of visa refusal.  Awareness of these institutions is still in a nascent stage and will require more market development amongst future Indian undergraduate students.  India ranks eighth for international students studying at community colleges. 

Secondary Education 

The Indian market for high school and other U.S. secondary education is underdeveloped.  Cultural factors, along with bourgeoning numbers of international schools in India, are the largest factors for this lack of demand.  

Table 1:  Indian Students in the U.S. by Academic Level 

Academic Level 




















Opportunities Source:  IIE Open Doors Report 

Twinning Programs 

In a twinning arrangement, students begin their studies in India and finish with a partner institution overseas.  Indian higher education institutions are finding it easier to establish partnerships with overseas institutions that allow for such agreements.  A growing number of universities and Institutions of Eminence, which enjoy complete autonomy, are keen to explore collaboration with foreign institutions for twinning programs.   

Dual Degree Programs 

The NEP will allow Indian students to earn a dual degree, one each conferred by an Indian and a foreign higher education institution.  Credits acquired may be counted toward a degree; however, schools must conduct proper diligence to ensure their agreements are sufficiently robust to facilitate these types of programs.  Indian universities are willing to collaborate with foreign institutions offering world class programs in various disciplines. 

Curriculum Development 

Indian Universities are now looking to offer balanced, articulate, and well-structured programs of international standards to their students, and are keen to collaborate with top-ranked foreign universities in developing their curricula.   

Student Exchange Programs 

Student exchange and specialty short term programs are of interest to Indian institutions, as they enhance cross cultural exposure and provide a global perspective to students.  Exchange students attend courses at overseas universities for a short time ranging from two weeks to a full semester.  Indian schools are receptive to working with U.S. institutions for student exchange and specialty short term programs. 

Faculty Exchange Programs 

Faculty exchange programs allow faculty to teach or conduct research for short periods at a partner overseas university or college.  Faculty are exposed to varied cultures while exchanging ideas and observing a variety of styles in a different setting.  Indian schools are enthusiastic about exploring such opportunities and are eager to collaborate with overseas institutions to pursue such programs. 

Joint Research Programs 

The purpose of joint research programs is to advance academic, commercial, and social research through collaboration between foreign and Indian universities while providing opportunities for young researchers to hone their skills.  There is currently limited collaboration between universities and industry in India.  Indian institutions would like to engage with industry in the development of science parks, incubation centers, and technology transfer units.  For this reason, Indian Universities are interested in working internationally on systemic support and institutional models. 

Representatives and Recruiters 

Several U.S. intuitions have appointed representatives in India to conduct promotional and student recruitment activities.  The U.S. Commercial Service assists U.S. schools with finding in-country partners.   

Online Programs 

According to Indian industry sources, the market for online education in India is expected to exceed $11 billion by 2026.  The pandemic has accelerated this trend as Indian schools, like other school systems worldwide, are moving to online classes.  There is also increased demand for skill development through online certifications on digitized platforms.  Several vocational training companies are offering online courses to increase their reach in the market.  

Professional Training Services 

The Indian Professional Training services market includes executive education providers, skilling and training companies, and schools offering courses to mid-career professionals.  The Professional Training market has witnessed robust growth in recent years due to high economic growth, a dominant service sector that contributes more than 50 percent to India’s GDP, and the entry of many new foreign companies into the Indian market.  U.S. firms and schools providing professional training services have opportunities to establish strategic alliances with partners in India.  

Service Providers 

Non-Indian universities can enter into partnerships with Indian education institutions to provide expertise and services such as teaching staff, curriculum development, setting up affiliations, and school administration. 


DIDAC India, December 1-3, 2021, Bengaluru International Exhibition Center, Bengaluru, State of Karnataka, India:  Held annually, DIDAC India is an international exhibition and conference that focuses on education resources and Training & Technology based solutions.  The show is supported by ministries in the Government of India and several well-known international education associations.  

For more information, please contact U.S. Commercial Service Industry Specialist Noella Monteiro.