India - Country Commercial Guide
Education Services
Last published date: 2022-09-07


India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world, behind only China and the United States, and emphasis on higher education in India has grown significantly in the past two decades.  India is also 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 markets in the world, and international recruitment specialists anticipate a strong recovery following the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

Per 2021 University Grants Commission (UGC) statistics, there are a total of 1,043 universities in the country, including 453 state universities, 126 deemed to be universities (a status of autonomy granted to high performing institutes and universities by the Department of Higher Education), 54 central universities (established by the Department of Higher Education), and 410 private universities.  India has 132 Institutes of National Importance, a status conferred on premier public Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) that receive special recognition and funding from the government.  In addition, the Institutions of Eminence guidelines were launched to empower HEIs and assist them in becoming world-class teaching and research institutions.  Twenty institutions (10 private and 10 public) are now a part of this exclusive group of Institutions of Eminence.  Together they offer a wide range of degree and diploma programs.  

The UGC is the central 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 unregulated.  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 supply and demand gap, participation of many private players, growth of the IT sector, demand for a skilled workforce, increasing FDI, disruptive innovation, and online education have in combination led to significant growth in this sector.

In 2021, the Indian government announced the National Education Policy designed to transform the education sector, making it more experiential and flexible.  Indian universities are being encouraged to offer multidisciplinary and holistic education across sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, and sports.  

Presently, degrees offered by foreign universities are not recognized by the UGC, and most foreign universities have partnered with top Indian private or autonomous HEIs to offer twinning or dual-degree programs.   In April 2022, the UGC approved regulations to ease academic collaboration between Indian and foreign HEIs to offer these programs as well as to enhance research collaboration.  Through these new regulations, UGC encourages student and faculty mobility with the aim of helping Indian HEIs achieve higher global academic rankings.  The regulations level the field for all public and private UGC-recognized universities to collaborate with foreign HEIs to offer premium programs to Indian students.

Leading Subsectors 

Study Abroad

Per the annual Open Doors Report in the 2020–2021 academic year, a total of 167,582 Indian students were studying in the United States.  This includes students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as those undertaking Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs.  India is the second highest source of students coming to the United States, contributing approximately 18 percent of the total foreign student population.  Of this group, 14.2 percent are undergraduate students, 41.1 percent are graduate students, and 43.9 percent are classified as pursuing OPT.  During the 2020-2021 academic year, the number of Indian students in the United States dropped by 13.2 percent.   

Traditionally, most Indian students studying in the United States choose to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and business studies.  In the 2020-2021 academic year, 34.8 percent of Indian students in the United States studied mathematics and computer science, 33.5 percent chose engineering, and 11.7 percent selected business studies.

The study abroad market in India is seeing a steady rise in competition from Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.  Indian students are choosing to study in these other countries because of flexible visa and other immigration-friendly policies, as well as longer post-study OPT conditions.  However, the United States remains 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 United States for higher education.

Undergraduate and Graduate

 In 2020, India contributed the second highest number of undergraduate and graduate international students to the United States.  

With 50 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population under the age of 25, there will be sustained growth in the demand for higher education.  According to industry insiders, India lacks the infrastructure to meet this growing demand, creating opportunities for U.S. academic institutions.  However, limited scholarships and the increasing cost of U.S. education are major deterrents to U.S. institutions attracting Indian students. 

The international undergraduate and graduate recruitment market in India is highly competitive.  Indian students take into account numerous considerations, such as university rankings, OPT options, and financial aid when choosing a university.  U.S. schools should underscore niche offerings, campus safety, on-campus employment, and campus life when marketing their programs in India.  It is highly recommended that universities leverage their alumni networks in the recruitment process as well, which may include graduates from India. 

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 recognized by four-year universities.  However, a key drawback for students applying to community colleges is the high rate of visa refusal.  Awareness of many of these institutions is still in the nascent stage and will require additional marketing outreach to raise awareness among prospective Indian students.  India currently ranks eighth for international students studying at U.S. community colleges.

Secondary Education

The Indian market for high school and other U.S. secondary education options remains underdeveloped.  Cultural factors, along with bourgeoning numbers of international schools in India, are among the largest obstacles that limit demand. 

Indian Students in the United States by Academic Level

Table: Indian Students in the United States by Academic Level

Academic Level

























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 HEIs are finding it easier to establish partnerships with overseas institutions that allow for such agreements.  A growing number of Indian academic institutions are showing interest in exploring collaboration with foreign institutions for twinning programs. 

Dual Degree Programs

The National Education Policy allows Indian students to earn a dual degree, one each conferred by an Indian and a foreign HEI.  Credits acquired may be counted toward a degree; however, schools must conduct proper due 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 degree programs.

Curriculum Development

Many Indian universities are seeking to offer more balanced, articulate, and well-structured programs to their students that meet international standards and are open to collaboration with top-ranked foreign universities in the development of academic 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 intervals of two weeks up to full semesters.  Indian schools are receptive to working with U.S. institutions to develop student exchange partnerships, particularly for specialized programs.

Faculty Exchange Programs

Faculty exchange programs allow faculty members to teach or conduct research at an overseas partner university or college.  Indian schools are enthusiastic about collaboration with overseas institutions to develop these exchange 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.  Collaboration between Indian universities and industry in India is currently limited.  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 exploring opportunities for joint research with international entities.

Representatives and Recruiters

Several U.S. institutions 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 to serve as representatives to facilitate expansion in the Indian market.  

Online Programs

According to local industry sources, the market for online education in India is expected to exceed $11 billion by 2026.  The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend as Indian schools, like other school systems worldwide, are moving to online courses.  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 Indian 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. institutions providing professional training services have opportunities to establish strategic alliances with partners in India. 

Service Providers

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

Digital Marketing Strategies

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of global HEIs are using new strategies and digital marketing tools 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 the top apps being used to recruit international students.

The U.S. Commercial Service has been at the forefront of this burgeoning area, bringing virtual tools to U.S. schools and allowing them to continue recruitment efforts throughout the pandemic.  The U.S. Commercial Service offers customized solutions and programs such as Virtual Education Fairs, Virtual Connection Programs, and Virtual Trade Missions.  These programs have proven extremely successful to U.S. academic institutions seeking Indian partners to expand their recruiting efforts and facilitating partnerships between U.S. and Indian universities.

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