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The Indian higher education is one of the largest in the world with over 35 million students, 800 universities and 41,000 colleges. The universities are broadly divided into public (those funded by the government) and private (self-financed). India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world. However, there is still a lot of potential for further development in the education system, including its position in the global student market. The government of India, having realised the importance of attracting foreign students to India to bring diversity to Indian classrooms and realising that education is ‘soft power’ launched the initiative, ‘Study in India’. This initiative by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is supported by Ministry of Commerce and Industries, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). This initiative is timely, but will require a lot of strategy, planning and will of the government to make it successful. 

Massification first

The education sector in India is poised to witness major growth as India will have the world’s largest tertiary-age population and second largest graduate talent pipeline globally by the end of 2020. In FY 2015-16, total funding to education was worth about US$ 100 billion and is expected to reach US$ 116.4 billion in FY 2016-17. Currently, higher education represents 59.7 percent of the market; primary and second education, 38.1 percent; pre-school, 1.6 percent; and technology and multi-media the remaining 0.6 percent. The higher education system has undergone rapid expansion. At present, the higher education sector spends over Rs 46,200 crore (US$ 6.93 billion) and it is expected to grow at an average annual rate of over 18 percent to reach Rs 232,500 crore (US$ 34.87 billion) in the next 10 years (E&Y Report 2017). 

In that context of India’s massification international students have played a marginal role, as the sector focused primarily on access for local students. Presently, about 45,000 foreign students study in India, approximately 1% of global student mobility. These students come predominantly for courses in computer studies, pharmacy, commerce, management, etc. Foreign students are attracted to cities like Pune, Bangalore, Hyedrabad—as these cities have a legacy as education cities—and they come primarily from Asia (40%) and Africa (15%). 

Bringing back the past

India has always been an international center of learning. The traditional and conventional “guru” (teacher)–shishya (student) tradition, the “Gurukulam” model of imparting education underscore India’s tradition in education. There is evidence of formal education in ancient India under the Gurukul system. The Aashram system of education was well suited to the societal requirements at that time. The Vedas, Puranas, Ayurveda, Yoga, Kautilya's Arthasahtra are only some of the milestones that India’s traditional systems of knowledge transfer can boast of. Universities like Takshashila (600 BC to 500 AD)and Nalanda (500 to 1300 AD)attracted scholars from all over the world to India. In pre-independent India, the British can be credited for a revolution in the Indian higher education system. Many of India’s modern tertiary institutions like Madras University, Bombay University & Kolkata University were established during the British Raj. 

However as the Indian higher education system evolved, the number of foreign students coming to India decreased. The massification of Indian higher education focused on the growing needs within the country coupled with a lack of effort by the government to attract foreign students. On the other hand, there are an estimated 5.53 million Indian students studying abroad in 86 different countries. USA, Canada & Australia enroll two-thirds of this number. Like China and Russia and other Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore, India aspires to become a recipient of international students. 

Study in India

The implementation body of Study in India (SII) is Educational Consultants India Limited (EdCIL), a public sector undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industries (FICCI) higher education division.  The initiative was launched in April 2018 with ambassadors and diplomats of several countries in attendance. Foreign students spoke about their experiences studying in India and performed cultural dances to Indian Bollywood songs to showcase how well they have been immersed in Indian culture. Dr. S. B.Mujumdar, founder of Symbiosis International University, one of the first Indian universities established to prioritize the enrolment of foreign students, was congratulated on his contribution to the internationalization of Indian higher education. 

The Study in India initiative will attract students for full-time degree programme as well as for short-term programmes. Participation in education fairs in thirty countries have been planned including Nepal, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Kuwait, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Rwanda. Students are requested to register on Based on their academic scores these students will be offered full or partial scholarships. Students from developed countries like US and Europe will be targeted for short term and student exchange programmes.

The Study in India initiative offers 15,000 seats for the 2018-19 academic session with 55% of these offered with fee waivers. The government hopes to attract 200.000 international students to Indian university campuses by 2023. Sixty higher education institutions with ratings in the top 100 of National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NACC) have been identified as institutions where these foreign students will be placed. These universities have signed MOUs with EDCIL and are willing to offer scholarships to foreign students. A pilot programme has been launched for 2018-19 to test these opportunities. 

This initiative will require a lot of strategy, planning and good will from the government. It also requires that participating universities develop an effective eco-system to accept and support foreign students. The cities where these foreign students are placed will also play a major role in integrating foreign students and insuring against discrimination. Quality of education, services, infrastructure and human resources to recruit, support and train these students are challenges that need to be addressed to make this effort to become a global player in the international student market a success. Indians believe in ‘Vasudhaiv Kuttumbakam’ (The world is one family) and therefore there is good reason to believe that the ‘Study in India’ initiative will become successful. 


Vidya Yeravdekar is Pro-chancellor of Symbiosis International (Deemed) University India.

Hans de Wit is Director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College 


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