India's Drive for Internationalization

Special “education zones” in different regionswill help India not only attract international students, but perhaps curb the outflow of Indian students.

November 12, 2017

This week we will post two different perspectives on internationalization in India.

The internationalization of Indian higher education is a top priority for Indian policymakers and education providers. Ample initiatives have been taken by policymakers and education agencies to promote the internationalization with the aim of putting Indian higher education on the global map, but unfortunately, only a handful of institutes represent the country in the global arena.

Internationalization has become a buzz word at the policy level by governments and higher education institutions across the globe. The meanings and interpretations of internationalization have largely been associated with competition and markets in the current literature, but the mandate is shifting from human exchange to joint research activities. Many countries and higher education institutions are searching for ways to internationalize by integrating intercultural and multi-cultural dimensions into teaching, research, and student services. India is not an exception.

Some of the initiatives taken by the Indian government to promote internationalization include the General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSC); the Global Initiative for Academic Networks (GIAN); and the Connect to India programme. Additionally, the leading Indian institutions engage in student exchange programmes and academic collaborations with a number of foreign countries through programs such as UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) initiative, the Generation UK India initiative, the Indo-US 21st Century Knowledge Initiative and the Fulbright-Nehru programme. "Study in India Programme,” fellowships and institutional collaborations are designed to promote India as a destination for study. These initiatives suggest that the internationalization of higher education has found a place in Indian higher education policy. Still, India’s policies on internationalization have had limited impact. It is time to look for different strategies as India has not reaped the benefits of internationalization to the extent that their international partners have.

Traditional vs. Emerging pathways of Internationalization

The mobility of students, professors, and scholars is the most visible element of internationalization. From the time of independence, Indian scholars have gone abroad for higher education and great scholars from all over the world have been attracted to ancient Indian universities like Takshsila, Vikramshila, Vallabhi, and Nalanda.

Over the past three decades, the number of students enrolled outside their country of citizenship has risen dramatically, from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to an estimated 5 million in 2016—a more than fivefold increase. Moreover, it is expected that this number will grow to 7.2 million by 2025 with the likelihood that 400,000 Indian students will enroll in foreign universities by 2024 compared to 255,030 in 2016. The growing numbers of mobile Indian students would seem to indicate that India has become a leading actor in the international student market. It is now the second largest sending country after China. In contrast to the increase of outbound students, the numbers of international students in India is discouraging—in 2014 the number of international students in India was only 30,423.

Not only are students on the move, so too are institutions. In the current era, new transnationalism is emerging as a pathway to internationalization as academic institutions from one country operate in another; academic programs are jointly offered by universities from different countries; and higher education is increasingly available through online education. In the Indian context, there are only a limited number of international collaborations—631 foreign institutions had activities in India in 2010 of which 440 did so from their home campuses; 186 had twinning or some other arrangements with local institutions. The programs offered by international collaborators in India are predominantly in the professional areas of management and engineering.

Setting up overseas campuses is another internationalization strategy. A total of 313 institutions have branch campuses across the world and according to C-BERT (2017), seven Indian institutions have campuses overseas—five in the UAE as well as programs in Mauritius and Nepal. Popular destinations for Indian branch campuses are often countries with a strong Indian diaspora, particularly countries in the Gulf region, the Caribbean, Mauritius, Fiji, Nepal and Southeast Asia. Private institutions like Symbiosis International University, Birla Institute of Technology, and Manipal University boast twinning programs, dual degree programs, study abroad programs and branch campuses in other countries.


Many countries and academic institutions have elaborated strategies for internationalization. India has been slow in responding to the necessity of internationalizing despite the tremendous benefits that could accrue to Indian higher education. The evidence provided here highlight that India has experienced a rapid growth in students outflow, but it has not been able to attract a comparable volume of incoming international students. The volume of student inflow is not commensurate with neighbouring countries like China. As a result, India is losing advantages such as the generation of revenue but also diversity to the country’s campuses and a globalized ambience. In research, other academic collaborations, faculty exchange, India has a great deal yet to accomplish.

It is time for India to capitalize on its strengths. India's reputation as a provider of quality higher education is well established in comparison to the comparatively small higher education sector in neighbouring countries. Moreover, the higher education experience is often more affordable when compared to other developed nations.

The development of special “education zones” in different regions with the conditions necessary to make these locations attractive to internationally mobile students, along with a strategy for improving quality in existing higher education institutions will help India not only attract international students, but perhaps curb the outflow of Indian students. Currently, international collaborations for student exchange, faculty exchange, curriculum development, joint research, etc., have been a result of initiatives by individual institutions, rather than public policy. These initiatives are mostly concentrated in the  private sector. Internationalization is also concentrated in specific cities and regions, but India needs to develop national measures to reap the academic and economic benefits that accrue through focused policy that would expand opportunities for international collaboration in both the state and private sectors.


Rashim Wadhwa is an Assistant Professor at School of Education, Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India


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