Internationalization Hubs: India and China Compared

India hosts 799 universities with nearly 38 thousand affiliated colleges enrolling 34.5 million students; China hosts 2,880 universities and enrolls 47.9 million.

June 26, 2018

India and China are considered to be major hubs in Asia for attracting international students. Both have large and diverse higher education systems. University graduates from both the countries are keen to compete in the global employment market. It is this challenge that demands “global citizens” with an international education experience and a greater and diverse quality of preparation. 

Internationalization of higher education also involves hosting a diverse international student population in local higher education institutions (HEI). Both countries are trying to attract a larger number of international students. This essay briefly compares the international education status of India and China and highlights some crucial parameters governing the two systems. Let us examine some of these parameters.

Higher Education Infrastructure

India hosts 799 universities with nearly 38 thousand affiliated colleges as HEIs, enrolling 34.5 million students.  China hosts 2,880 universities and enrolls 47.9 million. Both countries have encouraged the development of private institutions. China has made major efforts to improve its top universities with seven of them now in the top 200 ranked by the Times Higher Education (THE). India has been tinkering with small reforms aimed at boosting its universities, but so far, no Indian university places in the top 200 list of THE. In spite of the fact that most Indian HEIs offer English as the medium of instruction, they have not been able to attract international students, in part because of their poor ranking status. 

The Chinese are offering English-language education in some of their best universities. Their English medium medical institutions are even attracting students from India since the Chinese authorities have ensured that these institutions have recognition from the Medical Council of India. India has not made any similar reforms to attract international students. 

The China Scholarship Council (CSC), a nonprofit organization under the Chinese Ministry of Education, offers scholarships to international students to study in China. This Council also offers scholarships to Chinese students to study abroad. The Indian agency coordinating higher education—the University Grants Commission (UGC) does not have any promotional strategies focused on attracting international students or encouraging India students get an international exposure. Clearly, the Chinese Educational infrastructure is more favourable to international education and international students.

Student Mobility in India and China

Student mobility has become an important facet of internationalization programs.  In 2015, there were 181,872 Indian students studying abroad; 523,700 Chinese were studying abroad during the same time period. While India does not offer many scholarships, there has been steady growth in outbound mobility. A few elite institutions in India, like the IITs, have only recently started some internship programs abroad for their engineering students with some scholarship support resulting from help from the partner institution. In the long run, the educated Chinese work force will definitely provide tough competition to young Indian professionals seeking employment abroad. The Chinese have already overcome the English language barrier that had been a competitive advantage to Indian students until now. 

The biggest change in internationalization programs in India and China is in the area of receiving international students. In the year 2015, India attracted only 42,420 international students, while in the same year China attracted 397,635. This was a result of the major national initiative by the China Scholarship Council (CSC)and a centralized effort to promote study opportunities in China with scholarships to international students. India has yet to set up such a centrally coordinated agency to promote India as a study destination. 

As a result of the Chinese government’s strategy,10 % of globally mobile students are now studying in China. China has even been successful in attracting Indian students with the Indian student population in China growing from 8,145 in 2008 to 16,694 in 2015. Interestingly, 80% of the Indian students in China are pursuing an English medium medical degree. Compare this with the data provided by the All India Survey for Higher Education (AISHE), of the Ministry of Human Resources Development in India that shows only 185 Chinese students studying in India during 2015-16. The majority of Chinese who come to India come to study commerce, management, computer science and other sciences. This imbalance clearly shows that within Asia, China is a more attractive destination.

To attract international students (and provide a higher quality education to local students at home), China has encouraged four accredited American higher education institutions to set up a program base in China. India’s policy governing the establishment campuses in India by foreign providers has been very restrictive and has not attracted a single foreign institution to come to Indian soil. 


In many ways India and China have comparable higher education infrastructure. Both have the potential to attract a large number of international students from other parts of the world. China has recognized the importance of initiatives to promote international education. Seven of its universities are now ranked among the top 200 universities of the world; India has yet to enter this league. 

The special efforts made by China have attracted nearly 400,000 thousand international students while India has only managed to attract slightly about 10% of that number to its campuses. China also ensures that a large number of students have an opportunity to go abroad by providing scholarships through the well-organized China Scholarship Council. As a result, three-times more Chinese than Indian students go abroad, thus entering the global employment market with a distinct advantage. The Chinese have opened their doors to quality foreign universities who now have campuses in China that attract foreign as well as local students. So far, India has not been able to attract international universities due to its rigid and restrictive policy controlling the entry of foreign education providers. Unless India takes a more aggressive measures to reform its, including improving the infrastructure for receiving international students and scholars, higher education system, China will continue to outpace it as an education hub in Asia.     


P.J. Lavakare is a Fulbright scholar and a Research Scientist. His present interest is International Education with special focus on Student Mobility and internationalization of higher education in India.”



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