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Universities and specialized institutes are the centers for higher learning in India. The studies and disciplines cover a wide range of subjects from poetry to computer engineering to space research. Most of the universities and higher centers of learning and research are autonomous in function. A good number of universities have a federal structure composed of affiliated colleges on one tier and the university departments on the other. The affiliated colleges teach, in general, undergraduate courses, whereas the university departments conduct postgraduate teaching and advanced research. The university decides the criteria of admission into colleges and coordinates the first degree examination in the undergraduate programmes and award of degree.

Types of Universities

The Indian universities are basically of two types: unitary and affiliating.

The unitary universities are confined to a single campus and offer both postgraduate and undergraduate instructions, and also have a strong emphasis on research. Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Mysore University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are notable examples, though JNU does not have undergraduate teaching. A variation of the unitary university is the city university which has constituent colleges. Examples are the University of Allahabad and the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

Affiliating university is the most common type of university seen in India. These universities generally have a central campus which has departments or schools that impart postgraduate instructions and conduct research. They also have a variable number of colleges affiliated to them and these may be distributed over a number of districts, in accordance with the jurisdiction of the university. The colleges mostly offer postgraduate classes in selected subjects. Most Indian universities are of the affiliating types with the larger ones like Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai and Bangalore having a large number of affiliated colleges.

There is a third category of universities and institutions where technical and professional courses are taught at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Names like Indian Institute of Technology, Birla Institute of Technology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Forest Research Institute, Indian Veterinary Research Institute can be quoted. Some special institutes such as Indian Agricultural Research Institute and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research offer postgraduate and research courses.

In addition there are two other types of university-level institutions 'Deemed -to-be-University' and 'Institutions of National Importance'. Deemed-to-be-Universities (also referred to as Deemed Universities) are institutions that are conferred the status of a university by virtue of their long tradition of teaching, or specialization and excellence in a particular area of knowledge. Examples are the Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute, Pune and Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. The "Deemed-to-be University" status is granted by the University Grants Commission (UGC) with the approval of the Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resources Development.

The Institutions of National Importance are established, or designated through Acts of Parliament. There are 11 such institutions including the six Indian Institutions of Technology. As a special case they are empowered to award their own degrees, a privilege normally granted only to universities.

Out of the 229 universities, only 15 are central universities, all of which are funded for development and maintenance by the Government of India through the UGC. All others are managed by the states which give them their constitution and funding. At the central level of government, the channels for funding are the University Grants Commission, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the All India Council of Technical Education.


There are four types of colleges: government colleges, privately-managed colleges, university colleges and professional colleges.

The government colleges are few, constituting only about 15 to 20 percent of the total number of colleges in the country. They are managed by the state governments. However, as in the case of other colleges, the university to which these colleges are affiliated conducts their examinations, lays down the courses of studies, and awards the degrees.

About 70% of the colleges, however, have been founded by the privately-managed trusts or societies. More than one-third of these colleges have been established in rural areas. Their management is constituted according to the norms laid down by the statutes of the university concerned. Their relationship with the university is defined by the university act and statutes. Though established through private initiatives, all of them receive funds from the state governments. The power of granting affiliation to a college generally vests with the universities in consultation with the state governments.

University colleges, also called constituent colleges, are those run and managed by the university itself. Their number is very small.

The professional colleges are mostly in the disciplines of Medicine, Engineering and Management. There are a few for other disciplines too. They are sponsored and managed, some by the government and some by private initiative. In the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, recently there has been a phenomenal growth in the number of privately-managed professional colleges. They do not get any funds from the state and, in almost all cases, have been charging heavy fees covering capital costs and running costs. A recent Supreme Court judgement has laid down a number of guidelines for admissions and fees charged by such colleges.

The National Policy on Education 1986, advocated autonomy for colleges (and also university departments) with the objective of bringing about decentralization of academic administration, and promoting innovation and higher standards. This autonomy relates to the framing of courses, holding examinations, innovations in pedagogy and admissions.

The distinctiveness, flexibility and the quality of higher education in India have been attracting more and more international students to come to Indian universities, for studying in India in contrast to the expensive university and higher education offered in the USA, in the Western European countries and in Australia. Higher education is still highly subsidized in India and therefore affordable. Further, students from developing countries feel a greater sense of belonging and confidence, as they have many social and cultural values common with India.


In the Indian system, higher education includes the education imparted after the 10 + 2 stage - ten years of primary and secondary education followed by two years of higher secondary education. At Secondary level, India has, at present 42 Secondary Education Boards of various states and of Central Government. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is most prominent among them. All Indian Secondary Education Boards, whether of any state Government or of Central Government have equal recognition and equivalence status. Secondary level qualifications or equivalent are basic eligibility qualifications for joining higher Education in India.

Courses and Degrees

Undergraduate Courses

Undergraduate courses, in general, are of three years leading to the final examinations. The universities and higher institutes award Bachelor's degree in Arts, Science, Commerce, etc. However, undergraduate courses leading to a first degree in professional subjects like Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy are of a longer duration ranging from four to five and a half years.

Postgraduate Courses

Courses in Arts, Science and Medicine usually last two years ending with a Master's degree. For Engineering and Technology, the courses are for one and a half years. In come specialized fields for instance, for a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree, the possession of a Bachelor's degree in any other discipline is required before admission can be obtained.

Some universities and higher institutes offer a diploma or a certificate course of shorter duration in disciplines like Engineering, Agriculture Sciences and Computer Technology. The duration of these courses varies from university to university.

Eligibility for Admission

For admission to undergraduate courses, in the universities of institutes of higher education in India, the candidates need to complete 12 years of schooling. They should have passed in 5 subjects in the Senior Secondary or equivalent examination. Candidates are expected to obtain 60-70% marks in their qualifying examinations. For admission to undergraduate technical courses, the candidates should obtain 75-80% in their qualifying examinations which should include the subjects: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and English. Admission requirements to undergraduate pass courses are not very rigid. Admission in non-professional colleges is usually not difficult, except in the case of some selected colleges in metropolitan towns where there is strong competition.

Entry into professional colleges, e.g. in Medicine, Engineering, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Architecture, Management or Agriculture is difficult because of the limited number of seats available, and is generally based on a separate admission test. The admission tests for the six Indian Institutes of Technology, the four Indian Institutes of Management, and the All India Medical Institutes at Delhi and Chandigarh are the toughest. For the Indian Institutes of Technology, for example, 100,000 students in the country take the test and less than 2000 are selected. However, in some cases, overseas applicants can be admitted against nominated seats/paid seats according to prescribed guidelines of the Indian university concerned.

At the postgraduate level, admission is restricted and only the better students can get admission. Certain institutions, because of their reputation, are more sought after than others. In a recent development some universities have started their own tests for admission to postgraduate classes.

Admission to M.Phil courses, which started in the '70s, as pre-PhD courses, is competitive. More than 60 percent of the universities have instituted this course which, until recently, was the minimum qualification for appointment as a lecturer. In order to qualify for the M.Phil. degree, there is a good deal of emphasis on course work, though a dissertation is also required.

Students are admitted to PhD courses if they are able to fulfill the eligibility criteria regarding their research competence and genuine interest in the subject of study. The admission is approved by the Board of Studies, in some cases on the recommendation of a Research Degree Committee of the university concerned. To ensure that a minimum and a uniform standard of research is maintained, the UGC and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) now conduct a joint selection test twice a year, and about 2000 candidates are declared eligible to pursue research every year. A good number of fellowships are available for those who have qualified the test and wish to pursue higher research.

The universities in the country are autonomous and are free to establish regulations of their own, related to the acceptance of qualifications from countries other than India. The Association of Indian Universities (AIU) has been accepted as an accredited agency at the national level for undertaking the assessment of foreign academic credentials. The following examinations have been equated with the Senior Secondary Examination (Class XII) in this country and is considered to be the minimum admission requirement for the first degree programme, including professional disciplines:

GCE Examination of the UK with passes in five subjects at the ordinary level (O level). For admission to first degree professional courses, three passes at A level in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics or Biology are essential. Knowledge of English is also compulsory for admission.
Baccalaureate Examination of France
International Baccalaureate of Geneva
High school graduation from the accredited institutions of the USA
Intermediate/Senior Secondary/Higher Secondary/Certificate level examination of the approved Board of Secondary Education in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Twelve years of Secondary stage qualifications of National Examination Board/Council of the Ministries of Education of Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania.
Indian universities do not give blanket recognition to the degree/diploma/certificate awarded by foreign universities or educational boards. It is therefore, advisable to apply for admission along with a copy of the syllabus of the qualifying examination passed by an international student in his home country. International students wishing to study at an Indian university are advised to ascertain their eligibility from Indian diplomatic missions or refer to the AIU publication "Equivalence of Foreign Degrees" available with the Indian missions in their country; or write to:

Evaluation and Information Unit,
Association of Indian Universities,
AIU House, 16 Kotla Road,
New Delhi - 110002.
Tel: 91-11-3230059/2305/3390/3097/2429
Fax: 91-11-3236105

The Evaluation and Information Unit of the AIU will evaluate the academic programme completed by the international student.

Universities and University Level Institutions in India

There are presently 229 university level institutions in India including 39 'Deemed Universities, 34 Agricultural Universities (including Forestry, Fisheries and Veterinary Sciences, Horticulture and Dairy Technology), 18 are Engineering and Technology Universities including 6 Institutes of Technology, 14 Universities of Medical Sciences, a National University of Law, Institute for Population Sciences, Indian Statistical Institute, Indian Institute of Science, 1 University for Journalism, 1 University for Ayurveda, 5 Universities of Women's Studies, 6 Sanskrit Universities, 8 Open Universities, 5 Universities having good centers of Fine Arts, 2 Music Universities and 1 Open University of the History of Art, Conservation and Museology.

There are more than 8000 colleges affiliated to these universities and it is estimated that nearly 5 million students are on roll. Out of the number of colleges mentioned above, 151 offer MBBS and higher degrees in Medicine, 78 in Dentistry, 126 in Pharmacy, 62 in Nursing, 170 in Agriculture and allied courses, 438 in Engineering, 127 in Ayurveda and 100 in Homoeopathy. BA, Bsc, Bcom, BEd, LLB, MA, MSc, MEd and other higher degrees in disciplines of Basic sciences, Social sciences and Humanities including Foreign languages, International Relations, Social studies, Education and Law are offered at most of the conventional universities or colleges. Master's courses in Business Management (MBA) and allied courses are offered at 305 colleges/institutes including 6 Institutes of Management, which are Centres of Advanced Learning. Along with constituent colleges of universities, a large number of research centers of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Indian Council for Social Science Research are also affiliated to the university system and offer research for doctoral and post- doctoral programmes.

Academic Year

The academic year usually begins in June or July and ends in March or April. Institutions located in high altitude areas (about one or two percent of the total) follow a different schedule, beginning in March and going on to December. In most universities which follow an annual examination pattern the academic year is divided into three terms. A few universities follow the semester system. There is no organized system of teaching during summer vacations.

Examination System

In case of universities following the annual pattern, an end-of-year examination is held between March and May and the results are declared two months later. Supplementary examinations are held in October or November. Universities following the semester system have examinations in November-December and March-April.

Most examinations are conducted by the universities; however, some affiliating universities have reduced the number of university examinations for a degree. For example, at the Bachelor's level in the humanities, the examinations at the end of the first year may be conducted by the college, and the ones at the end of the second and third years by the university. Centralised evaluation has also been adopted by some universities to save time in the evaluation of scripts. Internal assessment of the work done by the student throughout the year carries 10 to 25 percent of the total marks at the undergraduate level, and 20 to 40 percent at the postgraduate level in some universities. The Engineering, Medicine and Management institutions have generally adopted the internal assessment system completely, using a letter-grade and a credit point system.

Medium of Instruction

In most of universities the medium of instruction is English. In case of professional courses, and for science and technical subjects, English is exclusively used for teaching. For the Humanities, Social Sciences and Commerce faculties, the medium of instruction is both in English and in regional languages. Postgraduate education is conducted in English in most of the centers.

Distance Education

Correspondence education was started in Indian universities in 1962. In 1982 the first Open university was established at Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, and in 1985, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) was established at Delhi. Other Open universities have since been set up in the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. 57 universities have correspondence course institutes for the benefit of part-time or working students.

Please Note

Students are also advised to visit web sites of recognizing/regulatory Indian institutions. These web sites are exhaustive and provide plenty of information. Students must ensure the recognition status, equivalence, course contents etc. of desired course/institution from aforementioned sources. For convenience, some most important web site addresses are given as under:-

(i) University Grant Commission ---

(ii) All India Council for Technical Education ---

(iii) Medical Council of India ---

(iv) Central Board of Secondary Education ---

(iv) Association of Indian Universities ---

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