Indian Higher Education System

India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world that stands second in terms of the higher education network. The term ‘higher education’ with respect to India denotes the tertiary level education that is imparted after 12 years of schooling (10 years of primary education and 2 years of secondary education). The entire higher education ecosystem in India comprises around 1000+ universities and 42,000+ colleges imparting exceptional education. All these institutions fall under the purview of the Ministry of Education.

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the National Institutes of Technology (NITs), Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have been featured in world top-ranking institutions lists.

The Landscape of Indian Higher Education

The structure of Indian Higher Education is three-layered, consisting of Universities, Colleges and Courses. The universities and colleges work in unison with regulatory as well as accreditation bodies to deliver standardized education.

Types of Universities

On the basis of management the universities are classified as:

  • Central Universities - These are set up through an Act in Parliament. The establishment and operation are funded by the Union Government.
  • State Universities - These are set up through an Act in the State Legislature. The state universities are primarily funded and operated by the State Government.
  • Private Universities - These are set up through an Act in the State Legislatures. It includes specialized institutions and multidisciplinary research universities.
  • Deemed Universities - These are well-performing institutes that are declared to be of equal standing as the universities by the Central Government on the advice of the Union Grants Commission (UGC).
  • Institutes of National Importance (INI) - These are eminent institutions of India that are known to develop highly skilled individuals. They are funded by the Government of India and include all the IITs, NITs and AIIMs institutes.

Note: Apart from the INI, the UGC has set a recognition scheme for Indian higher education institutes in 2017, according to which a total of 20 institutions will be granted the status Institute of Eminence. Until now 12 institutes have been granted this status.


The colleges enabling higher Study in India can be affiliated either with central or state universities. The private colleges are mostly affiliated with state universities. Further, there are autonomous colleges as well that enjoy autonomy in terms of deciding curriculum, admissions and examination process. But, they are also affiliated with a government university (central or state).


The courses offered in Indian higher education institutions can be generally classified into two categories:

  • STEM Courses - STEM is a broad term that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and it encompasses all the courses providing education in these disciplines. Instead of teaching the four disciplines separately, the purpose of STEM courses involves cohesive learning and it focuses on the practical application of the subjects. Effective education in STEM courses is not limited to theoretical learning but extends to experimental and research-based learning too. The well-equipped laboratories of Indian institutes enable the same and help the students to inculcate innovative, problem-solving and competent skills.
  • Non-STEM Courses - The courses offered in disciplines such as Commerce, Arts, Business Management, Humanities, and Social Affairs are termed non-STEM courses. Yet again, the Indian institutions are well equipped to provide education in these disciplines wherein the students can gain expertise in the subject of their choice. Non-STEM majors like humanities open a wide range of career opportunities where the skills, knowledge and deeper understanding are made applicable. Similarly, education, accounting, marketing, English, journalism, language studies, etc degrees all have plenty of uses for various professions. A few examples for career options under non-STEM courses include counselors, education administrators, teachers, clinical psychologists, art or creative director, etc.

The Regulatory Structure

The entire ecosystem of higher Study in India is primarily overseen by the following authorities:

  • University Grants Commission (UGC) - The main regulatory body that performs a range of tasks such as providing funds to the universities, establishing education standards for the universities and analysing the growth of the various higher education institutions. It is crucial for universities to meet the criteria set by UGC so as to enjoy degree-awarding authority.
  • All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) - The regulatory body that coordinates, plans and develops technical education in the country.

Finally, the accreditation of the universities and colleges is overseen by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF).

The NAAC is an autonomous organization set up by University Grants Commission and it is headquartered in Bengaluru. The main function of NAAC is to ensure that quality is the defining feature of higher Study in India. It facilitates performance assessment and inspection for volunteering higher education institutions through a series of parameters. The accreditation granted by NAAC helps the institutions to identify and amend their internal planning areas, resource allocation and weakness through an extensive review procedure. On the other hand, the students get reliable information in terms of quality education offered by the concerned institution.

The NIRF is the methodology approved and launched by the Ministry of Education (erstwhile the Ministry of Human Resource Development) that outlines the procedure of ranking higher education institutes across India. The methodology revolves around ranking the institutions based on five broad categories which are sub-categorised as well.

The paradigm shift in the higher education system in India is aided by the integration of the latest innovation and technology. The transformed system focuses on the inclusive development of the learners and the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 ensures the same. The main purpose of NEP 2020 is to implement and strengthen multidisciplinary, inclusive and technology-based learning that is accessible to all.

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