The Indian university system, already bursting at the seams, will only grow more competitive.

India is set to become the largest country on Earth by 2022, with a population much younger than China’s. There aremore children under the age of 15 in India than there are people of any age in the United States. The Indian university system, already bursting at the seams, will only grow more competitive. The internationally renowned Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) each take a fraction of a percent of candidates. The IITs, with just a few thousand seats available, require two rounds of entrance examinations: the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Mains, taken by over 13 million candidates a year, and the JEE Advanced, for which around 10% of those (13 million) qualify. The most coveted course of study/major at IIT, computer science, is open only to the top 500 or so of over 1.3 million applicants. And even among IITs and IIMs, there is significant variation in quality and job placement.

Some new, western-style colleges (such as Ashoka University) have popped up with support from American colleges and universities, but it takes a long time to build international reputation and prestige, and in general liberal arts education is not perceived as valuable by the vast majority of Indians. While there may be a future for Indian liberal arts colleges, that future is still several years away. One issue India has is quality of life: with poor infrastructure, severe air quality issues, and extreme weather, it is difficult to attract top research and teaching talent to establish a truly international university. When it comes to convincing academics and administrators to move to India, the (actual) heat and smog don’t help! India shows a lot of potential to address these issues, but for families deciding on education for their kids in the next several years, that potential means little.

Because there are few high-quality post-secondary schools beyond the IITs and IIMs, parents and students look abroad. Other than the US, Canada, and the UK, Indian college applicants also look to universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, and the UAE. There are thriving Indian expatriate communities, which the Indian government calls “Non-Resident Indians” (NRIs) for civil purposes. These families, too, look for educational opportunities in their resident countries and beyond.


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