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India's Education and Literacy

Each Indian state used to be solely responsible for education, but a 1976 constitutional amendment made the government partly responsible.  Instead of just determining the standards in two areas of education, the government became partners in responsibility with the states.

Although the structure and design of education is still basically the responsibility of the states, the government is responsible for the quality of the education.  The government's interests had rested mainly in secondary education, more specifically universities and colleges, until a movement in the 1990s sought to improve primary education and adult literacy.

Equality in education for women is something the government has attempted to achieve.  Since independence, the literacy rate of females has jumped up sharply from 7.2 percent in 1951 to 39.29 percent in 1991.  As of 1997, the literacy rate of females made it over the 50th percentile.  The same year, the literacy rate of males was 73 percent

From time immemorial, India has been a center for learning. Thousands of years ago, great scholars used to teach through the scriptures. A variety of subjects such as philosophy, religion, medicine, literature, drama and arts, astrology, mathematics and sociology were taught and masterpieces on these subjects have been written.

Under the Buddhist influence, education was available to virtually everyone who wanted it and some world famous institutions arose out of the monasteries, such as, Nalanda, Vikramshila and Takshashila (now in Pakistan). Nalanda is especially noteworthy, flourishing from 5th to 13th century AD. It had at one time about ten thousand resident students and teachers on its roll, which included Chinese, Sri Lankan, Korean and other international scholars.

During the 11th century, the Muslims established elementary and secondary schools, "Madrassahs" or colleges and even universities at cities like Delhi, Lucknow and Allahabad, using Arabic mostly as the medium of instruction. 

During the mediaeval period, there was excellent interaction between Indian and Islamic traditions in all fields of knowledge, like theology, religion, philosophy, fine arts, painting, architecture, mathematics, medicine and astronomy.

With the arrival of the British, 'is education came into being with the help of the European missionaries. In 1817, Hindu College was established in Calcutta. The Elphinstone Institution was set up in 1834 in Bombay. In 1857 three universities were set up at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. 

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Since then, Western education has made steady advances in the country. With 226 universities and thousands of colleges affiliated to them, 428 Engineering colleges and technological institutes, more than a 100 medical colleges, scores of agricultural institutes and many other specialized centers of learning and research in every subject and discipline, India can claim its position as one of the leading countries providing quality higher education to its people as well as to students and scholars coming from countries all over the world.

Indian universities and institutes of higher education and research today have made significant contribution to transmission of knowledge and enquiry into frontiers of science and technology. In the field of traditional subjects of arts and humanities as well as in pure sciences, applied physics and chemistry, mathematics and in areas of technology, the universities and higher institutes have been playing a leading role to transform the country into a modern industrialised, technologically advanced state. 

The ushering of green revolution and tremendous progress in dairy development have made India a major food-producing country on one hand; on the other hand, its development of space technology, production and launching of indigenous satellites, development of peaceful nuclear energy have brought it into the forefront of technologically advanced nations to which a large number of developing countries looks for training and guidance

The Indian universities and institutes of higher learning have been playing their role to promote the needs and aspirations of higher education and research to Indian students and scholars. These centers have been extending their cooperation and friendship towards students of other developing countries also, where facilities for higher studies and research are not adequate.

Higher Education System in India 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 programs and award of degree.

Some other types of universities teach both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in general disciplines as well as in technical and professional courses. There are no affiliated colleges attached to them.

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 institutes only offer postgraduate and research courses such as Indian Agricultural Research Institute and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research.

The distinctiveness, flexibility and the quality of higher education in India have been attracting more and more international students to come to Indian universities. In contrast to the expensive university and higher education offered in the USA, in the western European countries or in Australia, higher education is still highly subsidized in India and therefore, affordable. Further, students from developing countries find a greater sense of belonging and confidence-sharing as they have many social and cultural values common with 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 degrees 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 are of two years ending with a Master's degree. For Engineering and Technology, it is of one and a half years. In some 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, Agricultural Sciences and Computer Technology. The duration of these courses varies from university to university.

Eligibility for Admission

For admission to undergraduate courses, universities/institutes of higher education in India require candidates 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, 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. For technical and professional courses at the undergraduate level, however, applicants can be admitted against nominated seats/paid seats according to prescribed guidelines.

The universities in the country are autonomous and are free to establish regulations of their own, related to 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 program, including professional disciplines:

  • GCE Examination of the UK with passes in five subjects at the ordinary level (O level) and two subjects at the Advanced Level (A level). For admission to first degree professional courses, three passes at A level in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics/ 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-110 002. INDIA.

Tel: 91-011-323-0059/2305/3390/3097/2429

Fax 91-011-3236106

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

Universities and University Level Institutions in India

There are presently 226 university level institutions in India including 39 'Deemed universities.' Out of these 155 are traditional universities, 34 Agricultural Universities, (including Fisheries and Veterinary sciences, Horticulture and Dairy Technology), 17 are Engineering and Technology Universities including 6 Institutes of Technology, 14 Universities of Medical Sciences and Technology, 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 for Women's Studies, 6 Sanskrit universities, 7 Open Universities,7 Universities of Fine Arts and Music and 1 University of 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 150 offer MBBS and higher degrees in medicine, 74 in Dentistry, 90 in Pharmacy, 62 in Nursing, 170 in Agriculture and allied courses, 428 in Engineering, 116 in Ayurveda and 75 in Homeopathy. 

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 292 colleges/ institutes including 4 Institutes of Management, which are centers 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 Center, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian Council for Social Science Research are also affiliated to the university system and offer research for doctoral and postdoctoral programs. A list of universities and university level institutions in India is available at Annexure VII

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Medium of Instruction

In most of the universities the medium of instruction is English. Some universities and colleges have switched over to Hindi and regional languages. Postgraduate education is conducted in English at most of the centers. The medium of instruction is English for scientific, technical and professional education.

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