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Stay or go: Comparing India’s top universities with the rest of the world

top indian universities
Indian universities offer high quality education. Source: Narinder Nanu/AFP

India ranks highly among the best education systems in the world, with a quality index of 59.1. The country excels in certain subjects — particularly in mathematics, where it is known to have the toughest curriculum worldwide. 

It’s only natural, then, that students who get into the top Indian universities achieve wonders. The University of Delhi, for example — regarded as one of India’s most prestigious universities — has graduated some famous nationals, including Arun Jaitley, Meera Kumar, and current prime minister Narendra Modi. 

For Indian nationals, this provides the perfect avenue to pursue higher education. International students are beginning to flock to the country, too — with their numbers increasing by nearly 42% in seven years. Most come from Nepal, followed by Bangladesh, Bhutan and Malaysia. 

Many join the Bachelor of Technology (BTech) programmes. Other popular programmes at top Indian universities include the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Business Administration. 

Outside of the high standard of education, however, students tend to choose Indian universities for their affordable tuition fees. For example, studying for a Business Administration degree in India can cost as low as US$1,231.38. This is significantly lower than studying in the US, where the same programme can be priced at US$19,849

Besides the price point, however, how do the top Indian universities compare to renowned institutions overseas? 

top indian universities

Indian students playing football at the Allahabad University campus, India. Source: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP

Top Indian universities vs those abroad: What are the main differences?

The Indian school system is divided into four levels: lower primary, upper primary, high, and higher secondary. Students tend to specialise across subjects in secondary, allowing them to try their hands at business studies, IT, and the arts. Once this is completed, students can move on to higher education. 

This system is fairly similar across most countries around the world. Instead, the main differences are in the way subjects are taught in India. Teaching tends to be more theoretical, with students spending time taking in information in classrooms. 

By contrast, those outside India often encourage students to learn on the ground. It’s not uncommon to find a wealth of experiential learning — where you learn by doing — opportunities at universities in the most popular study destinations around the world. US universities are particularly renowned for offering exposure to the real world through work experience, placements, inviting guest lecturers, and more. 

As for research, Indian universities are steadily improving, but the output is not as high as those of foreign universities. UK and US universities are known to produce world-leading research. 

Lastly, intellectual freedom is perhaps more highly valued at universities outside of India. Those in the country tend to be a little more restricted by state and central academic body requirements, limiting the scope of topics to pursue. 

top indian universities

Top Indian universities hold a lot of prestige locally. Source: Narinder Nanu/AFP

Measuring the ranking and reputation of top Indian universities

Compared to those overseas, top Indian universities place considerably lower on world ranking lists. For example, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay — which is ranked as the best university in India — ranks at number 567 worldwide

This may make it more difficult to stand out when applying for jobs. A graduate from Harvard University, for example, may be regarded more highly simply because of the institution’s prestige and reputation on a global stage. An employer is more likely to value the applicant because of the university’s notoriously tough acceptance rate, rigorous curriculum, and real-world exposure. 

However, reports are showing a trend of rankings losing their value. Universities have pointed out the flaws in rankings systems, particularly by prioritising research output over the quality of education. They don’t make a significant difference in measuring job performance, either; graduates from prestigious universities hardly perform that much better than their peers, and only in particular instances. 

Are programmes in India taught in English?

Yes, they are. 

Unlike most other Asian universities, most institutions in India teach their programmes entirely in English. In fact, English is one of India’s two official languages — making it relatively easy for international students to assimilate into the country. 

However, this looks like it’s beginning to change. The English-only mode of education makes it less accessible to locals, who may have the qualifications and intellect but are not able to speak the language. This leads to thousands of students dropping out of top Indian universities every year. 

In response, Indian universities have started teaching courses in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, and other non-English languages.