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India has traditionally been seen as a country that sends rather than receives international students, but a growing number of students from elsewhere are now choosing to study in India.
Indeed, the 2012 Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education found that India had become the 11th most popular country for US students abroad.
With the world’s second largest population (after China), and a fast-growing and ever-more influential economy, it’s unsurprising that India’s higher education system has undergone rapid expansion over the past few decades.
It is now one of the largest higher education systems in the world (after China and the US) – and to an outsider, perhaps one of the most complex. There are thousands of universities and colleges to choose from, of many different types, sizes, specializations and origins, some state-run, others private.
India is especially well known for the quality of its education in engineering and technology subjects, spearheaded by the prestigious and internationally recognized Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). There are currently 16 of these, around the country, focusing mainly on engineering, technology and science disciplines.
Other highly acclaimed specialist universities in India include the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), of which there are 13 spread across the country.
Among India’s more general universities, the highest performing in the QS World University Rankings are the Universities of Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Pune.
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India is without question one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries. In terms of religion, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism are all broadly practiced.
In terms of language, it’s difficult to imagine greater diversity – hundreds of dialects are used here, and in fact the 2001 census identified no less than 26 different mother tongues with more than a million speakers.
As a student, you're likely to be based in one of India’s major cities - find out more below.
It’s fair to say that Delhi has a reputation for being a little overwhelming. The governmental capital, New Delhi, is just one part of this sprawling metropolis (the largest by area in India, and among the largest worldwide) in the north of the country.
However, it’s also widely agreed that exploration more than pays off here. Delhi is packed with Indian culture both old and new, from 17th century mosques to the more contemporary but equally impressive Lotus Temple, and magnificent Mughal-era monuments to bustling modern-day marketplaces.
Among the hundreds of colleges and universities in Delhi are the University of Delhi, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.
India’s most populous city, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is located on the west coast at the site of a large natural harbor. It’s known as the country’s commercial center, and home of the Indian entertainment sector – including the world-famous Bollywood film industry.
Like many of India’s major cities, Mumbai consists largely of contrasts and extremes: glistening skyscrapers and ancient bazaars, stylish nightspots and grungy bars, glamorous restaurants and simple-but-delicious street food – and probably most striking for the majority of visitors, great wealth in close proximity to large slums.
Whatever you’re into – architecture, clubbing, food, art, live music – Mumbai has it all. Colleges and universities in Mumbai include the University of Mumbai, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute, SNDT Women’s University, the National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and S P Jain Institute of Management and Research.
Third most populous city Bangalore (also called Bengaluru) is the capital of the state of Karnataka, towards the south of India. It’s probably best known as the hub of India’s booming information technology sector, and its high concentration of tech companies has earned it comparisons to the US’s Silicon Valley.
Culturally it may not be able to compete on the same scale as Delhi or Mumbai, but Bangalore does have its own film industry, a vibrant live music scene (from classical Indian to modern-day rock), and more than enough restaurants, bars and festivals to keep most people busy!
The city also has a strong higher education sector. Universities in Bangalore include Bangalore University, the Indian Institute of Science, the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, and smaller research-based institutes such as the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore and the National Centre for Biological Sciences.
Student visas for India are issued either for the duration of your course of study or for a maximum period of five years. Student visas issued for less than five years can be extended with permission from the local FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office) and similarly, the course of study and/or the educational institution may be changed if circumstances are deemed sufficient.
The essential requirements to get a student visa for India are as follows:
- You first need an offer of admission to a recognized Indian educational institute. This may mean you first have to take an entrance exam.
- Student visas only permit students to change either their course or institution with specific permission from the FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office).
- As part of the application, the details of the course and the place of study must be included. In cases where a letter of admission is not available, a provisional student visa will be issued. However, admission must be confirmed within a period of three months, otherwise the candidate will not be allowed to remain in India.
- Applicants must also submit supporting documentation including a current and valid passport, with a minimum of six months validity and at least two blank pages.
- Applicants who will be enrolling on a medical course of study must obtain a letter of approval, or a no objection certificate from the Ministry of Health in India.
- Applicants for courses in engineering or at technical institutions in India must obtain similar authorization from the Department of Education.
- Student visas cannot be obtained by those already in the country on a tourist visa or any other visa type.
- Student visas issued for a period of 180 days or more will require the applicant to register with the local FRRO within 14 days of arrival.
Fees for student visas for India are as follows:
Government rules state that all international students entering India on student visas must undergo a medical examination and obtain a medical fitness certificate. Students will also need to be tested for HIV and admission will not be given if found to be positive. You will also be required to pay US$50, to cover medical fees which include insurance cover for the first year.
Got questions about studying in India? Get advice in our international student forum >
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