The Indian education system is based on the British system for the most part and is a joint responsibility of state and federal government. The organization and structure of education is largely the responsibility of the state government; federal government plays its role by making sure the quality and character of education is maintained at the highest level. India's higher education system is guided by the Department of Higher Education.
Free and compulsory education is guaranteed to citizens through the age of fourteen. The system of education in India consists of three streams: (i) the school stream, (ii) the university (including the college) stream and (iii) the non-university stream.
Primary and Secondary Education
The school stream consists of pre-primary, primary and secondary education. The minimum age requirement to start primary classes is six years (though there are exceptions and some children start at five and one-half years). Children attend through grades seven or eight.
The secondary level is divided in two parts: (a) secondary, including the eighth through tenth years of education and (b) higher secondary, concluding with completion of twelfth grade and also known as junior college, intermediate certificate and senior or higher secondary certificate. The examinations given upon the completion of these two levels are considered public examinations and are conducted by the state boards or by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). Alternatively, the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) provides secondary and higher secondary education through distance learning and conducts public examinations at tenth and twelfth grade, considered equivalent to state and central board examinations.
Entry into university generally requires an admission test. Each state conducts its own entrance tests known by different names, especially for professional and first technical degree programs. Some of the commonly seen ones are Combined Admission Test (CAT), Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), Joint Admission Test (JAT) and All-India Admissions Test. Tests address either individual subjects or a group of subjects (engineering, sciences, agricultural, medical, etc.).
The Association of Indian Universities (AIU) is an umbrella organization bringing university administrators and academicians from across India together to exchange views and discuss educational issues. The AIU's objectives include coordinating the work of universities, establishing equivalence of degrees between Indian and foreign universities and helping universities obtain recognition for degrees, diplomas and examinations within India. Establishing and approving equivalencies for foreign educational experience is another key responsibility of the AIU.
An important aspect of the Indian educational system is the role of authorities established by statute for the regulation and maintenance of uniform standards of education and training in professional subjects. Prior approval from these authorities is essential for starting new institutions, introduction of new courses and fixing the intake capacity in each course. Some of the regulatory authorities include the Central Board of Secondary Education; Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations; State Secondary and Technical Boards; University Grants Commission (UGC); Association of Indian Universities (AIU); and the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). In the area of professional education there are many such regulatory bodies, including the Institute of Charted Accountants of India (ICAI); Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI); Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India (ICWAI); All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE); Medical Education Council of India; and National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE). These professional councils are responsible for recognition of courses, promotion of professional institutions and providing grants and awards to undergraduate programs.
Professional associations in India are similar in structure to those in the United Kingdom. Associations award a variety of qualifications, including levels of membership, diplomas and postgraduate diplomas that are comparable to levels of educational attainment in the United States. Several associations have been reviewed for accreditation by the All India Council of Technical Education and more are under review, however, it is not necessary for programs to have AICTE accreditation to be considered for US equivalency.
As with most countries which base their education system on the British education system, India offers not only traditional academic degrees, but numerous certificates, diplomas, and other academic and professional qualifications. Some of these professional credentials are awarded by recognized academic institutions, while others are awarded by professional bodies or professional societies; primarily in accounting, computer science, engineering and management. Some professional body awards are recognized as counterpart academic credentials earned outside the academic arena and entitle the holder to the next level of education in the traditional "educational ladder." Others entitle the holder to practice as a professional in a particular profession, similar to the way in which doctors, lawyers and CPAs receive their license to practice in the United States. That is, the license/permission to practice is based on an external examination. At last count, there were more than 80 such qualifications offered by Indian professional associations and professional societies. When these qualifications have a US counterpart, we have included credential advice for them in EDGE.
However, there are many qualifications in India which have no US counterpart, and therefore no specific credential advice is offered. These include qualifications awarded by entities such as the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) and APTECH Computer Education (Apple Technologies). The range of programs offered by NIIT and APTECH ranges from two postsecondary semesters to three postgraduate years, and the entrance requirements range from the Grade XII Certificate to specific master's degrees. These are esoteric professional development qualifications used for purposes of employment and promotion in India. Academic admission to US institutions should therefore be based on other credentials. And, because of the highly specialized nature of these programs, syllabi should be carefully reviewed when considering the awarding of transfer credit. For further information on credentials offered by Indian professional associations and professional societies, consult the 1997 AACRAO/NAFSA PIER World Education Series Report (click on the appropriate year following the Archived Country Study (pdf) icon at the top of this page).
First, Second, and Third Cycle, Academic
The university stream: higher or tertiary level education is provided by universities and a network of colleges. The universities are established by state and federal acts. There are approximately 330 recognized universities currently operating in India, including central universities, state universities, deemed universities and Institutions of National Importance. The University Grants Commission (UGC) under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, is the apex body that oversees standards of teaching, examinations and research in universities. The UGC is also responsible for attending to financial needs of universities and colleges by allocating and disbursing grants.
Please reference the Credentials tab within India's page on EDGE to learn about the diversity of degrees and education pathways available in India at the Post-Secondary academic and tertiary levels.
First, Second, and Third Cycle, Vocational/Technical
Non-university education both in traditional and professional subjects is provided through distance education, correspondence courses, technical institutes, polytechnics, vocational training institutes, specialized professional training institutions and by professional societies and institutions.