Beyond students: What opportunities does India hold for international universities? 

Dr Ashwin Fernandes

In the concluding part of the series exploring why international universities should expand into the Indian market, Dr Ashwin Fernandes, QS Executive Director for Africa, Middle East & South Asia, looks at why India is a promising, viable market for foreign universities, and what conditions make it favourable for them to do so.  

Previously, Dr Fernandes explored the higher education landscape in India, and as a logical extension of that, proposed a ten-point action plan for international universities to set up campuses in India.  

Navigating international universities’ contemporary challenges 

Universities are facing a myriad of challenges at the moment. QS consultants, and our analytics and sales team are hearing some common themes. Far from being unsolvable, it’s these contemporary challenges where India offers the most opportunity. 

  • Funding: Securing funding and ensuring financial sustainability are ongoing challenges for universities, whether or not they’re in the big four destination markets. They may need to navigate funding constraints, government budget cuts, currency fluctuations, and economic uncertainties, all of which can negatively impact a university’s ability to achieve institutional goals.  
  • Visas: One of the biggest hindrances facing talented students is the visa process. Many deserving students get denied visas owing to bureaucratic challenges. In 2024, governments aren’t making it easier either – countries like Canada, the UK and Australia are capping the number of international student visas they’re issuing, which will likely lead to sub-optimal student talent pools crossing borders, lowered research output because of bureaucratic issues, and many deserving candidates being denied a chance through no fault of their own. 
  • Access and equity: Ensuring access to higher education for students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds remains a challenge. Financial constraints, lack of student preparation, and systemic inequalities pose challenges for university in their plans to promote equity in education. The focus on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity) that many universities have adopted is an informed step towards tackling these inequities.  

Leveraging India’s ecosystem for university excellence 

India provides an excellent prospect for international universities seeking to improve their financial performance and maximise the return on their investments. The country has a vast pool of young, skilled talent, eager to work. The country’s technological expertise can be used to revolutionise university functions. Digital learning solutions and efficient data management are just two innovations that can be improved by an Indian workforce.

India’s culture of frugal innovation provides creative, cost-effective solutions ideal for institutions grappling with budget constraints. By leveraging India’s capabilities, universities can enhance their focus on core educational objectives while benefiting from high-quality, specialised support services, thus strengthening their global presence and competitive edge. 

In the last few decades, India has emerged as a major destination for outsourcing across various industries. Under Narendra Modi’s leadership, India is attracting top businesspeople to invest in India. 

India as a market also boasts a large pool of highly skilled and educated professionals. We have a wealth of talent in software development, engineering, finance, and customer service. The country’s robust education system, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, contributes to the availability of talent. 

English is widely spoken and understood in India making communication easier for entities outsourcing to India, particularly for English-speaking markets. India has also made substantial investments in infrastructure and technology development, particularly in major cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Pune. 

India has a well-established outsourcing ecosystem comprised of multinational corporations, service providers, consulting firms, and startups. While international universities can look at opening up campuses in India, they would be wise to be ambitious and make significant strides enable their processes using the already well-established ecosystem of outsourcing.  

Why does India shine as a potential market? 

India has already shown it has the potential to be a key strategic location for international universities – interest from the Global North’s universities in the QS India Summit 2024 indicate institutions are waking up to the opportunity. It’s a good time to be investing in India. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 are in alignment with the needs of its young population, creating opportunities for private sector participation and investment in the education sector. With one of the largest and youngest populations globally, a sizeable proportion of India’s population (around 50%) is under the age of 25 – there is a massive market for higher education and skill development.  

The expanding middle class in India is increasingly prioritising education as a means to secure better opportunities and upward mobility. There is a growing demand for quality education across all levels, from primary schools to higher education institutions. Added to this, rapid urbanisation and infrastructure development in India are driving the demand for educational infrastructure, including schools, colleges, coaching centres, and e-learning platforms. Urban centres are hubs of educational activity, attracting students from rural areas and neighbouring regions. 

India’s education ecosystem is diverse and multifaceted. This diversity offers opportunities for players across the education market. India has the talent, land, infrastructure, and favourable government policies. India’s innovation mindset is based on frugality and working within available means. The high volume of Indian students seeking study abroad present opportunities for global universities to diversify their classrooms and campuses, bringing in unique and important perspectives. The country has plenty of natural resources too, ideal for research teams looking to expand our knowledge of the natural world.  

Realise the opportunity 

India presents vast opportunities for education providers willing to navigate its complexities and tap into the country’s growing demand for quality education and lifelong learning. Businesses that power the world have outsourced some of their processes to India, keeping in mind the cost-effectiveness, research and innovation mindset, strong educational base in STEM subjects, excellent infrastructure, and global talent pool.  

As a market, India has always stepped up to the need of the hour. Resourceful that it is, it has identified a demand and leveraged its resources to cater to that market through micro-businesses, like computer education centres in the 80s. India as a country has always dreamed big while remaining firmly rooted to its origins. This mindset, of reaching for the stars, while working with the resources available, sets India apart as a frugal, resilient market that adapts to conditions while keeping its aspirations in clear sight.  

India is a resourceful market, culturally primed to offer innovations and cost-effective collaboration to foreign universities in order to cater to the aspirational education needs of its young, dynamic population. International universities would be wise to leverage this to set up campuses on Indian soil and partner with Indian institutions. Those with a first-mover mindset will reap the richest dividends. Like the recently completed successful Chandrayaan mission, the only way is up.

Related QS Insights

Higher education trends in India
Read more
Dr Ashwin Fernandes

Sign up for industry insights

Receive the latest insights, expertise and commentary on the topics which matter most in higher education, straight to your inbox.

Sign up