The Program for Research on Private Higher Education
Dedicated to Building Knowledge about Private Higher Education around the World
WP No.13

Indian Private Higher Education in Comparative Perspective


Levy, Daniel C. (2008)  "Indian Private Higher Education in Comparative Perspective." PROPHE Working Paper No.13. Revised and published as: Levy, D.C. (2008) Commonality and Distinctiveness: Indian Private Higher Education in International Perspective. In Gupta, A., Levy, D.C., Powar, K.B. (Eds.) Private Higher Education: Global trends and Indian Perspectives. New Delhi: Shipra Publications. pp. 253-272.


India demonstrates many features characteristic of private higher education in much of the world. Among these features are proportional size, with roughly 30 percent of total enrollment, and fast growth. Also rather typical is finance, which comes almost exclusively from non-government sources, principally tuition, while public higher education is mostly though decreasingly funded by government. Related to rapid growth and finance is the private sector’s preponderance of commercial over academically strong institutions, bringing criticisms about quality and even fraud, including as many legally nonprofit institutions appear to be for-profit in reality. There are also religious and semi-elite private institutions but the clear majority of private enrollments lie in the non-elite and demand-absorbing sub-sector. Unsurprisingly, then, the extent and form of regulation is vigorously debated. All this is common internationally.

On the other hand, though less powerfully, Indian private higher education also stands out for a number of relatively unusual configurations. Some are functions of the country’s huge size. Its private sector nearly rivals that of the United States as the world’s largest in absolute enrollment. Yet India’s overall higher education system remains notably small in cohort enrollment—which suggests large latitude for further growth in the system overall and for the private share in particular. Another set of relatively unusual configurations relates to the political system. The world’s greatest private growth is occurring in developing countries, most of which are non-democratic or problematically democratic. India is remarkably democratic. Indeed it is remarkably decentralized in its democracy, with a large role for individual states, Congress, and even the courts, and with vigorous debate among political parties. Debate over private higher education is particularly intense as deeply held socialist and state-oriented beliefs clash with the overall political-economic trend of privatization.

Date Published:
Oct 2008