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PhD Study in India - A Guide for 2018

The Indian higher education system has expanded at a simply phenomenal rate during the 21st Century - and it shows no sign of stopping. This rapid growth in the number of individual universities is also producing a range of PhD research opportunities, ranging from cutting-edge Science and Engineering projects to unique programmes exploring the country's own diverse history and culture.

This page provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to PhD study in India, with information on universities, fees, funding opportunities and application requirements.

PhD opportunities in India - what's on offer for 2018?

India's rich culture and stunning geography need little introduction and are a universal part of its appeal as a visitor destination. When it comes to international study, however, there's arguably never been a better time to consider a longer-term stay as a PhD student in India.

Here are just a few reasons to consider beginning your PhD at an Indian university in 2018:

  • Diversity and specialisation - Whether you want to research Business Management, Bombay Cinema or Buddhist Philosophy, the scope of options for PhD study in India means there's almost certainly an excellent programme available for you.
  • Affordability and accessibility - PhD fees in India vary a lot, but are often surprisingly low. Meanwhile, English is widely spoken and is adopted as the language of instruction at a wide range of universities.
  • Increasing global recognition - University rankings have taken some time to catch up with the speed of India's higher education expansion, but this is beginning to change. Several of India's leading universities and institutes now feature in international league tables for 2018-19.
  • Youth and dynamism - India's current population is one of the youngest in the world, demographically speaking. This fresh and dynamic outlook helps drive a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism. You'll fit right in as a PhD researcher looking to develop new ideas and approaches.

India's universities can also claim some impressive alumni, including the current CEOs of Microsoft (Satya Nadella) and Google (Sundar Pichai). So, in a way, they may well have helped you find this page.


PhD Study in India - Key Details
Universities 868
Nobel Prizes 10
Oldest Universities The Universities of Calcutta, Madras and Mumbai (1857)
International Students 44,766
PhD Length 3-5 years
Representative Fees USD $1,000-6,000
Academic Year July to May

Indian universities

India's higher education system is one of the world's biggest, with well over 850 different universities. It's also one of the most diverse, as these institutions fall into a range of different categories.

This has the potential to seem confusing, but, for prospective PhD students, the differences between individual universities (or groupings) won't generally be as important as the specific research projects and programmes they offer.

University types

There are five different varieties of university with the potential to offer PhD programmes in India. In most cases the distinction between these groups concerns the way in which they are established and administered.

The Indian higher education system is made up of the following:

  • 47 Central Universities - As their name suggests, these are centrally administered by the Indian Government through its Department of Higher Education. This group includes some of India's oldest research universities, as well as some newer and more specialised institutions.
  • 390 State Universities - These are set up and governed by individual Indian states and provinces. They include a wide range of institutions, many of which specialise in certain subjects.
  • 307 Private Universities - These are also set up within (and accredited by) individual states or provinces, but are established by independent organisations. They often tend to focus more on international recruitment than Central or State ('public') universities.
  • 124 Deemed to be Universities - This group includes a wide range of institutions that weren't set up as universities, but are currently recognised as having university-level expertise in certain subjects. As such they may carry out associated research and teaching.
  • 138 Institutes of National Importance - These are India's premier centres for teaching, scholarship and research. Each is established or recognised by a specific act of parliament and designated with particular specialisms and objectives. See below for more details.

Colleges

India is also home to over 40,000 colleges, but things aren't quite as vast (or complicated) as they seem. Indian higher education colleges tend to be affiliated with local state universities, helping deliver the teaching for the degree programmes those universities award.

In practice, this system is actually quite similar to the collegiate university model adopted within older UK universities such as Oxford and Cambridge: the student studies within a college towards a qualification granted by its associated university.

Some Indian colleges specialise in postgraduate (or 'post-graduate') programmes, effectively functioning like the graduate schools operated by universities in the USA or Canada.

Institutions of National Importance

India's Institutions of National Importance (INIs) are its most prestigious higher education institutions, tasked with strategic academic and professional objectives. Most are highly specialised and are organised into appropriate networks based on the subjects they pursue.

At present the list of INIs includes:

  • 23 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) - these focus primarily on Engineering and related subjects. Together with the National Institutes of Technology (below) they award the majority of Indian PhDs in these disciplines.
  • 31 National Institutes of Technology (NITs) - these also focus on Engineering as well as related subjects such as Architecture and Management.
  • 20 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) - these are India's premier centres for professional training and research in Business and Management. Most of the programmes they offer award postgraduate degrees, including the Fellow Programme in Management (FPM) - equivalent to a PhD.
  • 7 Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) - these conduct research and training in a broad range of scientific fields.
  • 7 National Institutes of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPERs) - focussing on Pharmacy, Pharmacology and related Chemical Sciences.
  • 7 All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMs) - focussing on professional training and qualification in Medicine and related Health Sciences.
  • 3 Schools of Planning and Architecture (SPAs) - focussing on professional training and research in Architecture and related subjects.

Needless to say, the INIs include some of India's highest ranked and most internationally renowned universities, making them a strong choice for international PhD study in appropriate subjects.

Subject specialisms

It's quite common for Indian universities to focus on particular subjects or even to specialise in these subjects at a postgraduate level. This can make it easier to find appropriate universities for your PhD, but it does mean that not all provide comprehensive research opportunities.

Indian university cities

The sheer size of India's university system means that opportunities for PhD study exist right across the country. However, there are a number of key 'hubs' for study and research. These include major cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune.

Indian university rankings

Global rankings are beginning to reflect the growth of India's university system and its increasing expertise in key subject areas. The country's Institutes of Technology (IITs) are particularly well ranked, with several in the current QS world top 300:


Top 10 Indian Universities in 2018-19
University QS 2019 THE 2019 ARWU 2018-19
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay 162 401-500 -
Indian Institute of Science 170 251-300 401-500
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi =172 501-600 -
Indian Institute of Technology Madras =264 601-800 -
Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur =283 501-600 -
Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee =381 401-500 -
Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati =472 601-800 -
University of Delhi 487 601-800 -
University of Hyderabad 591-600 601-800 -
Jadavpur University 601-650 601-800 -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Accreditation

Universities in India are overseen by the University Grants Commission. This is an official body ensuring that higher education in India is properly supported and meets appropriate standards.

PhD structure

The Indian PhD is an advanced research qualification, designed for students who have already completed undergraduate and (usually) postgraduate training.

As a doctoral student, you'll set out to independently research an original topic with the support of at least one supervisor (an academic at your university with relevant expertise and experience). At the end of your degree you'll submit a thesis describing your research activities and results.

In this sense, PhD study in India is very similar to other countries. However, as you'd expect from a country with such a large - and diverse - higher education system, there are a few differences.

PhD types

Most Indian universities award the standard PhD as an academic research doctorate. Some also provide other qualifications, including more specialised doctorates:

  • Fellow Programme in Management (FPM) - A PhD-level qualification usually offered by Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). An FPM may include professional training, comparable to that involved in a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree. Programmes usually last for up to five years.
  • Doctorate in Pharmacy (Pharm D) - A specialised professional qualification usually lasting for at least six years.
  • Master of Philosophy (MPhil) - A shorter academic research qualification (lasting one to two years), also offered in the UK and other countries. Some MPhil programmes allow progression to a full PhD.

Other types of doctorate

There's more to PhD-level study than the PhD. Our guides cover some of the other types of doctoral degree commonly awarded at universities around the world.

PhD programmes

It's common for Indian universities to establish doctoral programmes within which their postgraduate students receive additional training and support as they carry out their research.

At State Universities, these are often organised by local affiliated colleges (effectively operating as the university's graduate school). More specialised Institutions of National Importance may run a single doctoral programme within which all of their students work on related topics.

PhD programmes often commence with a coursework phase. This provides any specialist subject knowledge and research skills a student needs in order to carry out their own independent research.

The coursework component of your PhD will usually be completed in your first year (this may be shorter if you already have relevant qualifications and training at Masters level). After this you will prepare a synopsis of your project and be assigned an appropriate supervisor to guide your research.

From this point on you will work more independently, carrying out research and collecting results upon which to construct your thesis.

Programme length

In most cases you'll spend at least three years on your PhD. It's possible to study for longer, but some universities may set a maximum registration period for doctoral students - this is usually around five years, if so.

Academic year

The Indian academic year usually runs from May to July. As a PhD student you will normally complete coursework and other training within this teaching period. However, your research project will be ongoing.

Assessment and examination

The main criteria for the award of an Indian PhD is the quality of the doctoral thesis you produce at the end of your degree.

You will first submit your thesis internally. This can be a more significant stage in India than elsewhere. Multiple faculty members will often be involved and these may request corrections and resubmissions before allowing a student to proceed to their external examination.

Once your university is satisfied, your thesis will be orally examined by one or more external examiners. In India this is known as the 'Open Defence'. The title is appropriate as these examinations usually take place in a ceremonial setting and in front of an audience including your fellow students, faculty, family and friends.

Don't be put off by the prospect of being examined 'live' in this way: The Open Defence is a well-deserved opportunity to take pride in your work and the expertise it has produced.

Publication requirements

In addition to completing your thesis itself, you may be expected to have produced a peer-reviewed publication before your doctorate can be awarded. This may seem daunting to a new or prospective student, but you'll soon find that you're already producing work of a high standard as part of researching your doctoral thesis.

Your faculty will probably maintain a list of the journals it regards as being acceptable and your supervisor will be able to advise you on the preparation of your research for publication.

Fees and funding

India is a comparatively inexpensive destination for PhD study, though the actual cost of a PhD in India will vary between universities and regions.

PhD fees

There is no set fee for PhD study at Indian universities. Generally, State Universities will be cheaper than Private Universities, but neither are especially expensive by international standards.

International students won't necessarily pay more to study in India, though some universities may restrict the number of 'foreign students' they enrol.

You may find yourself paying as little as USD $1,000 per year or less for a doctoral programme at some universities, though some will charge more. The best approach is to identify an institution with appropriate facilities and expertise for your PhD, then inquire as to its fees.

Other fees

You'll also have some other costs to cover for an Indian PhD. These may include registration and application fees as well as fees for your eventual PhD examination. Most will be fairly minor expenses, but it's worth checking with your university in advance and confirming exactly what - and how much - you'll be required to pay.

PhD funding

The main source of government support for international students in India is the General Scholarship Scheme (GSS). This provides funding for students from specific countries to study at Bachelors, Masters or PhD level in India, with some restrictions on subjects and programmes.

International applicants with Indian heritage may also be eligible to apply to the Scholarship Programmes for Diaspora Children (SPDC) scheme. However, this support may be restricted to undergraduate programmes.

A list of other scholarships and fellowships for study in India is maintained on the University Grants Commission website.

Most Indian universities will also have their own scholarships and fee waivers available for their students, though not all of these will be available to international applicants. You can view a partial list of institutions offering international fee waivers on the Indian Government website. Note that these waivers may not necessarily be for PhD programmes or other postgraduate courses.

PhD funding guides

There's plenty of support out there for you to complete a doctorate in India (or elsewhere). Our PhD funding guides will help you make sense of your options.

Applying for a PhD in India

Some Indian universities use admissions portals to help manage their applications. Others will accept direct applications, or advertise specific opportunities.

Admission requirements

The minimum requirement for entry to an Indian PhD is a Masters degree in a relevant subject, usually with an overall grade of at least 55% (or the equivalent).

Candidates will also be expected to have the necessary language skills for their course. English is one of India's official languages and is used for teaching at most of its universities/ However, some specialised universities will teach in Hindi, Urdu or other Indian languages.

The Indian PhD application process

Indian PhD applications are usually competitive. Each university will have a specific number of places available on its PhD programmes each year and will use a system of entrance examinations, interviews and research proposal assessment to select the best candidates.

Individual institutions are free to manage this process themselves, but most will follow the same general steps.

PhD notifications

First, the university will establish how many places it has available for its PhD programmes. These places are then published as a 'notification' for that round of PhD admissions.

Notifications for the next academic year will usually be published in the previous Autumn. You can find them by searching university websites. You can also check the opportunities listed here on FindAPhD.

The Research Eligibility Test (RET)

Once you have responded to its PhD notification, your prospective university will begin to assess your suitability for doctoral work.

PhD applicants in India are normally required to complete a Research Eligibility Test (RET): this is a written exam confirming that you have the necessary subject knowledge and expertise to carry out advanced research in your chosen discipline.

The content of the RET will be specific to your university and programme. In some cases universities will use relevant examination material its own Masters degrees (as this is the level you should be working at as a PhD student).

You check the requirements and process for your RET before you begin your application. It may be the case that you are required to attend a physical exam in India (along with other students). Your university should be able to tell you if it makes any alternative arrangements for international students.

Interviews

The next step (after a satisfactory RET performance) is to attend a PhD interview. Your university will normally publish details of candidates invited to interview as a formal part of its PhD admissions round.

The most important part of your interview day will be the interview itself, during which you will answer questions about your interests and experience and (hopefully) demonstrate that you are a suitable candidate for its programme.

The university will also use this opportunity to check and assess your application documents. You will normally be asked to bring certificates and transcripts related to your existing qualifications, as well as other materials related to your application. The exact requirements will be published along with your interview details.

What's happens during a PhD interview?

Your interview for a PhD in India will follow a fairly standard format. Our guides explain what happens at a PhD interview and look at some of the questions you might be asked.

Research proposals

Your previous qualifications, RET score and interview performance will confirm you are suitably qualified and prepared for a place on an Indian PhD programme. Some universities may also wish to check the details for the topic you plan to explore with your PhD. If so, they will ask you to submit a research proposal.

This may be a separate stage in your application, or it may be part of your interview process. Again, you should check your university's requirements.

Application portals

Some Indian universities partner with external services to help manage their admissions. This can make your application a lot easier, with additional support and guidance available on the exact requirements.

The most important application portal for international students in India is EdCIL. This is an official partner service, designated by the Indian Government to support applications from students seeking to study abroad in India.

Identifying genuine portals

You should always confirm that any portal you submit an application (or other details to) is genuine. The best approach is to begin on the university website and follow links from there to any third-party services it uses.

Application fees

Some universities (and portals) will charge fees during their application process. These cover the costs of registering and processing applications as well as the administration of examinations and interviews.

Individually, these fees are likely to be quite small (often less than $10 at a time). However, it's a good idea to make a note of all the required fees at the beginning of your application and ensure you don't end up paying more than you expect.

Student visas

You'll need a visa to study in India as an international student. This is usually easy to obtain, provided you are a genuine student and have been accepted to study at an Indian university.

India issues various visas, but the one you'll require as a PhD student is, surprisingly enough, a student visa. This is normally valid for up to five years and allows multiple entries into India during your course.

Application requirements

The materials required for an Indian student visa application will usually include:

  • Proof of admission to your university (you'll need this before you start your application)
  • Personal documents (your passport and other details)
  • Financial evidence (confirming you have sufficient money to support yourself during your course)

Visa fees

The cost of your visa will depend on the country you apply from. As a guideline, the fee for a UK applicant to obtain an Indian student visa is currently £156 ($200).

Application process

Before you begin your visa application you should check your requirements with an Indian Misson (embassy) in your home country. At this point you may also be asked to submit required documents and pay the appropriate visa fee (this will depend on your nationality and situation). You can then apply for your visa online using a service set up by the Indian Government.

Next steps

An Indian PhD will qualify you well for further work related to your research area, in India or elsewhere. The expansion of the Indian university sector is creating many opportunities for academic work in the country and your experience of Indian higher education will prepare you well for these kinds of roles.

It is usually possible to extend a student visa if you find work in India, or to apply for a separate employment visa (provided you have evidence of a suitable job offer). Your university should be able to provide more information and guidance during your PhD.

Find a PhD in India

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in India? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 02/10/2018

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