The higher education system in India includes both private and public universities. Public universities are supported by the Government of India and the state governments, while private universities are mostly supported by various bodies and societies. Universities in India are recognized by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which draws its power from the University Grants Commission Act, 1956. In addition, 15 Professional Councils are established, controlling different aspects of accreditation and coordination.

The types of universities include:

  • Central universities, or Union universities, are established by an Act of Parliament and are under the purview of the Department of Higher Education in the Union Human Resource Development Ministry. The UGC lists 46 central universities.
  • State universities are run by the state government of each of the states and territories of India, and are usually established by a local legislative assembly act. As of 31 December 2015, the UGC lists 342 state universities. The oldest establishment date listed by the UGC is 1857, shared by the University of Mumbai, the University of Madras and the University of Calcutta. Note that most State Universities are "affiliating universities" in that they administer a large number of "affiliated colleges" (many located in very small towns) that typically offer a range of undergraduate courses, but may also offer post-graduate courses. More established colleges may even offer PhD programs in some departments with the approval of the affiliating university.
  • Deemed university, or "Deemed to be University", is a status of autonomy granted by the Department of Higher Education on the advice of the UGC, under Section 3 of the UGC Act.  As of 31 December 2015, the UGC lists 125 deemed universities. According to this list, the first institute to be granted deemed university status was Indian Institute of Science, which was granted this status on 12 May 1958. Note that in many cases, the same listing by the UGC covers several institutes. For example, the listing for Homi Bhabha National Institute covers the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research and other institutes.
  • Private universities are approved by the UGC. They can grant degrees but they are not allowed to have off-campus affiliated colleges. The UGC list of private universities as on 31 December 2015 lists 227 private universities.

India has 740 universities. There are universities of some kind in each of the 29 states of India as well as three of the union territories: Chandigarh, Delhi and Puducherry. The state with the most universities is Rajasthan with 71 universities. Tamil Nadu is the state with the most deemed universities, numbering 28.Gujarat has the most state universities, 26. West Bengal has 25 state universities, and Uttar Pradesh has 24. Rajasthan has the most private universities (41), while Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have five central universities each, the largest number of all the states and territories.

Apart from the above universities, other institutions are granted the permission to autonomously award degrees. However, they do not affiliate colleges and are not officially called "universities" but "autonomous organizations" or "autonomous institutes". They fall under the administrative control of the Department of Higher Education. These organizations include the Indian Institutes of Information Technology, Indian Institutes of Technology, the National Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, the Indian Institutes of Management (though these award diplomas, not degrees) and other autonomous institutes. These institutes are not listed below.
Also not listed are institutes which are under the control of the professional councils, without approval of the UGC, e.g. Agricultural Universities, which are under the control of the Agricultural Education Division of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), one of the professional councils.
As of August 2015, India has a total of 18 IITs, the Indian School of Mines, 32 NITs, 18 state-funded technical institutes and 18 IIITs.