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Data: Nearly 20% of the Foreign Students in India are enrolled in B.Tech as of 2019-20


Data from the 2019-20 report of AISHE indicates that while the number of foreign students enrolled in India has considerably increased in the last 10 years, they still account for only 0.13% of the total enrolment. Close to 20% of all the foreign students enrolled in the B.Tech programme in 2019-20, up from just 4% in 2010-11. 

Recently, the Ministry of Education released the annual All India Survey on Higher Education report for 2019-20 which provides key performance indicators on the current status of Higher education in India. The report is the 10th in the series of All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE). The first such report was released in 2010-11. Among other indicators pertaining to Higher Education in India, the report also presents a statistical profile of foreign students who come to India for their higher education. The data in the report is based on voluntary uploading of data by institutions of Higher Education listed in the portal in specially designed formats for data collection.

According to the report, a student is defined as ‘any person who has enrolled himself/ herself for pursuing any programme of a study conducted by the Institution’. A foreign student is a student enrolled in one of the institutions but is not a citizen of India. The number of students enrolled in a programme is the total number of students on the roll as of 30 September of the academic year.  That is, if a programme is for three years, the total number of students enrolled in the programme includes the sum of the number of students in the first, second, and third year of the programme, as of 30 September 2019 as per the 2019-20 report. 

Number of foreign students in India has gone up by nearly 80% in the last 10 years

As per the latest AISHE report for 2019-20, a total of 49,348 foreign students were enrolled for higher education in India in the year 2019-20, the highest for the last 10 years. Two-thirds of them i.e., 32,836 students were male and the rest, 16,512 were female. Enrolment of foreign students has increased gradually over the decade indicating an increased preference of foreign students for pursuing higher education in India. The total enrolment has increased by nearly 80% in the last decade. In terms of gender, the number of male students increased by 89.5% whereas the number of female students has increased by 62% in the last 10 years. A closer look reveals that female students comprised around 37% of the total enrolled foreign students between 2010-11 and 2012-13 and dropped to less than 32% in 2017-18 and 2018-19. 

Students from 15 countries account for more than 73% of foreign students in India

The number of countries the enrolled foreign students in India belong to has increased over the last 10 years. In 2010-11, there were students from 153 countries and in 2019-20, there were students from over 168 countries across the world. However, students from 15 countries alone constituted more than 73% of all the foreign students in India. These include Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sudan, US, Nigeria, Yemen, Malaysia, UAE, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Iran, Ethiopia, and Canada. There were only 122 students from China, the most populated country in the world and India’s neighbour. 

Students from Nepal accounted for the highest share of foreign students in India, and this has been so in each of these 10 years. In fact, the share of Nepali students in India has only increased throughout the decade. In 2010-11, 14.5% of foreign students were from Nepal and in 2019-20, their share went up to 28%. In terms of numbers, the number of students from Nepal increased by about 3.5 times. Meanwhile, students from India’s neighbouring countries of Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and China who constituted 28% of all the foreign students enrolled in higher education in India in 2010-11, increased to 48% in 2019-20. 

14 states accounted for 93% of the foreign students enrolled & Karnataka is the preferred state

93% of the foreign students were enrolled in institutions in 14 states. Each of these 14 states had more than 1,000 foreign students in 2019-20. For the first time, Odisha has reported more than 1,000 foreign students in 2019-20. 

With at least 10,000 foreign students every year, Karnataka has always topped the list of Indian states with most foreign students by a large margin. In 2012-13, about 38% of the foreign students were enrolled in Karnataka. As per the latest report, almost 21% of the foreign students were enrolled in Karnataka. The state has the highest number of colleges per lakh eligible population (population in the age-group 18-23 years) in India with 59 colleges per lakh population as compared to All India average of 30. 

It is also observed that the five southern states together accounted for 63% of the foreign students in India in 2010-11 which gradually dropped to 39% in 2019-20 as more foreign students started enrolling in institutions in the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand. The number of foreign students in Punjab went up by 21 times in these 10 years. Likewise, the number went up nearly 18 times in Haryana, 15 times in Rajasthan, and 14 times in Odisha. Other states where there has been a substantial rise in the number of foreign students between 2010-11 and 2019-20 are Uttarakhand (5 times), UP (5 times), Gujarat (4 times), and West Bengal (2.6 times). 

3 out 4 foreign students enrolled for Under-Graduate (UG) programmes

The different levels of programmes in which foreign students had enrolled in India are the following. 

Source: AISHE (2019-20)

On average, each year, about 76% of the foreign students were enrolled in UG programmes. This is because of the higher intake in undergraduate programmes as compared to others. Throughout the decade, the proportion of foreign students enrolled in UG programs was between 72 to 78%. From less than 20,000 students in 2010-11, the number went up by 84% crossing 36,000 in 2019-20.  Postgraduate programmes had the second-highest enrolment of foreign students with 16.6% students in 2019-20 with 8,199 foreign students. This number has gone up by 50% since 2010-11.

Over the decade, it is seen that more foreign students were enrolling for PhD programmes and Diploma courses. Meanwhile, the enrolment of foreign students in M.Phil. and PG Diploma programmes dropped in line with the decrease in overall enrolment in these programmes. 

B.Tech continues to be the most preferred programme for foreign students

According to the AISHE 2019-20 report, 16 programmes had more than 1,000 foreign students each and these 16 programmes together accounted for more than 80% of the foreign students. A total of 138 programmes had at least one foreign student enrolled in them.

In 2010-11, BA was the most sought-after course by foreign students with 9% foreign students enrolled in the program. However, since then, B.Tech has had the most number of foreign students among all programmes in each of the years.  In 2019-20, B.Tech accounted for more than 19% of all the foreign students in India. The B.Tech programme was chosen by less than 4% of the foreign students in 2010-11, whose share has increased nearly five-fold in 10 years. The demand for Bachelor of Engineering (BE) also increased marginally in the said period. The demand for B.Sc. and M.Sc. has been increasing for the last three years. In the past decade, the share of students enrolled in B.Com, B.C.A, B.A, M.A, B.Pharm, and B.Sc. (Nursing) has decreased. 

Only about 0.13% of students in higher education in India are foreign students

While the number of foreign students enrolled in India has increased considerably in the last 10 years, they still account for a meager 0.13% of all the students enrolled for higher education in India in 2019-20. Their share has marginally increased from 0.1% in 2010-11 to 0.13% in 2019-20. 

India has the second-largest education network in the world after China, with around 950 universities and 45,000 colleges.  Indian Higher Education system is known for its affordability, especially in the engineering and technology disciplines. The increasing number of foreign students in the country is an indication that more foreign students are preferring India. Despite these advantages, the share of foreign students has not increased considerably in the last ten years. Compared to the paltry numbers in India, foreign students comprise more than 5% of students in tertiary education in the US, 18% in the UK, 20% in New Zealand, and 14% in Canada. 

‘Study in India’ programme to attract foreign students to study in India was launched in 2018

The government of India launched a flagship scheme, Study in India, in 2018, with the objective of increasing the flow of inbound foreign students to India and making India a preferred destination/hub for Higher Education by way of brand building, social media campaigns, etc. A centralised admission web portal ( which acts as a single-window for the admission of foreign students was set up. Under the programme, about 55,000 seats are being offered with more than 35,500 fee waivers and 2,000 scholarships, with each scholarship valued at INR 2,50,000. Institutes under the initiative offer waivers from 25% to 100% tuition fee waivers. Seats are reserved for foreign students even in premier institutes. 

Efforts to attract foreign students must be ramped up

With globalization becoming the norm and travel between countries becoming easier, more students are crossing borders to pursue courses that help them establish a career in accordance with the global demand. Students going to other countries also get different exposure and opportunities. It helps broaden their intellectual and cultural horizons. In many cases, Students also seek education abroad in pursuit of better quality or due to the unavailability of courses in their own country. From any country’s perspective, foreign students bring socio-cultural influences in addition to making a considerable financial contribution in terms of tuition fees and other spending. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international (foreign) students contributed USD 44 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019.

Besides making studying in India attractive with waivers and other initiatives, colleges providing international standards of higher education & offering courses with global demand need to be set up in every state. This will benefit both Indian students and foreign students and address the skewed distribution we have today. It will also ensure that foreign students are introduced to many parts of the country, and they can even become ambassadors for the growth of tourism. In addition, India must also focus on increasing the strength of female students from foreign countries by presenting India as a safe & secure destination. 

Featured Image: Foreign Students in India


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