Data provided by the government in the Parliament indicates that the number of Indian nations who travelled abroad for education in 2022 crossed 7.5 lakhs, the highest till date for any year. USA, Canada, UK, & Australia together accounted for 75% of those who went abroad for education in 2022, up from 60% in 2018.
Migration of students transcending national borders for education is a growing phenomenon in the 21st century. Often termed as global or international student mobility, this trend is booming. The scope and pace of such migration is a dynamic of demand and supply. The demand side drivers behind student mobility include the aspirations of better educational and employment opportunities, while the supply side factors include the expanding financial capacity of middle classes, short supply of good and quality education, among others.
India is a formidable player in the global student mobility. It ranks only behind China in the supply of internationally mobile students. India is also among favourites for international universities eying to attract these mobile students. Despite concerns of ‘brain drain’, India is poised to remain as a growing market for international education.
In this context, we look at the trends in Indians migrating abroad for education and foreigners coming to India for higher education.
Note: Data provided by the Bureau of Immigration is considered for the analysis. It has to be noted that there may be double counting of individuals as the data is based on students who specify education as their purpose of visit or the sort of visa for the country of destination they present while clearing immigration. If the same person may have cleared immigration in multiple years, he/she may have been counted in each of these years. Despite this limitation, the data helps understand broad trends.
65% increase in Indians travelling abroad for education from 2017.
Usually, the Bureau of Immigration under the Ministry of Home Affairs keeps track of Indians arrival and departure information. Students who travel overseas to attend foreign universities are not required to register in India or at Indian embassies. Indian students who want to study abroad for a higher degree apply for student visas directly at foreign embassies and consulates with offices in India.
As a result, there is no index that includes the group of Indians who travel abroad for higher study. The data from the students who specify education as their purpose of visit or the sort of visa for the country of destination they present while clearing immigration are both used to arrive at the data on students going abroad for education.
The data from the parliamentary responses show that there is an increase by 65% in the number of students travelling overseas for educational purposes in 2022 compared to 2017. Around 4.5 lakh students travelled abroad for education in 2017, which increased to 5.8 lakh in 2019, before witnessing a downfall to 2.6 lakh in 2020 because of COVID-19 and its associated restrictions. As campuses started re-opening, the students travelling overseas increased rapidly, with 4.4 lakh and 7.5 lakh students in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Significant increase in loans disbursed for students availing education abroad.
As mentioned earlier, multiple factors play a role in driving students to pursue education abroad. Among such factors, national policies, and access to finance are key drivers. The data from 2012-13 from public sector banks (PSBs) indicate a steep increase in the number of students availing educational loan to study abroad and the amount disbursed to those students. As per a parliamentary response, around 20,366 students availed educational loan to study abroad in 2012-13, which rose to 62,947 in 2019-20. It then declined to 51,784 in 2020-21 due to COVID-19 and increased to 69,898 in 2021-22.
Similarly, in 2012-13, the amount disbursed stood at 1180 crores, which rose to 5885 crores in 2019-20, thereafter which it declined to 4503 crores in 2020-21. However, in 2021-22, it grew to 7576 crores, registering a 28% increase as compared to 2019-20.
Canada, UK outperform USA as preferred destination.
Over the past decade, as the number of students travelling abroad has expanded, their preferences over destinations have also changed. Yet, the United States continues to be the top host nation followed by Canada. However, if we look at the growth of Indian students travelling abroad from 2018, United Kingdom and Canada has seen greater growth than the United States. UK registered a massive growth of 294% in the influx of Indian students, while Canada and US registered 63% and 57% growth respectively in 2022 compared to 2018. China registered a decline by almost 94% in 2022 as compared to 2018, while students in Ukraine declined by 88% in 2022 as compared to 2021 probably because of the war.
Some possible reasons behind such growing preferences for other destinations include the disruptions in visa processing systems resulting in longer waiting periods for United States, the trends in employment and residential opportunities and national policies of those nations towards immigrants among others. The growing competition among nations to attract international students is also resulting in the relaxation of immigration and visa rules, expanding logistical and financial support to students.
Minimal growth in foreigners choosing India as their higher education destination.
India ranks as one of the major contributors of global mobile students. It is evident from the available data that the share of Indian students travelling abroad for education is increasing. Successive governments adopted different strategies to promote internationalization of higher education in India. Among them, creation of around 15% and 10% supernumerary seats in NITs and IITs respectively for foreign students is a major step to enable foreign students to receive quality education. The Direct Admission of students Abroad (DASA) scheme is for admissions into the NITs. Within the 15% quota in NITs, 5% seats are reserved for children of Indian workers in the Gulf (CIWG). Countries such as UAE, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman are included under CIWG.
However, data from the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) indicates that there is a very minimal growth in the number of foreign students choosing India for their higher education. It is safe to say that the number of foreigners enrolled in higher education in India is almost stagnant for the last five years or so. A significant majority of the foreigners choosing India belong to neighbouring countries.
The internationalization of higher education in India has not grown at a rapid pace. There is a greater need for the governments to look across the internationalization strategies employed by other nations to transform India into a global education hub. The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 talks of measures to promote internationalization of higher education.
Nepal accounts for more than one-fifth of the foreign students in India
The number of foreign students travelling to India for higher education has remained stagnant over the past five years. However, the data on share of foreign students coming from different nations suggests that five countries, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sudan, and Nigeria account for almost 45% of the total foreign students in India. Share of Nepal in the total foreign students rose from 21% in 2012-13 to 28% in 2020-21, while share of Afghanistan grew from 6.7% to 8.5% during the same period. In contrast, share of students from Bhutan declined from 7.1% to 3.8% during the same period.
Almost 75% of the foreign students every year are enrolled in undergraduate courses, followed by post-graduate courses. And barring few exceptions, number of male students coming from these countries remains higher than the number of female students.