Year after year, India used to see a rise in the number of students choosing to go abroad for pursuing higher education. But, Covid-19 changed this trend. The country may be in the midst of another Covid-19 wave, but it seems the worst of the pandemic is behind us, at least that is what outbound students’ preferences and figures indicate.
Indian Student Abroad
In reply to a question in March last year, the Ministry of External Affairs told the Lok Sabha about the broad patterns of the Indian students’ quest for knowledge on foreign shores. It said that in 2019, a total of 5,88,931 students went abroad for educational purposes. This number did see a huge reduction of 45% in 2020—the year when almost every economic activity was disrupted—with just 2,61,406 students travelling out of the country. But, the aspirations of the Indian student did not take long to rebound. In the first two months of 2021, as many as 71,769 students had travelled abroad.
Going state-wise, Andhra Pradesh is on the top of the list of outward student mobility, followed by Maharashtra and Punjab. Even after facing restrictions and difficulties due to ever-changing Covid-19 protocols in the West and in the airline industry, students decided to either delay their journey by a few months or took the bureaucratic hurdles head-on.
Competitive Hosts in the Pandemic
Western universities have a historical association with Indian students. They use many ways to woo Indian students and compete amongst themselves. The US, the UK and Canada are three of the popular destinations for Indian students, which offer easy visa processes, discounts on air tickets, scholarships, robust university infrastructure and even work opportunities post-studies to stay in the game. During the pandemic, they have added rapid vaccination drives to assure students.
“I will have a minimum three-year visa after graduating from the US. I do have plans of working there and supporting my family better,” Meghna Chatterjee, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, said.
“The world's leading universities like the University of Stanford, Michigan, Arizona and MIT have introduced several amends in their application process to help well-deserving and ambitious international students achieve their dream of acquiring global education. In addition to introducing several student-friendly policies, many institutions have even withdrawn their usual SAT or ACT testing requirement, especially for first-year applicants applying for either fall 2022 and further intake.” Piyush Kumar, Regional Director (South Asia), IDP Education told Outlook. These small and big factors are helping foreign universities attract more students despite the hesitation caused by the Covid-19 restrictions.
Unlike the common perception and the continued popularity of Western universities among Indian students, the most preferred foreign destination for higher studies in India in July 2021—according to another set of data presented to the Rajya Sabha—was the United Arab Emirates, with 2,19,000 students studying there. It was closely followed by Canada with 2,15,720 students and the USA with 2,11,930 students. As per the same data Germany, Oman and many other countries are rapidly attracting Indian students. Even in these dire circumstances.
Marie-Chanel Gillier Interim Head, Communications, French Institute in India told Outlook that “According to the last official post-COVID19 collected data, there were around 6 000 Indian students in France in the academic year 2020-2021”. This shows that France is also gaining popularity among Indian students.
“The typical Indian student in France is admitted in master’s degree of Management studies (70%). Engineering programs come next (11%) and the remaining 19% can be found evenly spread among different majors, including Humanities, Hospitality and Tourism or STEM. 3 to 5% of Indian students are pursuing studies at the doctoral level.” Gillier added when asked about the most popular courses that Indians choose in France.
Foreign universities know that they need to adapt to the pandemic reality to retain an edge in the international educational arena. They have started robust online or hybrid education models, in which they offer students the choice to start the semester online and shift to the campus as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted.
“Some institutions have provided deferment or extension if students are unable to reach the campus on the course start date. Considering the unpredictable nature of the current times, many university administrations like the University of Stanford are working closely with campus partners to chart out a robust contingency plan if the Covid conditions deteriorate,” Piyush Kumar said.
Tanmay Arora, aged 22 an MBA student at Deakin University in Australia, who plans to travel to the university in November for completing his final year, said, “The diversity of education, the access to some of the world’s most cutting-edge technologies and the famous Australian work culture are some of the appealing aspects that drastically influenced my decision to study there.” Till he gets to see his university in person, he will continue to attend classes from his home in India near Delhi University.
A Covid Positive
The pandemic has brought hardships for everyone, and students are not an exception to this rule. After delaying their studies for a few months, or even years in some cases, Indian students are availing concessions wherever possible. “Covid-19 has proven to be a challenge for students due to mandatory travel restrictions or quarantine rules that countries have in place as precautions. However, admissions have become somewhat easier, because students no longer have to worry about standardized tests like before. This allows them to focus on other aspects of their profile and improve it,” Karan Gupta, an independent education consultant for the last 22 years in Mumbai, said.
Many Indian students have already reached the foreign university of their choice, while others are waiting for the Covid-19 situation to ease out further. It is likely that when another Parliament elder enquires about the preference of Indian students headed outwards in the coming sessions, the concerned minister has more impressive numbers to show.