According to the 2016 Indian Students Mobility Report, there was a 12% rise in the flow of students from India to the US and Canada in 2014, which grew to 17.8% in 2015. Credit: Pexels
Driven by increased income, mobility and aspiration, tertiary students, including Indian students, are crossing national boundaries, and are scattered around the world. These students head abroad in pursuit of high quality education, stronger employment outcomes, becoming part of global knowledge sharing and commercial networks, as the alumni of prestigious institutions. There are now over 4.6 million students abroad.
Where are they going?
According to the latest available data from the International Institute of Education (IIE), via its Project Atlas, students are heading to roughly 16 prominent host countries. These are the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Japan, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Russia, Finland, and India.
At the top of the tree is the US, which is home to around 1.1 million students, followed by the UK with 501,045 students, and China with 442, 773 students. The number of students flocking to the rest of the the top most international students-populated countries are as follows:-
• Australia – 327,606
• France – 323,933
• Canada – 312,100
• Russia- 296,178
• Germany – 251,542
• Japan – 171,122
• Spain – 94,962
Countries looking to attract foreign students
It appears that economies of varying sizes, locations, and development, are all vying for international students. Over the past year, the greatest growth in international students is to be found in Mexico (58.9%), New Zealand (34.4%), Spain (24.9%), Canada (18.3%), Japan (12.5%) and Australia (12.1%).
Canada and Australia, in particular, are characterised by both strong volume and growth, making them very desirable locations for international students. This is associated with strong performance in university rankings, as a measure of quality and reputation, good amenities for students, employment prospects, and a welcoming environment—traits the two nations share with a number of other countries.
Where are Indian students going?
Everywhere, it appears. India is in the top 5 countries of origin for students in the US (186,264), Canada (76,530), Australia (44,775), New Zealand (19,585), China (18,626), UK (18,015), Germany (13,537), and Sweden (1316).
What is noteworthy is that with the exception of the UK, the flow of Indian students to these other countries above have grown in recent times, indicating the growing mobility of Indian students. In fact, other data provided by the Indian government shows that, as of August last year, there were 553,440 Indian students abroad, residing in 86 countries.
Interestingly, Indian students are going to China in significant numbers, as China continues to invest heavily in education, training and, supporting infrastructure. China increasingly views itself as a hub for international students. Somewhat surprisingly, India is also listed as one of the significant places for international students to study. There are around 45,424 international students in India at present.
However, it should be noted that these students are drawn from only a handful of countries, and mostly from proximate places. Nepal (9,574), and Afghanistan (4,404) top the list of country of origin for foreign students in India. There is still quite a way to go before India can lay claim to being a preferred destination for foreign students. Many issues around quality and governance need to be addressed.
Why do Indian students go abroad in such large numbers?
According to the QS rankings agency, which surveyed prospective international Indian students, the five main benefits of studying at an internationally recognised university are quality of education, employment prospects, connections worldwide, student experience, and opportunities to travel. When choosing a particular location or study destination, the top three motivators are international recognition of qualifications, availability of financial assistance, and desire to work in the host country after the completion of studies.
In the survey, Indian students’s responses indicate that there is a much greater practical content value in university courses offered overseas, especially in comparison to courses offered by Indian universities. Students’s responses also indicated that courses offered by universities abroad also had more diversity and specialisation, involved more independent and self-initiative driven learning, compared to those offered at home. Yet another attractive factor for Indian students was the opportunity to study under experienced and prominent faculty members of internationally recognised institutions.
Arguably, the landscape for international student mobility may change significantly in the future. Although it is the number one destination in the world for overseas students by sheer number, the prospect of more protectionism in the US, may undermine its current pre-eminent position. Similarly, uncertainty in the UK, in the wake of Brexit, could be an impediment.
Newer players, including China, and other Asian economies, continue to emerge as key destinations, while places like Canada and Australia, already strong in receiving students, continue to entrench and consolidate their positions.
What is clear is that international students offer benefits to a host country, by being sources of revenue and potential labour, and to the home country, by being an important “brain bank” to be leveraged, and tapped into in the future.