As the significance of higher education in global arena increased considerably in the past few decades, cross-border education gained momentum with a large number of students travelling abroad to gain degrees. Indian students constitute a major portion of the international population in many countries and thus help in increasing enrollment diversity and revenue for educational institutions overseas.
Higher education enrolment from India in various study abroad destinations (2005-2014)
Source: IIE Open Doors, New Zealand Ministry of Education, Higher Education Statistics Agency UK, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Open Doors 2014, Canadian Bureau for International Education and UNESCO Institute for Statistics
The table shows higher education enrolment pattern of Indian students in various destinations from 2005 to 2014. The higher education trends in the last decade clearly favoured the first world English speaking countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. However, the recent years witnessed a change in the study abroad trends among Indian students, which catalysed the emergence of Canada, New Zealand, Germany and France as major destinations. One major reason that fuelled this trend is the immigration opportunities that these countries provide to international students. While some countries paid heavily for their stringent policies and work after study visa rules, others gained ‘hot study abroad destination’ status and thereby increased revenue by opening doors to immigrants.
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Studying abroad or getting into a foreign university is widely considered as the first stage to emigration along with a secured job and a heavy pay package. When some host countries decided to put checks on immigration rules, it affected the higher education enrolment as well.
The United Kingdom
The UK is the major loser as the number of Indian students enrolling in British universities has dwindled dramatically in the last two years after witnessing steady increase in the previous years. The ordeal started in April 2012 when the UK abolished post-study-work visa (PSW), which provided one year work permit to graduates from outside European Union (EU). Further, in 2013, the UK government decided to impose a Â£3,000 immigration bond on visitors from "high-risk" countries, including India. However, after much criticism and protest, the government pulled back the scheme. These policies in consecutive years gave out an impression that the UK is an unwelcoming country for immigrants, including international students. The result is 26% reduction in the enrolment of Indian students despite the country being home to the world’s oldest and finest universities.
“Even though the UK always looks forward to the best brains from India to do their higher studies, their policies gave a negative perception. The abolition of PSW, limitation of working hour permits during studies and increased language requirements led to the decline in the number of Indian students applying to British universities,” says Sakthy Edamaruku, Media Officer, British High Commission.
Despite the falling numbers, the British government is still coming up with policies that would further reduce the opportunities for Indian students who study in the UK. The latest is a proposed legislation under which students from outside the European Union must go back to their home countries and cannot apply for a work visa while still in Britain after the completion of their studies.
“Most Indian students come to the UK for higher studies with immigration in mind. The proposed draft that sends back students to their home countries is a big blow for us as it stops us from exploring our opportunities to get a job according to our capability and qualification," says Himansha Singh, pursuing PhD. in Pharmacy at the University of Cambridge.
However, Sakthy is still hopeful about attracting Indian students to the UK. She says, “We have recently introduced a number of scholarships for Indian students to fund their studies. Apart from that, the UK government also has Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa through UK-based universities. This visa enables the international students with entrepreneurial interests from outside EU to stay back in the UK for one year and start own businesses that will help in the development of domestic and overseas economies.”
The recovering countries
While the UK turned out to be a big loser, there are other countries which witnessed a fall in enrolment numbers in recent years, and are now in the process of picking up.
The United States
The US has been the favourite destination of 50% of Indian study abroad aspirants who go to the US every year. However, the 2009 financial recession hit the Indian enrolment rates in the US universities as the economic meltdown made the country less attractive for the immigration-driven students. While 2010-11 academic year witnessed 1% drop in the enrolments, 2011-12 and 2012-13 saw 3.5% drop. Now the country is on the path of recovery as the enrolment rate went up by 5.9% in 2013-14, thanks to the economic revival and opening up of job market.
In the US, international students holding F-1 student visa can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) which allows them to stay back for one year after the completion of the course, provided they work in their field of study. The students who hold a degree from the US government’s designated list of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects can extend their OPT by another 17 months which allow them to work in the US for 29 months. During this period, the students can find a permanent job and apply for long-term visa. Not surprisingly, 78% of Indian students in the US opt for STEM courses as against 12% for business courses and 10% for other disciplines (Open Doors 2014).
“I chose the US mainly because of job opportunities. I always wanted to get a job abroad and being an engineer by profession, I think the US is the best option for me. While looking for universities, my first preference is the ones that provide adequate exposure and job opportunities in IT companies and thus I chose this university,” says Linda Pulickal, pursuing MS in Computer Science at the University of Southern California.
Australia was once at par with the UK in attracting students from India. After a consistent increase of Indian student enrolment till 2009-10, the figures fell in the next three years mainly due to the strengthening of Australian dollar against Indian rupee and safety concerns triggered by the 2009 racial violence against Indians where 152 Indian students were assaulted that year. With an aim to attract more international students, the Australian government in March 2013 replaced Skilled Graduate visa with Temporary Graduate (Subclass 485) visa to introduce new post-study work arrangements. The Temporary Graduate visa has two streams: the Graduate Work stream and the Post-Study Work stream.
Graduate Work stream: This stream helps international graduates with qualification that is related to an occupation in the Skills Occupation List (SOL) to get an extended visa for 18 months after graduation.
Post-Study Work stream: This stream allows international students with an Australian graduate or higher education degree (irrespective of the field of study) to apply for a visa up to four years depending on their qualification.
The new regulation helped Australia to regain its lost glory as the number of Indian students enrolling in Australian universities increased by 11% in 2013-14.
The end of the last decade witnessed emergence of new competitors who not only benefitted from the fall of the giants, but also attracted students with their visa schemes.
Canada is one of the major winners in attracting international students, especially from India. It all started with the immigration reforms in 2008 which introduced Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) for international graduates. Previously, the students had to have a job offer in place and that too in their field of study. PGWPP allows the students to apply for a visa even without having a job offer and gives the flexibility to take up a profession in any field. The program also issues work permit for three years while previously, the permit was given for one to two years. The skilled Canadian work experience thus gained by the students through PGWPP will help them get permanent residence in Canada through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).
“The Government of Canada is attracting more international students through the work permit programs. Canada’s high academic standards and rigorous quality controls mean that the international students earn a high-quality education that will open doors for their future and benefit the career over the long term. India is the second largest sending country of students to Canada and new policy has definitely helped students as the enrolment numbers soared from 9,500 2009 to more than 31,000 in 2014," says Prashant Srivastava, Project Manager, International Partnerships & Projects at Seneca International, Canada.
New Zealand is the country that benefitted when the UK, the US and Australia lost their sheen because of strict visa policies, economic recession and racial attacks. New Zealand marked its presence as a major study abroad destination in 2008-09 when there was a surge in the number of international students enrolling in the country’s universities. The steady increase in the number of Indian student enrolment over the years could be attributed to favoourable visa policies. There are two steps in study-to-work visa policy in New Zealand:
Post-study work visa (open): Once the international students complete their course, they can apply for post-study work visa that allows them to stay in New Zealand for 12 months and look for a job in their field of study. During the search period, they can work in any field to support themselves.
Post-study work visa (employer assisted): The students can apply for this visa after getting a job in their field of study, which allows them to stay in New Zealand for two years (three years if the work experience is required as part of a professional registration). After the period of this visa, the student is qualified for New Zealand resident visa under the Skilled Migrant Category.
The emergence of European countries: Germany and France
The two European countries -- Germany and France -- are the new entrants which attract a large number of Indian students despite language barriers. Germany introduced the new legislation in 2012 regarding Entry and Residence of Highly Qualified Workers which allows the international students to stay back in the country for 18 months after graduation to look out for a job in their field of study. During this period, they can do any job to support themselves. If the student manages to find a job before his final exam, he can directly apply for residence permit. The student can either apply for a German residence or an EU Blue Card if he wants to work in different European Union countries (excluding the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland) in future.
France ranks second among the countries of continental Europe, behind Germany to welcome Indian students. Over the past five years, the number of Indian students in mobility in France grew by 50%, reaching more than 2500 students. One of the major reasons behind this is the relaxation of visa rules which allows the students to stay back in France after graduation for one year to look for jobs. If they find a job in their field of study, which has a rate of compensation equal to at least 1.5 times the national minimum wage, they can apply for a work visa. Apart from that, the French government also facilitated travel to France for Indian citizens staying in India with a French degree. “In July 2013, Ambassador FranÃ§ois Richier announced the government’s decision to provide tourist or business visa for Indian citizens back in India who have graduated from a French institution with a long period of validity– up to five years if the studies in France were at the Master’s or PhD level. This further helped in increasing the number of Indian enrolments in French institutions," says Sapna Sachdeva, National coordinator of Campus France.
The road ahead
In the last few years, there have been major changes in study abroad destination trends as many countries marked their presence while the major players saw a dip in number of international enrolments. With more countries attracting students with visa policies, students are the gainers who have more options to choose from.
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