Higher education: A pathway to economic development

India is a leading source country for students wishing to study abroad. But it is now time to build a robust education ecosystem within the country, which will attract quality talent from abroad and catalyse growth in the present knowledge era. 

  • In 2019, a total of 10.9 lakh Indian students had enrolled in international universities for higher education according to UNESCO Institute for Statistic
  • After the onset of the COVID pandemic, several countries are offering various benefits to lure international students like scholarships, fee-waivers, etc.
  • When it comes to reversing the brain drain, Study in India has managed to attract 7,500 students over 3 years. There is a long way to go to achieve the target of 200,000 international students.
  • India needs to focus on strategies to improve student-teacher ratio, enhance academic research in new age technologies and provide livelihood opportunities to students exploring the country.

Indian students in US TPCI

India is the world’s second-largest country, after China, as a source of students enrolling overseas for international degrees. Up until the year 2000, only 66,713 Indian students had decided to pursue international education as against an estimated 301,406 Indian students, who were studying abroad in 2016 according to UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS).

An estimated 586,183 Indian students are studying in 86 different countries as of 28 December 2017. Out of these, more than two-thirds of the students were staying in the US, Canada, and Australia. As per data furnished by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, the total number of students pursuing international courses stood at 145,539, in 2006, which rose to 181,872 in 2013 and 586,183 as of 28 Dec, 2017.

In July 2018, out of the estimated 7,53,000 Indian students abroad, approximately three-fourth (72%) preferred five leading destinations namely: US (211,703), Canada (124,000), Australia (87,115), Saudi Arabia (70,800) and United Arab Emirates (50,000).

In 2019, a total of 10.9 lakh Indian students had enrolled in international universities for higher education across the globe according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics. A 45% increase was observed over the 2018 figure of an estimated 7.5 lakh. While the numbers were expected to soar in the year 2020, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic put the study plans of several Indian and international students on hold. However, despite the risk, over 91% of Indian students expressed their interest in studying abroad.

While a majority of Indian students have preferred US, Canada, and Australia as their choice of destinations in that order, there has been a significant increase in the number of students going to Canada from 2017-2019, one of the reasons being the introduction of SDS (Study Direct Scheme) Programme. The United Kingdom has also seen a surge of 35% in just one year, due to changes in visa regulations. This is because in September 2019, the UK Government announced a new two-year post-study work visa, allowing international students to build successful careers. In addition to this, institutions like University of Portsmouth are accepting various online English proficiency tests because of the inability of students to appear for IELTS due to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countries like Japan, Canada, the US, the UK, and even Israel are offering scholarships to meritorious international students to help them fund their education. Universities in Australia are offering heavy fee-waivers and monetary support to students who are stuck in their homeland during the pandemic. Countries having lower COVID cases such as New Zealand, Germany, Australia, etc. have also become target destinations for Indian students.

Reverse brain drain

Every year millions of students migrate abroad to pursue foreign degrees. However, the counter-flow is not even close to the former.

S. No. Year No. of foreign students in India for higher education
1. 2015-16 45,424
2. 2016-17 47,575
3. 2017-18 46,144
4. 2018-19 47,427

Source: AISHE

The numbers depict that growth in foreign students in India is flat over the past 4 years. In the year 2018-19 foreign students enrolled in higher education increased slightly YoY to 47,427 as per AISHE report 2018-19, Ministry of Human Resource Development.

The contribution of Indian students to foreign economies shows that the domestic universities are not able to exploit the opportunities available. The US earned US$ 44 billion from international students, out of which US$ 7.69 billion was contributed by 193,124 Indian students in 2019. Canada generated US$ 22 billion revenue from international students, whereas Australia managed to generate US$ 37.6 billion from international students out of which US$ 5.5 billion in contributions have been made by the Indian students. This not only leads to revenue loss but also the loss of talent for the country.

The Indian education system demands a transformation and with strategies like the introduction of the National Education Policy,2020, India can establish itself as a global education hub. The National Education Policy,2020 focuses on:

  • Reintroduction of a four-year multidisciplinary undergraduate programme with multiple exit options i.e., exit after one year with a certificate, after two years with a diploma, and after three years with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Opening up the higher education sector to foreign universities by allowing them to set up campuses in India.
  • Overhauling the curriculum and focussing on experimental and critical thinking.
  • Emphasizing teaching the students up to class 5 in their mother tongue to make it much easier for them to grasp the concepts.
  • Reforming the 10+2 structure of school education in a 5+3+3+4 structure.
  • To establish National Research Foundation for research and development purposes.

Under the Study in India programme, over 7,500 foreign students have come to India to pursue their education over the past three years. There is a long way to go to achieve the target of attracting 200,000 foreign students to the country. To put things in perspective, the US attracted over 1 million foreign students in 2017-18.

The government is now looking to revise the criteria to allow more institutes with the necessary infrastructure to join the Study in India programme. Currently, 117 institutes are partners under the programme.

Apart from this, India must focus on the following areas to improve the quality of education:

  • Though the National Education Policy has made proposals to opening up of higher education sector to foreign universities, it has still not figured out how the centers would operate in India. This requires the government to lay down proper regulations to manage the operation of foreign campuses in India.
  • The faculty-to-student ratio in various schools and colleges needs to be according to the international standards so that students get a chance for active class participation, while improving interaction with the faculty in charge resulting in better learning.
  • Internationalization by inviting the best teaching faculties form around the world to India, having years of experience to impart knowledge which could be practically applicable.
  • Creating more job opportunities for students. Education would be of no use if it cannot be put to use to earn a living. And opportunities to make use of acquired skillsets would further add to the attractiveness of India as a destination for higher education.
  • A strong research orientation needs to be inculcated in Indian institutions for futuristic technology areas like AI, machine learning, Industry 4.0, etc, which will attract a corresponding ecosystem of foreign students. This will also help nurture and grow India’s indigenous capabilities in these areas. For instance, the US spends up to 2.7% of GDP in R&D for cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, etc.

Developed countries recognise the role of attracting quality immigrants in sustaining the success of their economies. In today’s era, knowledge and technology are the hallmarks of economic progress. It is essential for India to build an educational ecosystem of eminence, not only to cater to the needs of domestic students, but also to attract quality talent from around the world.

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