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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What needs to be done as Indian students increasingly seek education abroad?

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Economic and geopolitical concerns are driving Indian students abroad. India requires greater financing, foreign campus resources, research grants, donor assistance, and administrative and financial autonomy for Indian institutions to address this….

Indian students admitted overseas hit 750,000 last year, a 50% rise from 2021. Over one-third of these students chose the US, up 35% from the previous year. An intriguing TOI investigation found that one in four international students on US colleges are from India.

Anecdotal data reveals a big reduction in IIT students studying overseas, while Tier 2 and Tier 3 students are driving the spike. By 2025, Indian families will spend $70 billion on their children’s international education. Given these economic conditions, overseas colleges are aggressively pursuing Indian students with scholarships, new academic programs, etc., and numerous nations have strategically improved their student and job visa regulations to entice Indian talent. Geopolitical factors have reduced the number of Chinese students studying overseas, while India is growing exponentially.
Phoren stamp: Students choose low-tier overseas colleges (Varani Sahu illustration).

Why study abroad? What should India do about this trend? What should be done to keep outstanding talent? Can India gain from this trend? There are many questions with complicated answers.

With 265 million pupils, India has an 80% secondary education Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER). One in four pupils attends college, resulting in a troubling 27% GER. This, along with poor education, is difficult. As the middle class grows and international colleges provide easier entrance, loans, and immigration rules with work permits, many parents see foreign degrees as a path to a brighter future for their children. While learning from top worldwide schools is excellent, issues arise when more choose third-rate institutions abroad. As a nation, we must reflect and act quickly to address this situation.

  1. More funding: Our top-ranked public higher education institutions have stagnated due to the lack of a viable financial model for operation and expansion. These institutions depend on government subsidies for daily operations, limiting their autonomy. The National Education Policy (NEP) calls for a 50% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education, however state and federal budgets do not reflect this goal. Allocating greater resources to achieve a 50% GER in higher education is urgent.
  2. Opening campuses abroad: Indian colleges can now open campuses abroad, which is welcome. International campuses need resources to survive in foreign countries. Successful ventures require careful preparation and a blueprint.
  3. Research shouldn’t be a burden: Top private universities providing education comparable to public-funded ones need more research money and autonomy. Without a robust research culture, recruiting good professors is difficult. Institutions need significant overheads on research initiatives like abroad to generate cash. Without varied revenue streams, public-funded schools will rely solely on government support and private institutions on tuition fees. In leading schools worldwide, research overheads account for 20-25% of annual revenues.
  4. Incentivize donors: Government alone cannot expand quality higher education. Encourage donor and corporate support for public and private-funded organizations using attractive policies and tax incentives. College and university philanthropy in the US reached $52.9 billion in fiscal year 2021, expanding 6% yearly.
  5. Level playing field: The National Education Policy (NEP) has allowed multinational universities to construct campuses in India, however it is uncertain. This shouldn’t hurt our domestic institutions either. Indian institutions must be given administrative and financial autonomy in recruitment, admissions, and other operations, like international equivalents. Without reciprocity, foreign institutions could worsen Indian institutions’ downfall.

We must put educators and elite researchers at the forefront of policymaking, significantly expand education and research investments, and chart a new road to restore India’s place as vishwaguru in world education and research.


Over 750,000 Indian students applied for study abroad in 2021, up 50% from 2020. This year, 35% more students picked the US than last year. Children’s international education would cost Indian families $70 billion by 2025. Scholarships, new academic programs, and visa policies are drawing Indian students to international colleges. However, geopolitical factors and a lack of a sustainable financial model for publicly supported higher education institutions have reduced Chinese students studying abroad. Allocating resources and achieving a 50% higher education GER requires immediate action. Supporting excellent schools, funding overseas campuses, and rewarding contributors are essential.

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