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A main takeaway of a new British Council report analyzing trends in Indian student mobility is that there is no one single trend. The growth in India's own higher education system has been rapid at the same time that the sliding value of the rupee has made overseas higher education more expensive. While the U.K. and U.S. are the top two destinations of choice, students are increasingly applying to universities in Canada and Germany, where they perceive education to be cheaper and employment opportunities to be robust. Canada stands out in terms of perceived opportunities for permanent migration, while students see Germany as offering world-class opportunities in the automotive, engineering, and manufacturing industries. The number of Indian students in Australia, meanwhile, appears to be rebounding after a precipitous fall following a series of violent attacks on Indian students in 2009.

The report, which is based on a survey of more than 10,000 Indian students as well as an analysis of existing data, is entitled “Inside India: A New Status Quo” – which raises the question, what was the old one? “I think the old status quo was the belief that there would be a continuous, almost limitless number of Indian students that would continue to flow into U.S. universities, U.K. universities, Australian universities, and that has not appeared to be the case,” said Elizabeth Shepherd, the head of research for the British Council’s Education Intelligence team. “There’s new interest in markets like Germany and Canada, decreased interest in the U.K. and the U.S. and fluctuating interest in Australia without a clear-cut trend emerging yet. But the greatest shift has been in India itself.”

The report documents a dramatic expansion in the number of colleges and universities in India since 2000: the number of colleges increased from 12,800 to more than 35,000 and the number of universities rose from 256 to more than 700. Overall enrollments in the Indian higher education system have risen from 8.6 million in 2000-1 to 26.6 million in 2011-12. And the number of students studying at the graduate level increased by a staggering 47 percent in a single year, rising from 1.8 million in 2009-10 to 2.7 million in 2010-11.

At the same time, Indians make up the second-largest group of internationally mobile students, after students from China, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development statistics. But while Indian students are all over the globe, their numbers are likely to fluctuate in any given country, in large part because they tend to be price-sensitive. And they can be expected to be even more so now: the report estimates that the declining value of the rupee has increased the cost of overseas study by an average of about $10,000 per year. It also estimates that only 0.4 percent of Indian families can afford an overseas education.  

Per the table below, while Germany and Canada have seen increases in the number of Indian students, their numbers in the U.K. fell 23 percent last year, a decline the report attributes both to the removal of post-graduate work opportunities and the bad press associated with the temporary revocation of London Metropolitan University’s license to host foreign students. (Shepherd noted that the media plays a big role in India in changing perceptions quickly, as in the aftermath of the Australian attacks.)







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In the U.S., meanwhile, the picture is puzzling. On the one hand, the data from Open Doors (represented on the table above) record three straight years of modest declines in Indian student enrollments. Furthermore, a “snapshot survey” of this fall’s enrollment (not represented above) found a continuing 10 percent decline in Indian students this fall. However, a Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) survey of this fall’s enrollments found a 40 percent surge in new Indian students at U.S. graduate schools

The Open Doors and snapshot survey data include students at all educational levels while the CGS data are only reflective of graduate students, but, even so, the various findings are hard to reconcile. Asked about these statistics, Shepherd did note, however, that the decline in Indian students observed in the U.K. has been predominantly at the graduate level – perhaps, she speculates, to America’s gain. There is debate in India, she said, about the perceived value of a one-year U.K. master’s degree vs. a two-year U.S. master's as far as employability is concerned.

Overall, Shepherd said, Indian students don’t seem have a great deal of loyalty with regard to any particular destination, but rather are flexible and savvy about seeking out programs that they perceive to be cost-effective and “value-added," so to speak (students may value internship experiences,  for example, or  teaching experience in their discipline). It comes down, she said, to “cost and cost-effectiveness and how students can find the most cost-effective way of gaining an education and ultimately employment.”

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