Friday, August 19th, 2022 17:37:13

The Great Indian Student Mobility

By Sarat C. Das
Updated: August 2, 2022 6:35 am

The international student mobility exceeded 5.6 million students in the year 2020 and in the current year as universities are nearing their ‘’fall intake’’ the number is likely to spike. The Fall (September) is a larger university intake than Winter (January) or Summer (June). The global student mobility is expected to hit nearly 8 million by 2025 if the current rate of growth continues not interrupted by the resurgence of another Covid-19 wave or the growing menace of Monkeypox or Tomoto flu. There are millions of students moved through the Socrates programme (later named as Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013) established by the European Commission in 1994 or the Erasmus Programme, a coveted European Union (EU) student exchange programme established in 1987. As per information received from Bureau of Immigration (BoI), the number of Indian students, who departed India for higher education in the current year, is 1,33,135 so far while there were 4,44,553 students in 2021 and 2,59,655 in 2020.

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), even COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact international student enrolment in the United States in 2021, the number of Indian students in the United States increased by over 12 per cent in 2021, while those from China, which accounts for the largest number, dropped by more than eight per cent. USCIS said 47 per cent (581,843) of all active SEVIS records hailed from either China (348,992) or India (232,851) in the calendar year 2021.

In the current year, the United Kingdom has emerged as a top destination of choice with a significant rise in the number of Indian students travelling there for pursuing higher educational opportunities. Nearly 108,000 student visas for Indian nationals were issued in the year ending March 2022 which was almost double (+93%) the number compared to the previous year, according to official figures from the British High Commission in India. The numbers are expected to grow exponentially as India and the United Kingdom inked a pact on 21st July 2022 for mutual recognition of educational degrees of students of bachelor, masters and doctoral courses. Indian senior secondary school or pre-university certificates will also be considered for entry into UK’s higher education institutions, enabling mobility of students.

Canada, which received nearly 450,000 students last year, has gained mostly from 217,410 Indian students followed by China with about 105,265 study permits. The reason: Canada’s easing of Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) rules. Prior to the pandemic, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) did not allow distance learning to count towards PGWP eligibility, but they have temporarily relaxed this policy until August 31, 2022 to help those who want to go ahead with their Canadian study plans amid the pandemic. International students who complete their studies at a Canadian designated learning institution are eligible to obtain a PGWP. The PGWP enables international graduates to gain the Canadian work experience they often need to be eligible to apply for permanent residence.

However, Indian students’ enrollment into Australian universities have dropped significantly. Due to Covid-19 pandemic and the recent opening of borders by Australia, the number of Indian students which used to be around 110,000-120,000 in Australia now stands at 97,000 even as it continues to go downhill.

Australia’s neighbor New Zealand seems to be ahead of the Kangaroo country.  More than 1 lakh international students are in NZ, enrolled in various institutions. Furthermore, via an open three-year post-study work visa, the country allows international students to pursue a career after completing their studies. NZ’s post study work option seems to be an unprecedented and a huge advantage for students.

Countries such as Ireland currently host a teeming population of Indian students which make up about 4 per cent of the total international students studying in this country. Closest to all these higher education offshore destinations is Singapore. Each year, approximately 3,000 students from India continue their education at various schools or universities.

From 1 May 2022, Hong Kong has opened to international visitors. However, visitors must still follow all COVID-19 entry requirements, which are now the same as those that apply to Hong Kong citizens and residents. China’s growing inference in Singapore’s autonomy is affecting its international student numbers. The “Pillar of Shame” statue, a memorial for those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, was removed from the University of Hong Kong, on Dec. 23, 2021. The 8-meter (26-foot) tall Pillar of Shame, which depicts 50 torn and twisted bodies piled on top of each other, was made by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot to symbolize the lives lost during the bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. This certainly has dissuaded many international students from turning away from Hong Kong.

China, which always came across as a top global destination for Indian students particularly in the stream of medicine, is now treated as a pariah state by Indian students. This is primarily caused by pandemic and MBBS students who failed to return to China to resume their programme. In April, after repeated representations from India, China agreed to permit the return of “some” Indian students and asked the Indian Embassy here to collect the details of those seeking to return. As per China’s official reports, over 23,000 Indian students are studying in Chinese colleges, mostly medical courses.

In the winter semester of 2019-20, out of the 4,11,601 international students, the number of Indian students in Germany stood at 25,149, a record figure which was a 20.85 per cent hike from the year before, as per data from the Federal Statistical Office of Germany. Hence, Germany has not lost its luster for Indian students. Russia, which currently hosts some 15,000 Indian students with most of them enrolled in medical courses, may not have the same appeal for Indian students due its internecine war with Ukraine. No student would like to go to a war zone or anywhere close to a battlefield, hence, all the Commonwealth of Independent States are likely to suffer including Ukraine.

Well, the above narrative is all about the Major English Speaking Destination Countries (MESDC) where the student population is growing in large numbers barring Australia. In recent years, alternative destinations seem to be topping the priority chart of Indian students.

Among the growing alternate destinations are Spain, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway,  and Italy. Language is no longer the barrier now. English is universal now, and a part of the medium of instruction in a growing number of universities and schools. ‘’Adoption of the English language has been suddenly a shot in our arm,’’ says academician and industry consultant Dr Marc Sanso based in Barcelona, Spain. ‘’I am seeing more students buzzing in the street speaking English in Spanish cities and universities and schools turning multi-lingual’’.

Hiren Raval, director, C3S Business School in Barcelona, Spain, says: ‘’Students from a diverse cultural and language background come to us, from Morocco and Cameroon to Panama and Brazil, and all seem to have been unified by a common goal to be a global citizen and be a part of global workforce. Spain is certainly the country which reinforces this belief as being an inclusive society, and a provider of world class education leading to big economic opportunities.’’

The tradition of university education in Spain is well-known for its medieval roots, with one of the oldest universities in the world – the University of Salamanca being founded as far back as 1218 AD. Besides having a rich cultural and historical heritage, Mediterranean climate, delicious cuisine and golden beaches, the Spanish cities such as Madrid and Barcelona offer affordable cost of living. Hence, not surprisingly, according to Project Atlas source, Spain is now among top ten global destinations for international students.

Well, the preference for Indian students for a global destination will continue to be based on a range of factors – quality of affordable education to economic and settlement opportunities following the completion of the programme. While there has been a tremendous growth in the quality of engineering education in India over the years, medical education has bucked the trend. There are currently over 23 lakh seats across engineering colleges in India, excluding the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institutes of Technology (NITs). This is not the case with medical education and other specialised areas like management, pharmacy, architecture. The number of management seats have stood somewhere between 3 to 4 lakh over the last five years. There are over about 40 million students seeking Higher education supported by the opulence of about one-third of India’s population (1.3 billion) that can be termed as ‘’middle class’’.  Hence, international student mobility will continue to rise exponentially. Will that lead to a brain drain? Well, that’s another discourse.


By Sarat C. Das

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