Ajit Kumar Jha
Between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, when I was a student at Oxford University in the UK and UCLA in the USA, the number of Indian students studying abroad would be a trickle. One could count them on one’s fingers. At Trinity College, Oxford, there were two Indian students including myself, in the first year and two others joined the following year, all on scholarships. In sharp contrast, today holidaying in Vancouver, Canada, just a visit to two leading campuses – the Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia – reveal an overwhelming presence of Indian students across all subjects. There are 319,130 international students from India enrolled in Canadian institutions in 2023, the number one destination for Indian students.
A recent PRAVASI INDIANS Index pointed out that post-Covid over 750,000 students from India are going abroad annually. Notwithstanding a break during the two years of the Covid pandemic from 2020 to 2022, the surge in the number of Indian students migrating abroad appears like a tsunami. With banks doling out easy education loans, almost 1.8 million Indian students are abroad. This number is only of Indian students going abroad to study from India and doesn’t include all students of Indian origin, a large portion of whom are citizens abroad. Together, this count could be much higher than 2 million, a figure higher than the population of 50 countries.
Today, India has become the largest source of students in foreign universities, growing much faster than Chinese students abroad. The number of Indian students in the US jumped from 167,582 in 2020-21 to almost 200,000 in 2021-22, the number of Chinese students declined from 317,299 to 290,086. The percentage growth of Indian students is 19% versus – 8% for Chinese students in the US. Indian students were issued 127,731 visas in the UK versus 116,476 for Chinese students in 2022. Also, Indian students are making a beeline to non-English speaking countries like Germany, France, Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan, and China.
Demand outstrips supply
Why are Indian students flocking to foreign universities in droves? Demand far outstrips supply. Over 1.4 million students passed the school level to join colleges in India in 2022-23. But India only has 200,000 colleges and university seats in 2022-23. Given high unemployment, what options do 1.2 million school students have, either drop out of the race or go abroad? Going abroad has other advantages, quality education, the option of a foreign job, and the opportunity to settle abroad with much higher salaries.
The Bengaluru-based strategy advisors to new-age businesses M/s Redseer Strategy Consultants estimate a loss of US $ 75 to 85 billion in total student spending to the national exchequer. Forget demographic dividend, India faces a demographic drain, a major exodus of bright young minds.
This inadequacy is a blot on the face of the New Education Policy of the NDA government. Ignoring rebuilding of higher education in India, and its upgradation in both quantity and quality, the Ministry of Education and its top bodies are busy chopping the entire Mughal history from the syllabuses, witch-hunting against leading academics, and throttling leading liberal universities like JNU, University of Hyderabad and others.