Degrees of Separation

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Jun 14 2009, 06:16am hrs
Nidhi Verma is all set to be part of the burgeoning brigade of students pursuing higher education in foreign countries. With dreams in her eyes, this 18-year-old is ready to pursue higher education in Singapore. Having scored an aggregate of 94% in her higher secondary examinations, she could have made it easily into one of the best colleges in India. So why Singapore They have the best educational facilities there and its not far away from home. Indian universities lack so much in their courses, study environment and future prospects, says Verma, ready to join the growing tribe of the 4.5 lakh students pursuing higher education in foreign countries.

If industry estimates are right, a whopping $13 billion is being drained out of India annually due to Indian students pursuing higher education in foreign countries. Easy accessibility to information and the growing awareness among students is fuelling this trend of exploring different vistas. But is that all that has made the Indian students shift focus to other shores

Quality vs quantity

Experts believe that the desire to get quality education has increased manifold, despite the limited number of seats available in the best education institutes in the country, for example the IITs and IIMs. Apart from the rich and the affluent, its students with good academic records, who are unable to secure admission in the Indian universities, are opting for degrees across the shores, says Professor K Sudha Rao, Head, Department of Education Policy, National University of Education Planning and Administration (NEUPA).

Despite an expected 150% increase in central spending on higher education in 2007-08, India continues to lag behind its Asian counterparts. Indias spending on higher education (as % of GDP) has been among the lowest in the world. In 1951, Indias spending on higher education was 0.2% of the GDP that increased to 1% in the 1980s. But the share in the higher education dropped considerably in mid-90s to about 0.4% and since then this spending has been languishing in this range. According to Education Franchising report 2009, the current public spending on higher education per student in India stands at $400 and this is expected to grow around $1,000, experts hope by the end of the current fiscal, while China, Russia and Brazil spend $2,728, $1,024, and $3,986 respectively on higher education per student. But experts believe that is not enough.

Losing resources

In 2008, about 95,000 Indian students left for the US to pursue higher studies, with Britain and Australia following close. Countries such as Singapore are planning to have 1,50,000 foreign students. On the other hand, India has approximately 27,000 foreign students and has no plans for any regulated increase because of constraints in higher education. Experts argue that the Indian universities need to be more aggressive in their approach towards attracting foreign students. Studying abroad is not a loss for the country as this exercise is adding on to the richness of the country, says Rao who herself is a Harvard University alumni, with both her husband and son having foreign degrees. We are also getting students to come and study in India, though in a smaller number. The problem lies in the manner in which we treat our graduates by not providing ample employment opportunities once they come back, she adds. Experts also believe that Indian Universities can also benefit a great deal if enough efforts are made to attract more number of foreign students in India.

But arent the racial attacks a cause for concern for the students, parents and the respective governments Racism is disadvantageous to the country where its happening. If our students come back from Australia, students from other countries can also follow suit, making the Australian economy lose the valuable foreign reserves which is being added to its economy, says Rao. In 2008, foreign students added more than $12 billion to the Australian economy.

Shifting focus

The popular destinations for Indians seeking a foreign education till a decade ago were the United States, Australia, and a few heading to Britain. But the scenario has changed now with New Zealand, Russia, Germany, France, Ireland, Singapore and Canada emerging as knowledge factories. According to the figures produced by Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), applications from India for graduate studies dropped by 9% in 2009 for the United States.

Archana Chaudhary, Coordinator, CampusFrance India, have been reaching out to more than 1,00,000 lakh students across India, sees a drastic growth in the number of students opting to study in France with an increasing number willing to go for bachelor level courses. Energy, nanotechnology, cyberlaw, sommelier training, genetics, architecture, design, political science and public health are some of the new courses in demand. Students are opting for courses in design and fine arts and less in finance, which is a big change, says Chaudhary. An increasing number of students from reputed engineering colleges across India are opting for France for exchange programmes, internships and to complete their masters programmes and PhDs. She adds that her Delhi office sees approximately 4,000 odd requests for admissions annually and out of these about 800-900 finally make it.

Experts believe that students prefer those countries that are culturally more amicable and are offering more and better scholarships to the foreign students. Apart from scholarships, these countries are also offering earn while you learn programmes, attracting students, says Rao. There is also a gradual shift from traditional courses to technology-driven and career-oriented modules.

Amber Jain Australia

I am pursuing Masters of Business and Information Technology from University of Melbourne. The course is a combination of core business knowledge and essential skills in IT management. The programme is for students who are looking for a managerial role in any organisation seeking to develop strategic competencies and industry leadership through effective use of IT. Studying in Melbourne also gives me an opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures, which has helped me improve my communication and cross-cultural skills. Also, the education and living expenses in Australia are quite affordable compared to other countries. I initially had few problems while settling in the new city. For instance, as an international student, you have to cook your own food, work part time to take out your expenses, and study hard at the same time. So a lot of hard work is required but once you get used to it, everything is fine and good! I expect to stay and work here for at least two-three years after completing my studies so that I can earn back all my fee and gain some professional work experience here, which is recognised world over.

Gloria Khamkar UK

I am pursuing MA in Radio Production and Management course at the University of Sunderland in England, UK. While on deciding on which place to go for the education in radio, my search brought me to the educational institutions in UK, where the training in radio is of high quality owing to the requirement of top quality radio professionals in the land where listening to radio is a norm. University of Sunderland offered me a unique combination of radio production coupled with management aspect which confirmed my choice of university. I find there are lot of cultural differences with which you have to get used to. For example, smiling at a stranger is not so common here in UK or speaking without using please and thank you might portray you as a rude person. Getting acclimatised to the cold weather and understanding North East English accent was a bit challenging initially. I find British people appreciate hard work which is one of the nicest things here in the UK. Overall, I feel entire experience at the University of Sunderland has been an interesting one. I would like to stay back and work for a period of time to gain experience in the field of radio in UK.

Sagar suri france

I am a student at ISIPCA, University of Versailles, France. I was always fascinated by the industry of perfumes and cosmetics. Also I have my family business in the same field. French perfumes have dominated the perfume market of the world and what better place than France to go to and study this wonderful art. Hence, I decided to go for the European Fragrance and Cosmetic Masters (EFCM) programme. Being a two-year course, it gives one an idea of the technical aspects and of the marketing in the second year at the University of Padua, Italy. As we know English is not one of the most spoken languages in certain parts of Europe hence, one should definitely learn French before going as it makes your daily life easier. Apart from that I personally did not face much of a problem because life here is much more simpler. I plan to work over here or any other country abroad for a while to get an experience in a different work atmosphere and learn as much as I can. Later I plan to come back to India, and make an effort to train the people working in the perfume industries in India.

Chirandeep Patnaik ireland

I am pursuing the Masters in Management course in Michael Smurfit Business School, University College Dublin, Ireland. On a previous occasion I had travelled to Ireland and was enamoured by the beauty of this tiny island and its friendly and warm people. Ireland is an English speaking country too, which helps students like me. Moreover, the course I was looking forward to pursue was being offered in this country, and I was fitting perfectly within all the asked qualifications (taking into account my academic background, work experience, costs involved, course content and qualification sought). Thus, I zeroed in on Ireland as my destination to study abroad. I believe that being myself has been the reason behind nearing completion of my course successfully. I think it is important to respect others culture too when in a foreign country. Since I opted for both of these, I did not encounter any adjustment issue at a social or cultural level. At the same token, I was well received by the Irish in my school, my batch mates as well my hostel mates; everywhere people are quite welcoming. Thus my transition from India to Ireland was smooth. Owing to my professional commitments in India, I am contemplating returning home after completing my course.

Praneet Randhawa US

I have recently graduated from the Michigan State University (MSU), the United States, with a Masters of Science in Hospitality Business. From fall-2009, I am starting the doctoral programme in Marketing at MSU. I have thoroughly enjoyed studying here at The School of Hospitality Business, MSU. My experience here has broadened my entire outlook towards my career, my peers, and life in general. I truly enjoyed the opportunities: Working with the professors, researching real-world problems in the hospitality industry, and meeting with the top industry leaders. The biggest challenge was finances. When I came to MSU in Spring 2007, I did not have any funding, and my parents paid the tuition for the first semester. I knew that I had to get some sort of funding from the School to continue pursuing my education. From Summer 2007 till date I have been funded by my department, which made it possible for me to continue my education without worrying about finances. Yes, I want to stay here for some more years to complete my doctorate degree and also to gain some work experience before I decide to return to India. As of now, I have no plans to settle in the United States.

Shweta vijayakrishnan scotland

I am a research assistant in the division of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the University of Glasgow. I wanted to pursue my higher studies in the UK or USA. Luckily, I got admitted in University of Glasgow for a four-year PhD programme funded by the Wellcome Trust, the UK. In Scotland, the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Glasgow University is highly regarded for its excellence in research. Moreover, Glasgow is a truly diverse place with people from all over the world besides its existing rich traditions and customs. My experience in Glasgow and Scotland has been a truly memorable period. Friends, colleagues and staff of the University have been very helpful and friendly. In addition, the support of my supervisors and the directors of my PhD programme have been perpetual and I am always indebted to them. It took me some time to get used to the cold weather. But with housework and learning simultaneously did prove to be challenging. I do hope to stay back as I am currently on a post-doctoral fellowship that will help expand my knowledge and play an important part towards achieving my career goals.

Rupashree Shyama Ray Germany

I have completed my PhD in Theoretical Chemistry from Technical University of Munich and now pursuing postdoctoral research in University of Leipzig. Germany is one of the leading countries in research and development. Well-equipped laboratory, advanced experimental techniques as well as availability of large scale computing facility makes it a preferred destination for scientific research. Systematic and a good work culture are the best things of German educational system, which attract students from worldwide. Adjustments and challenges are inherent part of life. We can never get away from that. Language sometimes becomes a thorny problem in non-English speaking countries. After completing my education, I would like to go back to India and pursue my research career in research institutes. India is growing fast in research and development sector. Better scope and opportunities are available in India and thus my choice will be definitely my home country.

Suvajit Mustafi New Zealand

I hail from Mumbai and I am pursuing postgraduate diploma in computer graphic design from Whanganui School of Design. Further studies in a foreign location was always on my mind and New Zealand had to be my destination. Right since childhood I was fascinated by the nations down under. Being a cricket freak, I followed Indias matches all over but particularly enjoyed the tours to Australia and New Zealand. I saw a different freshness in the atmosphere. The colourful and scenic images of these nations in my standard eight Geography textbook had a deep impact on me. I always wanted to be there. New Zealand had to be my choice over Australia. The reasons being most of the Kiwis I have interacted with back home were warm and friendly. Then, New Zealand is a safer, greener and a more peaceful nation. To be honest, living alone in a foreign country, studying and also managing your finances, it does take a lot out of you. But it is an experience and it adds to your over all betterment. I have managed to overcome most of the challenges here. New Zealand is a very friendly country, and I reckon it as one of the best places in the world to live in. I am expecting to stay back in New Zealand for sometime. I intend to work for some years and maybe also do my masters, and then return to India.

Vikrant Agarwal Singapore

I am currently pursuing Bachelor of Business Management with majors in Finance and Marketing. SMUs multi-disciplinary and American-style pedagogy of interactive learning make both of these majors highly engaging. SMU being a new university provided a dramatically different perspective on undergraduate education, unheard of in an Asian context. Its faculty, curriculum and vibrant student life were a major attraction. The financial assistance provided by both the government and the university also played an important role in my decision-making. And given that, I wanted to jumpstart myself into a professional career right out of college, SMU was really the place to be, as it has had a 100% recruitment rate within six months of graduation. Being an international student it was initially hard to find my place in these activities, but once I found my foothold, there was no looking back. This university presents to numerous opportunities. The challenge lies in our ability to make the best of all the opportunities. I intend to stay on in Singapore after graduating since there are several excellent professional opportunities available here. In addition, as I am on the Singapore Government Subsidy Scheme, which reduces my tuition fees substantially, I am required to work for a Singapore-registered company for at least three years after I graduate.