Reversing India’s Student Exodus

In 2000, at least 53,000 Indian students went abroad, according to a study on Indian student mobility by IIMB. In 2017, this number was 5.5 lakh, an exponential increase of over 900% as per data released by the Ministry of External Affairs in August last year.

The GoI’s recently launched ‘Study in India’ programme is a welcome step in the right direction despite arriving late. Apart from setting targets, it aims to make India a global education hub, improve its soft power and reduce the export – Import imbalance in the number of International students. But the larger question remains: Can the scheme be implemented successfully at a time when demand for foreign education is at an all-time high?   

The last decade has witnessed a constant rise in the number of students enrolling for an overseas degree. In 2000, at least 53,000 Indian students went abroad, according to a study on Indian student mobility by IIMB. In 2017, this number was 5.5 lakh, an exponential increase of over 900% as per data released by the Ministry of External Affairs in August last year. This huge exodus calls for a serious re-examination of the Indian education system. 

Clearly, in choosing to study overseas Indian students have moved beyond reasons of work opportunities and safety. The quality of education is another prime motivator. Of course, one cannot ignore that study destinations such as Canada, France and New Zealand have attracted a reasonable number of international students from around the world, not just from India. 

Still, the question remains: what prompts Indian students to study overseas? Leaving aside the poor infrastructure and facilities, foremost is the issue of increasing inaccessibility of our top institutions. India has some of the top universities in the world. According to QS World University Rankings 2018, out of the 799 universities in the country, 20 institutions are ranked in the top 1,000 with eight institutions in the top 500. However, the issue is not the unavailability of quality institutions but the capacity to accommodate the growing number of students in India. The ratio of the number of applicants to the number of seats available in top Indian institutions is uneven due to limited seats. In fact, even students with an academic score of as high as 90% are unable to secure seats in their college of choice in India. Therefore, there is intense competition for the limited seats.

Another concern is the stringent entrance examinations for the very limited seats. Given the uncertainty in securing seats and the hassles involved, some students even with high scores, prefer to give Indian institutions a miss and look for an option overseas. For instance, the number of eligible candidates to sit in the JEE Advanced Exam 2018 has been increased from 2.20 lakhs to 2.24 lakhs recently. Out of these numbers, the students will fight to qualify for one the best institutes in the country - Indian Institute of Technology where the seat availability is just 11,000 (2017). 

Secondly, there are fewer options for top-quality programmes. It is disheartening that most Indian institutes are still very traditional in terms of course options offered to students. An option to take up advanced degree becomes an even more remote possibility, which is why bright students ultimately look for options abroad. 

In social sciences, there are only a few reputed institutions offering top-grade academic programmes. When it comes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, only a few institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and Indian Institute of Science, along with a few others, are in the top tier. Clearly, a smattering of institutions cannot cater to the over 315 million students in India. Let us take the case of Indian students in the United States. The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange (2016) states that one of every six international students in the US is from India, and three-fourths of these students are pursuing STEM courses.

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (2015-2016) by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), only 1.7% of colleges run Ph.D. programmes and 33% of colleges run Post Graduate Level programmes. There are 40% colleges, which run only a single programme, out of which 75% are privately managed. Among these, 30% of colleges run B.Ed. courses only. 

Thirdly, the option for dual degrees is very limited, while the opportunity to earn a double degree offered by foreign universities is an attraction for students from India. In universities abroad, students have the freedom to choose from a range of subjects, whether to do dual major, minor and free elective courses, at almost the same duration of earning a single degree. This is beneficial for students who are looking at gaining more rewarding degrees. Yet, the concept of a dual degree in India is still very new. Introduced in India by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), just about six-seven other institutions in the country offer dual degree courses. Indian education is still traditional and stringent when it comes to courses which, unintentionally, drives away its own potential students to foreign institutions. 

Fourthly, there is a problem in teaching methodology. The Indian education system overwhelmingly lays emphasis on theoretical teaching and learning as opposed to practical orientations followed by universities abroad. There is no balance in theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge in the Indian curriculum. Foreign universities also emphasize on personality development and experiments, with the intention to keep students engaged unlike the one-way teaching style followed in India, although it is slowly improving. 

Lastly is the issue of access to faculties. One of the many perks of pursuing higher education abroad is the easy access to top faculty members, with easier communication between the faculty and the student. Faculties can be consulted outside of the classroom which leaves more room to learn for the students. On the contrary, in India, the faculties are largely accessible only in classrooms creating a barrier between themselves and the students. 

All of these clearly indicate gaps in the Indian higher education system. Without mending these gaps, India will continue to witness the exodus of domestic students to foreign universities. 

If the Indian government can finalize the guidelines allowing international universities to set up campuses in India, it would help retain a considerable number of Indian students who would otherwise go abroad for higher education. It would also help improve the quality of education in India, and in fact, attract students from neighbouring countries. It would also help save crores of rupees’ Indian parents spend on their children’s foreign education. 

More importantly, higher education in India needs to take a cue from education systems abroad and focus more on imparting intangible skills to students which should include written communication, team building, lateral thinking, time management, and analytical thinking, among others. More efforts should be channelled towards upgrading the learning system by engaging students in class participation, dialogue exchange, and getting them into the habit of taking up case studies to make the classroom experience more meaningful. 

*The writer is the founder of The Chopras, one of India’s leading overseas education provider 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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