How do you pick a country to study in? First, you want English to be commonly spoken there. You want a country that is safe, has a credible university system and scholarship options. It would help if living there was affordable. And finally, you’d ideally like a country whose culture was easy to adapt to.
For decades, the UK checked all these boxes. It also had a large Indian-origin population, to make adjustment easier.
But a May 2016 report by research firm MM Advisory shows that while the number of Indian students heading abroad is rising steadily, the number headed to the UK has fallen by 10% over the past two years.
That number is expected to drop further by 2018, as Britain prepares to leave the EU, mainly because employment opportunities to foreign students will become even more limited.
“Previously non-EU students were allowed to remain in the UK after finishing their studies. Now, Indian students must leave the country and apply for a work visa if they wish to return,” says Namita Mehta, undergraduate services manager and partner at education consultancy The Red Pen.
Some of this slack is being picked up by the usual suspects — the US and Australia.
“The US saw 29%more Indian students this year, and Australia is now the second favourite choice, a position previously held by the UK,” says Maria Mathai, director of MM Advisory. “Over the past two years, the number of Indian students headed to Australia has risen by 20% and the number of those heading to New Zealand has risen by the same margin. These countries have relaxed visa norms and fees are considerably lower than the US and the UK.”
Countries such as Spain, Germany, France and Denmark are also emerging as alternatives. “These countries had almost all their courses taught in native languages until a few years ago,” says Rohan Ganeriwala, co-founder of study-abroad consultancy Collegify. “Now they have many courses in English. Several universities in Germany and Spain do not require knowledge of the native language at all.”
This, coupled with lower costs, is luring Indian students away from the UK. Sara John, 21, picked Germany for her Masters in engineering. “My family was not sure if I would be able to adjust to a non-English-speaking country,” she says. “I was confident about going to the University of Ulm. I had done my homework, researched the course online and discussed it with counsellors. Finally, partly because it cost about half of the fees in the US, I decided to just take the plunge.” She is currently in the second year of her course. “Most universities offer a semester ticket, which lets you travel to Germany’s North-Rhine Westfalia region via local trains and buses for free,” she says. “There are fewer activities on campus, so travelling is the best way to combat boredom.”
CHOICES FROM THE EAST AND THE WEST
Even China is seeing the number of Indian students jump.
In 2015, 13,578 Indian students headed to China, up from just 765 a decade ago. Most of them pursued medicine and clinical courses, says Grishma Nanavaty, counsellor at study-abroad consultancy ReachIvy. “Lower tuition fees, good accommodation, classes taught in English and proximity to India are what account for the upswing.”
Germany’s relaxed immigration norms for international students, prompted by its low population growth, is a boon to students from India. “In 2013-14, about 10,000 Indian students headed to Germany for research-driven courses,” says Mathai. “After they completed those courses, most got a visa for 18 months to explore job opportunities,” Nanavaty says.
Culture should be an important factor when considering a country for study, says Nanavaty.
“When it comes to non-English-speaking destinations, you need to do thorough research and be sure you will be able to adapt,” she says. “Your university may not have the native language as admission criteria, but you will still have to learn it to fit in.” Nanavaty suggests connecting with alumni and international students studying at the university to understand the culture, actual job prospects and visa provisions.
Ruchi Panchal, 20, went to pursue MBBS at the Smolensk academy in Russia after she didn’t get admission at a good college in India.“The degree is valid in India and course content is contemporary,” she says.
But settling into the cold northern nation was not easy. “It took me a while to adapt to the language,” she says. “But I wasn’t treated like an outsider and the students and the faculty were welcoming. I now have friends from Russia and China and we all know each other’s native languages,” she says happily.