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Where are you flying off to?

There were 57,200 student visas issued this year by the UK as compared to the USA’s 32,000, but the latter might still emerge as the top favourite among Indians.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:57 IST
Ayesha Banerjee

This created quite a buzz in the education circles. Was the UK replacing the US in the Indian student’s heart? Data for 2010 on fresh visas for entry into colleges showed 32,000 student visas being issued by the US as against 57,200 by the UK (in 2009, the US issued 34,000 visas against the UK’s 27,000). A November 2009 Open Doors report (published annually by the Institute of International Education with support from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, however, had listed India as the leading sending country to the US, with an encouraging 9 per cent increase (for colleges/universities).

Though visa issuances are a key trend indicator, says Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education (IIE), “students may apply for visas to more than one country, and visa approvals for fall semester continue through September, so it is too soon to know how UK and US enrollment totals will compare.”

Adam J Grotsky, executive director United States - India Educational Foundation (USIEF), attributes the changes in the visa issuance numbers to “occasional peaks and troughs due to local factors that influence decisions to study in other countries”. The buoyant Indian economy has certainly been a factor in persuading Indian students who might otherwise have considered graduate education in the US, to postpone their plans. The number of students going for undergraduate studies has been rising for some years now, albeit from a lower base, Grotsky adds.

Going by the 2008-09 enrollment figures for graduate degree programmes, says Blumenthal, “We do know that most of the over 1,00,000 Indian students studying in the United States as of 2008-09 were enrolled in multiple-year graduate degree programmes, while the UK hosted about 40,000 Indians students during the same time period. Recent surveys by the IIE and EducationUSA staff in India show that America remains the clear destination of choice for the vast majority of Indian students.”

Blumenthal, like Grotsky, opines that expansion of job opportunities in India combined with more limited financial aid and training opportunities in the US was likely to have a negative impact on Indian enrollments in US higher education. “At the same time,” she cautions, “tighter student visa review processes for the UK suggest that incoming numbers of Indian students may begin to decline in the UK as well as in Australia.”

Geoffrey Conaghan, Victorian (Australia) Commissioner to India, however, is optimistic. “Aust-ralian education has a strong international reputation for excellence. The country has the highest proportion of international students enrolled in its tertiary institutions in the world,” Conaghan says. The OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), Education at a Glance report 2010, found one in five students in tertiary education in Australia in 2008 was from overseas.

Grotsky says it is likely that many “…Indians going to the US for higher studies are typically those who have completed their undergraduate studies in India, and are going for Master’s/PhD programmes in the US. Most Master’s programmes in the US are of two years, whereas students have shorter options in other countries. This may lead to the conclusion that it is more expensive in the US. Prospective students should remember that short-term programmes tend to be very course-intensive and the attractive internship opportunities in the US, typically in the summers, may not be available to others.”

The US, he says, is the world’s leading powerhouse of innovation and excellence. “As per Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, 2010, eight of the top 10 universities in the world are in the US. An overwhelming 70 per cent of the world’s living Nobel Laureates in science and economics are on US campuses,” Grotsky concludes.