The growing influx of full-fee paying Indian students is reaping rich dividends for Australia. India is now the second largest source of overseas students and a significant contributor to Australia's international education market, which is worth A$9.8 billion to the national economy.
In the last one year, as many as 40,010 Indian students have enrolled in Australian educational institutions - 55 per cent growth from the previous year, according to Australian Education International (AEI).
At a recent international forum on Australia-India relations held at Sydney University, Indian High Commissioner to Australia Prabhat Shukla said: "India has world class international institutions, but Indians will continue to look abroad for further studies because the demand outstrips supply."
A strong case has been put forth to establish an Indian centre of learning at the university that would encompass Indian languages, art, culture and history.
"We need more two-way exchange of students, joint research collaborations and blended degrees," noted Neville Roach, chairman of the Australia-India Business Council.
In March, Prime Minister John Howard announced a new $25 million bilateral research programme with India. Whether it is higher studies or tertiary education, Australia has drawn a large number of Indian students, looking away from the traditional educational destinations of the US and Britain.
Surprisingly, 54 per cent of students choose educational institutions in the Victoria state and its capital Melbourne. Approximately one in five of the international students studying in Melbourne and Victoria are from India.
In Victoria, 47 per cent of Indian students were enrolled in higher education programmes - over 100 students were pursuing a PhD and two-thirds were doing Masters programmes.
While Business Studies remained the most popular course for higher education, the number undertaking nursing has also expanded significantly. Hi-tech fields such as computing and engineering, however, are becoming less popular.
India is the main market contributing to the overall increase in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, according to AEI, in the past year. In Victoria's VET sector, enrolments have nearly trebled from 3,059 in 2006 to almost 9,000 in 2007.
Nearly 1,000 students are undertaking programmes in land and marine resources. This includes courses like horticulture, environmental science, agriculture science and animal husbandry.
The two-year diploma in horticulture is becoming a niche course for Indian students. Ramandeep Singh had studied mechanical engineering in Mehr Chand Polytechnic in Punjab and came to Melbourne to pursue advanced technology in mechanical engineering but was lured into horticulture by his cousin.
"After the chaos of machinery, plants are a calming influence", Ramandeep said, adding that he would like to start trading in gardening tools after completing the course.
Armed with new experience and exposure to a developed country, he feels confident to be a successful citizen in any country.
"Australia has skill shortages and needs people to further its economic growth. I will look for opportunities here or return to India and start an export-import business of cut flowers from New Zealand," he adds.
In Victoria, an increasing number of Indians are opting for courses in hospitality and services, which includes cookery and hairdressing too. The number of Indian students in this field has shot up to 5,391 in 2007 from 2,086 in 2006, even though the two-year course doesn't come cheap at A$24,000.
"Cookery has definitely increased in popularity with Indian students and we believe it is due to the fact that Australia currently has a skills shortage in this sector of the hospitality industry," said Jeff Hyde, international marketing manager of Melbourne's Box Hill Institute of Technical and Further Education's (TAFE).
"Many of the Indian students would like to gain qualifications and skills in these fields so as to later apply for permanent residency," he added.
In 2005-06, a total of 14,027 skilled visas were granted to Indian citizens. Of these, some 2,934 visas went to former overseas students in Australia.
So is education an easy path to migration?
"It is clear that Victoria is attracting a significant number of migrants from India, and that many are coming under the skilled migration programme. I don't think education is an easy path to migration," said Jacinta Allan, Victoria's minister for skills, education services and employment.
"Students who enrol in our courses need to complete assessment requirements, irrespective of what their eventual intentions are. If, after they have successfully completed their course, they choose to apply for permanent residency, and they have the skills that enable us to meet an area of skills shortage, that's good for everyone," Allan remarked.
The minister is expecting a steady growth in Indian students in the next five years or so.
She said: "The main driver for this will be the growth in India's economy that will lead to an increased demand for a more highly skilled workforce. In addition, India's economic growth will lead to higher incomes, which means international education will be affordable by more families."