The number of Indian students coming to British universities has been dwindling, but the number of academics categorised as “British Indian” has shown a steady increase in the past few years, touching nearly 5,000 across the country.
The category includes individuals who are Indian citizens and British citizens of Indian origin. The increase in their employment in universities comes in the context of renewed interest in India at British universities, some of which have set up dedicated “India centres”.
Figures provided to Hindustan Times by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show British Indians comprise nearly 20% of all academics in Britain’s higher education institutions. The only other ethnic group of this proportion is Chinese.
The figures complement findings of a recent study that showed Indian academics in research-intensive universities are preferred because of their “single-mindedness, competitiveness, resilience and work centrality”, as well as their links with Indian institutions and knowledge of India.
The 10 universities with the largest numbers of British Indian academics include Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Nottingham. University College London tops the table with 265 British Indian academics, HESA figures show.
Clinical medicine is the subject group with the largest number of British Indian academics: 1085. Other top subjects for the ethnic category are biosciences, business and management studies, mechanical, aero and production engineering, and information technology.
The study found that Indian academics are “singled out for jobs over other candidates" partly because of their willingness to “play the game” of prioritising research over teaching. However, they were said to be unsure about the future due to growing focus on teaching.
The study by Dulini Fernando of Warwick Business School and Laurie Cohen of Nottingham University Business School said research-intensive universities in science and engineering departments, which recruit high numbers of international staff, found that “cultural, social and domestic capital” can put Indian academics in a more favourable position than home-grown talent.
Fernando said: “The Indian academics in our study used their valuable social connections to India and important cultural knowledge to obtain highly prized symbolic capital in the form of research partnerships with leading academics in the West, thus challenging the assertion that migrants’ networks and resources do not facilitate upward career mobility.
“These findings show ‘ethnic capital’ advantages such as cultural knowledge and networks can be used to move up the career ladder.”
She said the Indian academics surveyed were comfortable with “rules which require academics to prioritise research over everything else”. She attributed this quality to competitiveness, resilience and work centrality, influenced by their early experiences of overcoming challenging circumstances and growing up in a society with limited resources.
Prominent Indian academics who have taught or teach at British universities include Amartya Sen, Priyamvada Gopal, Faisal Devji, Shruti Kapila, Sugata Mitra, Mukulika Banerjee, Rajinder Dudrah, Savyasaachi Jain, Prashant Kidambi, Daya K Thussu and Somnath Batabyal.
British Indian academics in UK universities
Year Number % of all academics
2010-11 3930 19.1
2011-12 4065 19.2
2012-13 4215 19.2
2013-14 4410 18.6
2014-15 4680 18.5
2015-16 4960 18.4
(Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency, UK)