If Indians think the US offers the best education, why are their numbers decreasing?

Less promise in applying to the US.
Less promise in applying to the US.
Image: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
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More than one-third of Indian students looking to study abroad consider the US to have the best education system. But because of the high cost of American universities, the falling rupee, and difficulty obtaining a visa, the same proportion of students consider studying in the UK and Australia as in the US, according to a new study.

From a poll of 500 Indians considering overseas education, 35% rated the US’s education with the best reputation, compared to 27% who ranked Australia at the top, and 19% who voted for the UK. Despite their lesser reputations, 72% of students polled are considering studying in Australia and 70% in the UK, compared to 71% in the US .

Although international students continue to flock to the US, the number of Indian students has declined for the past two years, dropping below the 100,000 mark for the academic 2012/2013 year, according to data from the Institute of International Education. Indians are still the second largest international demographic at American universities, but have been overtaken by an influx of Chinese students, who account for 28.7% of international students studying in the US. In 2012/2013, there were 96,754 Indians studying in the US, a drop of near 8% from 2010/2011, ending a near decade-long increase of Indian students coming to the US.

Tuition fees and a falling rupee account for much of this decline. A four-year undergraduate degree at a public university in the US costs on average $22,203 per year—and more than $30,000 each year for a private university—compared to an annual £12,000 ($19,420) or so in the UK for a three-year sciences and engineering degree.

With the majority of foreign students funding their studies through personal and family means—64% of all students, and 80% of undergraduates—the declining value of the rupee carves a sizable dent in Indians’ college funds. An $89,000 degree from the US that would have cost INR 4.7 million in early 2011 now racks up to INR 5.6 million. 

As well as its price tag, the US has become a less desirable destination for education because of the difficulty in attaining a permanent visa after graduation. The UK has also cracked down on immigrant visas—while Australia has opened its arms to foreign students and Canada—where 40% of students consider studying—allows graduates to remain in the country for a three-year period.

While Indian students seem to be less enamored with American universities, this isn’t the case for graduate programs. India’s slowing growth has pushed students overseas toward strengthening economies where they feel more likely to get a job, or at least a valuable graduate education. Graduate schools reported a 40% increase in Indian enrollments last year—a significant jump compared to the 1% and 2% gains seen in 2012 and 2011, respectively, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.