NEW DELHI— After declining for some years, the number of Indian students heading to the United States for graduate and undergraduate studies is surging. A major factor is the lack of quality universities in India to cater to a huge, young population.
Hundreds of students have been lining up at the American Embassy in New Delhi this summer to get a visa to study in a college in the United States. Besides Delhi, they come from smaller cities such as Jaipur and Lucknow in northern India.
Some are headed for undergraduate studies in commerce and engineering, others are going to pursue a masters in American universities.
One student explains the reason of his choice,“The flexibility of subjects, and the practical learning you get there. It is because of the exposure you get in the U.S. I do not think any other country can provide you with the exposure.”
Another student says, “It was my dream, it was like my ambition do my higher studies in U.S.”
Indian students account for about 12 percent of foreign students in the United States - the second highest after China.
But their numbers dipped between 2009 and 2012, when the American economy slowed due to the global financial crisis. Officials at the American Embassy in New Delhi say numbers are surging again, 40 percent more student visas have been issued since October 2013.
Appeal of US studies
The United States attracts the most Indian students headed to study overseas - about 100,000 Indian students are studying on American campuses. Britain and Australia are other popular destinations.
Education consultants in India say higher affluence has made a foreign education more affordable. But the major factor is the formidable competition for admission to a good college in India, where about half of the 1.2 billion people are under age 25.
A professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, Rupa Chanda, says supply of quality higher education in India has fallen short of demand.
“The rising competition, the lack of sufficient number of quality institutions in India, the fact that there has not been enough increase in capacity in some of the seats in coveted disciplines people want to study in," she said. "And really if you do not get into the top tier, there is not much to choose from.”
In the most coveted engineering colleges such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, less than two percent of applicants are accepted.
Tough local requirements
Admissions are based on entrance tests for which most students undertake two years of grueling coaching.
In most other colleges, students are admitted on the basis of their school grades. But the “cut off” scores to apply are becoming out of reach for even bright students. This year they exceed 95 percent at top colleges in Delhi University.
It is this rigorous competition that prompted 18-year-old Shaurya Dhankar from Delhi to apply to colleges in the United States instead of an Indian college.
“First of all the cut offs are really high, and also because I had good extra curriculars, which were advantageous for me in applying to the U.S. Not much appreciation is given for them in India... the U.S. system is much more simple and relaxed. I did not have to give any entrances, and you know, study all day for them,” said Dhankar.
Successive governments in India have acknowledged the problem, but academics say little has been done to address it. The previous government had prepared a bill to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India, but it has not yet received parliamentary approval.
American officials are upbeat about the students heading to their country. Michael Pelletier at the American Embassy says they contribute to the links that bring the two countries together through “people to people” ties.
“It is something that is incredibly important, incredibly important to you, incredibly important to our countries as well because those are the sort of relationships and experiences you will draw on for the rest of your life,” he said.
There is a flip side for India. Business groups say the country could save billions of dollars in foreign exchange if it could offer more students a quality education at home.