Historically a country that sends its students abroad for higher education, India is seeking to rebrand itself as a higher education destination. Within the past year, India has invested substantial resources in a series of initiatives and agreements to bolster international student enrollment and improve the quality of Indian higher education institutions (HEIs). These include the Study in India campaign, which seeks to quadruple the country’s current number of inbound students by the year 2023; and the Institutions of Eminence program, which will venture to put 20 Indian HEIs within the top 500 world rankings.

India is also in the midst of planning a series of agreements with countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, to mutually recognize one another’s education credentials. Though India’s higher education system, one of the largest in the world, has significant assets, it also faces critical challenges. These must be addressed for India to become a repository of higher education excellence within the region.

India as a Source Country

India is an important player in the field of international higher education as a source of international students; in fact, India sends more students abroad than any other country except China. In 2016, more than a quarter million Indian students studied internationally, compared with only 44,766 students who arrived in India from abroad. The number of both outbound and inbound Indian students has steadily increased since 2000, except for a brief dip in outbound students from 2011 to 2013.

According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 76 percent of Indian students pursuing their tertiary education abroad traveled to five countries in 2016: the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. The U.S. alone accounted for 40 percent of all outbound Indian students. These numbers have begun to shift, however, in part because of changing student visa policies in several countries. In 2017, the U.S. instituted stricter visa policies and saw a 28 percent decline in F-1 student visas issued to Indian students.

The U.K. recently made changes to ease the visa process for international students from 26 countries; however, it omitted India. There was a significant backlash to this move, which is likely to lower even further the number of Indian students studying in the U.K., a number already less than half what it was six years ago.

And Australia recently eliminated its 457 visa category, which had allowed international professionals to work in the country for up to four years; the termination of this visa is disproportionately affecting Indians.

Canada, on the other hand, streamlined its visa process for four countries, including India, and reduced its processing time from 60 to 45 days in 2017; this produced a 58 percent increase in visas issued to Indian students.

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Report by: Makala Skinner, Research Associate, WES

India as a Destination: Ambitions and Challenges

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