Trend in Study Abroad among Students of India – From an Academic Advisor’s Point of View

In this article I am trying to assess the trend of study abroad among students of India, popular country and the future trends from my counseling experience supported by the available data. India is the world’s second largest host country for outbound student mobility after China. Despite of many factors inversely affecting the sector, the growth of the “Study Abroad” aspirants in India is the highest in the world. In 2014, china has shown 8% growth whereas India recorded 10% growth.

Why India is The Big Source for Outbound Students:

Unemployment of Recent Graduates: A study shows that 33% of the recent graduates remain unemployed in India. According to a recent report (27th Feb 2018) accomplished by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), there are around 31 million unemployed Indians seeking jobs now. So the Indian students tend to move out of the home country in search of a better start of their career or a quicker growth. The easiest and more secure means to move to abroad is study visa which gives academic escalation and in-turn career lift. Thoughtful selections of the country to study always give them a steady pathway to the abroad job market with decent earning and overall magnification of lifestyle.

Education System: We belong to the world’s third largest education system with more than 18,000 colleges, 600 universities, 13 institutes of national importance and various other vocational institutes. At the same time US News ranked India as #32 in Best Countries for Education in the world. So the disparity between the number of institutes and number of “quality” institutes coupled with the reservation policies and large number of aspiring students makes the domestic admission process fiercely competitive. So an easier way to reach the excellence of education in comparatively candid way is study abroad.

Expansion of the middle-class economic group: As Dr. Simon Marginson, professor of International Higher Education at University College London and Joint Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Higher Education, puts it in his report: “The number of middle class people in Asia is expected to rise from 600 million in 2010 to more than three billion in 2030 and middle class families want tertiary education for their children.”

In 2007 the new middle class in India (that is, those spending between $2 and $10 per capita per day) is termed as India’s “bird of gold” by The McKinsey Global Institute. Income and consumption potential of new middle class people in India is swelling dramatically. By 2025 over 23 million Indians is projected to be considered as country’s wealthiest citizens and the total size of the economic group  is expected to increase by more than ten times from its current size of 50 million to 583 million people.  So the rise of the new middle class people is a vital factor for the higher numbers.


The Socio-Economic perspective: From ancient period Indian society is knowledge biased. Means of earning through knowledge based professions are given higher social stratum. As a 200 years British colony, Indians have seen many native people to gain higher education from England and gain a social status much easily than a peer who stayed back in the home country. So the Foreign Education has become the symbol of prestige and a source of brighter socio-economic attribute.

Factors affecting the mobility trend in India:

The ROI factor: The mobility trend from India is majorly influenced by the return on investment. A report from the Research & Advisory Services department at WES analyses that Indian students are looking for study abroad with limited financial resources and they are sensitive to pricing and immigration policies. From my own experience I have noticed that students generally take education loan from Indian banks in order to fulfill the cost of education as well as stay in abroad. So in maximum cases they ensure that the destination country should have friendly border policies and job prospects both during and after the study period. We have noticed that the majority of the students opt for US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, though none of the country offers education to the non-EU students in low cost. So immigration coupled with job opportunity is the most vital factor affecting the mobility trend from India.

Plan for Future: The primary factor that affects the trend is the future plan of the students or their parents. During my years of association with the professional and higher education industry I have noticed that young adults who consult with me are of three categories according to their future plan; academic oriented, career oriented and immigration oriented.

The academic oriented students mostly look for quality of education, ranked universities in abroad, level of qualification etc. They are ready to opt for off-beat destinations for study abroad also if the institute and the programme are appealing to them. The students of this category are most difficult to guide as they are both quality and cost conscious. And we all know quality and cost is always directly proportional. Mostly they approach for the research level with fellowship to balance both the factors.

The career oriented students are most common and obviously they are more inclined to the popular study destinations in abroad which have long history as career destinations, like USA, UK. They would like to invest time and money considering the recognition and employability all across the world against the gained qualification more than any other aspect.  Generally they approach me after deciding their career track (2 to 6 years of experience) for a vertical growth both in terms of academics and work profile. So, destinations opted for them for study abroad must compensate the break period from their job in terms of their future career prospect. Primarily they look for their prospects in terms of job scenario followed by the immigration opportunities. Besides USA and UK, countries like Ireland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia are also attracting them as recently UK and USA showing downward dependability as career destinations.

The third category is the easiest to guide as they are head strong towards the immigration and post-study opportunity of the host country. They are ready to change the career / stream depending on the skill shortage of the host country. They are happy to join some vocational institutes for some job oriented Diplomas and Post Graduate Diplomas. These people are mostly heading towards Canada, Australia and any other country which has welcoming border policy and laid down norms for the immigration visa. The number one country for these people is Canada as compared to Australia due to the primary reason of low cost study and comparatively easier visa process. With the attractive post-study opportunities Ireland, France, Germany and New Zealand also get the share of this category of students.

The Safety factor: Despite of all positive factors, as a peaceful nation Indian prefers a country which is offering a safe and secure environment. We have seen the period of downfall in Australia mobility during 2010-13, though the country offered quality education with friendly border policy. Many students do not opt for Japan or New Zealand just because they are part of “ring of fire” – so earthquake prone.

English Language factor: For obvious reasons English speaking countries get the priority over the non-English countries by the Indians. The British Colonial influence has made English as a common language for Government, Education and other work fields in this land of diversity which has at least 22 official languages. So the students feel comfortable to opt for a country where English is used as media of instruction as well as official language. Thus smaller EU countries with English as popular language is also emerging like Ireland, Austria, Malta etc.

Major Host countries:

As per Ministry of External Affairs’ data ( as of August 2017, an estimated 5.53 lakh Indian students are studying in 86 host countries in the world. Five major countries- US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand cover nearly 85% of the total outbound students from India.

USA, Canada and Australia are the only three countries with more than 50,000 students from India with USA leading the pool. Historically USA attracts Indian students, especially for the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) due to its quality of education, scholarship opportunities and work opportunities followed by immigration prospects. But recently, USA as a destination lost some of its attractiveness due to its stricter visa rules and change in immigration laws. Even the Undergraduate admission from India has dropped in 2017; the parents are concerned about the increasing incidents of campus violence in US institutes.

Owing to changes in the immigration laws and stricter border policies, UK is experiencing a 12% fall from the India market. The Brexit and post Brexit uncertainty is creating adverse effect on the UK mobility to a large scale. Moreover, many students have come back from UK as the post study opportunities are less and due to job crisis, especially for non-EU passport holders. Though completing an UK degree from a reputed university makes you an international worker, but UK education is expensive; Indian banks have become very sensitive in sanctioning the education loan for UK education. Thus India has become third country in the world for sending students to UK after China and USA.

The fall of USA and UK has been balanced by Canada and Australia; both countries have immigration friendly policies and post-study stay-back opportunities for international students.

Though as immigration friendly and quality education country New Zealand has shown growth in past few years and thus taken the position in top 5 as a host country, but recent changes in student visa rules, visa restrictions and changes in the immigration terms and conditions is affecting the growth. Thus in 2017, there are just 9429 study visa applications, down from 16,380 in 2016 and 25,977 in 2015. Of the 9429 applications, 6429 were approved and 3004 were declined.

The restrictions in UK, USA and NZ has increased the mobility in Canada and Australia; but in search of easier job market the search for immigration and job friendly countries have spread in European countries. Especially Germany with its quality “Free Education”, post study stay allowance for international students and open job market has attracted many students, especially in Engineering and Technology.

France also has increased the mobility with its post study stay, job market especially in the field of Management and Creative streams.

Apart from the above mentioned countries In 2017 we have seen better response to Russia, Ukraine, Philippines, Sweden, China and Ireland. Bahrain has always attracted people for its job friendly market.

What could be near term trends of mobility of Indian students?

More than 300 million Indian people are under the age of 15 and till 2030 it is expected that every month 1 million Indians will become adult who are the major target audience for study abroad; though many of them will not continue for higher education or may opt for vocational streams, but the fiercely competitive domestic education market will compel Indian students to move abroad. According to the British Council, in 2024, in terms of total tertiary-aged population India will be largest in the world and home to over 119 million, whereas China is showing decreasing trend and in 2024 they are expected to reduce to 79 million. They also predict that India will have the highest number of tertiary enrolments in 2024, numbering 48 million, followed by China (37 million).

The fastest growing G-20 economy of India (as per OECD) with its flourishing middle economic group and their ever demanding consumer behavior of achieving the further economic excellence and social excellence will attract more students to approach for study abroad.

Among the five major English speaking giants except Canada and Australia, are showing downfall due to many reasons, the other countries are becoming the emerging host countries. Especially the countries with favorable job prospects and post study opportunities. Now-a-days non-English speaking countries are also showing mobility trends, like Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, Russia, Ukraine etc. The fall of UK has positively impacted the numbers for Ireland, Germany, France and other EU countries with better job prospects and lower tuition fees.

So, the future trends shows inclination towards Europe and diverse countries of the world.

Thanks for reading. Hope you find it interesting. You may contact me for consultation at The Outreach, Kolkata, mail at or whatsapp me at +91-7044434969




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *