The dramatic decline in the number of Indian students in the UK might not be down to government policies but could instead reflect the growing costs of studying abroad and better options at home, a report suggests.
The number of Indian students at British universities fell by 24 per cent in 2011-12, with some blaming the shortfall on the government’s scrapping of the post-study work visa, which gave international graduates the automatic right to work in the UK for two years.
Much of the Indian media has perceived changes to the student visa regime as signs of UK hostility towards foreign students.
But Inside India: A New Status Quo, a survey of more than 10,000 Indian students carried out between September and November by the British Council, found that the UK nevertheless remains the most desirable study destination, being the preferred choice for 21 per cent of respondents.
The US comes second (19 per cent), followed by India itself (14 per cent).
High cost is the biggest deterrent factor to studying abroad, cited by 65 per cent of respondents – a greater perceived obstacle than the difficulties obtaining visas (44 per cent) and a lack of work options (34 per cent).
Inside India notes that the number of Indian students in the US has been falling slightly since 2009-10, even though its visa system has remained largely unchanged.
Liz Shepherd, research manager at the British Council and author of the report, said that even without adverse publicity in India over visa issues, “the UK may have witnessed a decrease in the number of Indian students anyway”, although it might not have been so “dramatic”.
The “first and foremost” reason for the decline was the rising cost of studying abroad, she said.
Although the value of the Indian rupee collapsed by up to a fifth last summer, she pointed out that it had been on a downwards trajectory for years.
Second, Indian universities themselves were rising in quality and taking more students, she added.
“Where have all the Indian students gone? I think they have stayed at home,” Ms Shepherd said.
She also revealed that about a quarter of the 40 Indians interviewed in depth for the report had been learning German so that they might study there.
The report cites figures from HSBC, released earlier this year, that show the average annual tuition fee for international students in Germany to be $635 (£390), a fraction of the UK average ($19,291).