UK and Canada ‘becoming more attractive’ to Indian students

Survey finds concerns about safety and unfavourable immigration policies are key factors deterring Indian and Nepalese students from overseas destinations

September 17, 2020
Indian students
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The UK and Canada are catching up with the US as the most attractive study-abroad destinations for prospective Indian students, according to a report.

The study, based on a survey of 2,252 high school students in India and Nepal, found that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of respondents still plan to attend university either within their home country or abroad despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The US remains the most attractive destination for study abroad, but the UK and Canada are “gain[ing] ground”, according to the research published by the IC3 Institute, which trains high schools in career and college counselling and is also a thinktank on global higher education.

Three-quarters (75 per cent) of respondents selected the US as one of their top five destinations for studying abroad, with the UK (67 per cent) and Canada (64 per cent) following in second and third place. Australia was the next most popular destination, but it was chosen by only 41 per cent of students.

In June, the former universities minister Jo Johnson said dramatically increasing the number of Indian students would be key to the UK’s remaining competitive in global international student recruitment after Covid-19 and Brexit.

When deciding against a particular study destination, 62 per cent of respondents said concerns about personal safety and gun violence were a very important factor, followed by worries about high crime rates (57 per cent), concern about racist attacks (54 per cent) and unfavourable immigration policies (54 per cent).

The survey was carried out in June and July and participants were in the final four years of high school, with 70 per cent of respondents in the last two years.

While this was the first IC3 Institute survey of its kind, Rajika Bhandari, president of the organisation, said the findings represented “tremendous gains” for the UK and Canada. She said the UK had “reclaimed the space” as an attractive destination for Indian students after announcing that it would reinstate the two-year post-study work visa this year, while Canada’s “very liberal policies” on immigration were paying off.

However, she added, while the two countries had seen a “dramatic growth” in terms of perception, “it remains to be seen at what point those countries reach saturation” given that their higher education sectors are much smaller than that of the US.

The report, Staying Resilient, Looking Ahead: Covid-19’s influence on Indian and Nepalese students’ views on education and careers, adds that the motivation for studying abroad for Indian and Nepalese students has less to do with “what is not available at home” and more to do with the pull factors of “perceived opportunities available abroad”. Dr Bhandari said this represented a shift compared with previous studies and was a result of the rise in the quality of Indian universities.

Students reported overseas institutions offering a better quality of education as the main reason for studying abroad (68 per cent), followed by overseas institutions offering a more flexible curriculum (51 per cent) and study abroad leading to professional success (44 per cent).

Anna Esaki-Smith, co-founder and managing director of Education Rethink and co-author of the report, said the shift from push to pull factors, combined with the growing importance of “personal fulfilment” over salary when making career choices, as reflected in the survey, meant that universities “need to be more strategic in how they recruit students” and look to a broader range of disciplines for international recruitment.

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