UK-India relationship ‘at risk’ as student numbers slide

Top diplomat says the collapse in Indian student numbers in the UK could destroy traditionally strong links between the two countries

February 28, 2017
India, UK, flag
Source: iStock

The UK risks losing its traditionally strong relationship with India if the number of students from the subcontinent entering British universities continues to fall, a senior diplomat has said.

In a stark warning about the UK’s waning “soft power”, Dinesh Patnaik, India’s deputy high commissioner in London, said that the halving of the number of Indians enrolling to study in the UK since 2010 could jeopardise political and economic ties between the two countries.

Speaking at an awards dinner in Mayfair on 22 February, Mr Patnaik said that education had been the “most cementing factor” in the Anglo-Indian relationship for decades, but would be undermined if Indian student numbers in the UK continued to shrink.

“Students and academics play a great role in cementing this relationship,” Mr Patnaik told an audience of Indian and Anglo-Indian business and education leaders.

“If we do not put some pressures on this [situation], we will lose this relationship,” he added.

Mr Patnaik explained that Indian student numbers in the UK had fallen from a peak of about 40,000 to about 17,000. At the same time, the numbers at US institutions had grown dramatically from an already high base of 100,000.

Indian student numbers are “increasing everywhere…even in Germany, which has just crossed 10,000 students for the first time”, he said.

As Indian students spent about £32,000 a year on average while in the UK, Mr Patnaik said “it is Britain who is the loser” from the reduction in student numbers.

However, not having Indian political leaders educated in the UK could pose a greater problem between the two countries in the long term, he added, observing that leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were alumni of UK universities.

“That brought great links between our countries and the diaspora continued it, but if we look at 10 years from today we will not have that,” he said.

“We will have people who come here, do not feel good and do not come back,” he added, saying that both countries needed to “work together to bring the education sector into focus so [that] students feel comfortable here”.

Other speakers at the event, which was hosted by Indian edtech firm SkillTree and communications consultancy Sterling Media, included Sanam Arora, president of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, who said that the UK needed to be aware of the influence that Indian-born graduates now wielded in business and politics.

“Some of the people who lead the world’s biggest companies, such as Google’s [chief executive officer] Sundar Pichai, are Indians and were students – the Indian diaspora is now students,” she said.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy