‘Whole UK sector can benefit’ from shift to India on enrolment

Assessment comes after visa figures suggest surge in demand from India despite pandemic

December 7, 2020
A vendor displays his stock of balloons in the tri-colours of the national flag on a street in Bangalore.
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All types of universities in the UK can benefit from the apparent resurgence in interest from Indian students because their subject choices have become much “broader” than in the past, according to the head of a group representing them in the country.

Sanam Arora, founder of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, made the comments as the latest Home Office data showed that study visas granted to Indian students have leaped by almost half in a year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The 48 per cent year-on-year rise in the number of Tier 4 visas for Indian nationals was accompanied by a 56 per cent drop in those issued to students from China, leaving the countries just a few percentage points apart in the share of visas for the year to September.

Although the major explanation for the shift is the disruption caused by the pandemic, questions might be raised about the effect on UK universities if there were a long-term shift to India from China.

In 2018-19, students from China made up more than half of all non-UK master’s students in more than 20 universities, most of them research-intensive institutions. In all these universities, Indian students made up less than 10 per cent of non-UK postgraduate taught numbers and less than 5 per cent in most of them.

Figures on postgraduate research also show that Chinese PhD students are very concentrated in particular disciplines – almost half of all doctoral students from China study in the physical sciences or engineering. For India, the share is more like a third.

However, Ms Arora said the demand from Indian students for particular subjects was broadening rapidly, and she could see no reason why all universities could not recruit more from the country if that ended up being a long-term trend.

“Historically…the Indian mentality would have been ‘go off and become an accountant or go off and become a doctor or a banker’,” and this might have “restricted the subjects they would have studied”, she said.

“Now what we are seeing is there is a lot more specialisation from Indian students. There is share in the pie for everyone here, regardless of what kind of university they are or what kind of course they offer.”

Ms Arora added that the reintroduction of a post-study work visa in the UK meant that student demand from India had now returned to its “natural state”. However, she said there was an opportunity for the UK to go further and “redirect” student flows that might be going to other countries with an even more attractive post-study offer.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said it was important to remember that visa figures this year would have been heavily influenced by the different impact of Covid on China and India, meaning “Indian students have less disincentives to come to the UK at present”.

“Present visa patterns almost certainly will not hold as they are into 2021 and 2022, and other factors will come into play: for example, in the medium term, the UK may benefit from a drop-off in Chinese students going to the US,” he said.

But, he added, if over the long term there was a “drop-off of good quality Chinese doctoral students”, then “the UK research system would have a problem, especially in STEM disciplines” and “India would not be enough to compensate by itself”.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

This excellent news will lead to a win-win scenario. Clever Indians famed for mathematics can excel in UK research and drive growth in digitalisation in industry in the Commonwealth. PRC now has sufficient domestic capacity to develop its workforce as it ploughs ahead on all fronts. As the petroleum era fades PRC can focus on SE Asia to develop RE . Having long-standing links with Britain, India is free of espionage baggage. Today the article on US fears of PRC illustrates the hazards of cooperation with a communist hegemon threatening India's security..

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