India’s supply-demand gap in education expected to drive international mobility

India’s position as a key player in global student mobility is set to grow in the next decade, according to a recent report. Meanwhile, proposed reforms to India’s higher education sector illuminate how forecasted growth in both mobile and overall tertiary numbers will occur against a backdrop of significant new efforts to expand and internationalise India’s universities and colleges.

Postgraduate student growth

One notable example of growth is the rapid rise in outbound postgraduate student mobility. As we reported recently, a new report produced by the British Council, Postgraduate student mobility trends to 2024, suggests that India is set to become one of the fastest-growing sources of mobile postgraduate students over the next ten years.

According to Zainab Malik, author of the report and director of research for Education Intelligence in the British Council, India will account for 54% of the growth of inbound postgraduate students to the United States by 2024. While India will have the most tertiary students in the world by that year – 48 million, compared to 37 million for China – China will still be the largest overall source of outbound students, at 338,000, compared to India’s 209,000.

The report traces the key “drivers of change” that will propel outbound mobility from major markets like India in the coming decade. The chief driver will be seismic demographic shifts that will see the number of tertiary aged students grow (or shrink) across countries. The tertiary aged population in India, for example, will rise to over 119 million in 2024 (from just over 115 million in 2013), even as this same demographic group will see significant declines in countries like China, Russia, Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan.

Overall, India’s growth in mobile postgraduates will be driven by this rise in tertiary enrolment, but also by economic growth and expanding incomes. “For destination markets, this is likely to be the real opportunity for inbound student growth over the next decade,” the report highlights. While the largest destination country for Indian postgraduate students will continue to be the United States, Australia, Germany, the UK, and to a lesser extent Canada will also see a rise in Indian postgraduate students to 2024.

Profile of mobile Indian students

So who are these new globally mobile Indian students? A recent guest blog in University World News by Rahul Choudaha, chief knowledge officer and senior director of strategic development at World Education Services (WES), provides some insight into the changing profile of mobile Indian students.

In recent years, Dr Choudaha explains, typical Indian students choosing to study abroad were so-called ‘strivers’. This segment tended to be enrolled in masters-level programmes in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). In the US, for example, three-quarters of Indian masters students are enrolled in STEM programmes. According to Dr Choudaha, this cohort has traditionally relied on student loans or financial aid to finance their studies, which is why the impact of the 2008 global recession – and the resulting credit crunch – has kept the growth of this segment anemic.

Beginning in 2015, however, “the biggest change in the profile of Indian students aspiring to global education will be the emergence of ‘high fliers’ – those who are academically prepared and more importantly have an ability to pay for their experiences,” Dr Choudaha maintains.

He defines ‘high fliers’ as children born in the late 1990s to parents working in new age industries like IT, financial services, and telecommunications. These parents are considerably more well off than previous generations and more likely to invest in top quality education abroad for their children.

At the secondary level, many of these high-flying students attend expensive international schools offering programmes like the international baccalaureate. This cohort will begin to seek out undergraduate programmes abroad next year, and will look for high-quality masters programmes a few years later, Dr Choudaha predicts. International universities looking to make the most of this transition will need to adapt and tailor their internationalisation strategies to account for this shift.

(Editor’s note: For more on the WES segmentation model, please see our related post.)

Strong growth in overall enrolment rates

Growth in outbound mobility comes at a time when overall higher education enrolment rates are also rising rapidly in India.

A further British Council report pegs the current higher education participation rate at 18% (compared to 26% in China or 36% in Brazil) and highlights the Indian government’s goal to increase participation to 30% by 2020 – a target that would require an increase of 14 million spaces over six years. (And this on top of a reported two million new spaces created since 2009.)

In short, India is planning a massive expansion of its higher education system over the next decade.

The Hindu Business Line indicates that financial accessibility, physical accessibility, and “virtual accessibility,” or online education, will all play a key role in the availability and effectiveness of Indian higher education in the coming years. However, an expansion of the scale and pace currently imagined will no doubt come with some daunting quality control issues and with new prospects for expanded participation by the private sector and by foreign providers.

Much of this upcoming growth is projected to occur at the undergraduate level.

“The undergraduate sector in India is huge,” adds the British Council. “Under the new five-year plan (2012-17), undergraduate education, for the first time, has been elevated to a top priority position in the government’s push on expansion, inclusion and excellence.

However, even a dramatically expanded system will not keep pace with forecasted demand. As the British Council observes, “By some estimates, even if India succeeds in its target of 30% [gross enrolment rate] by 2020, 100 million qualified students will still not have places at university.”

Latest round of proposed higher education reforms

In part to address increasing demand, and to pave the wave for easier domestic mobility and deeper internationalisation, the Indian government announced a new round of proposed reforms in September. According to The Times of India, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani plans a higher education overhaul set to deliver guidelines for common admission, common curriculum, student and faculty mobility, as well as a national system of credit transfers.

“Imagine one university with 39 campuses with seamless mobility of students and teachers. Common curriculum and admission will be a great step forward,” said an HRD official quoted by The Times.

Minister Irani has also moved to expand coordination between academia and industry in order to “promote research, mobilise resources, develop market-ready manpower and enhance employability.”

In addition, through a new system called Global Initiative for Academic Networks (GIAN), universities will provide a list of eminent scholars and researchers from within and outside the country to invite to their universities, as one key effort to deepen international collaboration in Indian higher education.

New rankings on the way

The Hindustan Times reports, meanwhile, that India’s HRD Ministry has also proposed the formation of a committee to develop a framework for India-specific rankings. According to Professor Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director of IIT Madras, “Indian universities (and colleges) will be ranked in comparison with peer universities/colleges. Foreign universities/colleges will be included in this. The parameters and factors will be selected based on what is relevant for bachelor’s and master’s programmes, research programmes, and for different disciplines such as sciences, engineering, medicine, law, liberal arts, [and] fine arts.”

According to Karthick Sridhar, founder of the Indian Centre for Assessment and Accreditation (ICAA), “A committee comprising the higher education secretary, academic leaders and vice chancellors are discussing the framework. Some of the factors that will be considered and those which do not yet feature in the global rankings are: inclusiveness and social impact; governance and administration; patents filed and received; accreditation; infrastructure; and class diversity.”

Dr Sridhar explains that in order to arrive at the rankings, universities will be invited to submit the necessary data and a robust analysis will be completed. The model will be created along the lines of global rankings so that the ratings could be used to help Indian institutions improve their performance at national, BRICs, regional, and global level, he adds.

A fresh look at internationalisation in India

Finally, in a recent blog post in Inside Higher Ed, Eldho Mathews, a consultant with the Indian HRD Ministry, takes a closer look at the current state of higher education internationalisation efforts across India today. Mr Mathews describes how economic and trade liberalisation has provided greater opportunities for transnational and cross-border education.

In addition to the large numbers of Indian students now studying abroad, and a smaller number of international students choosing to study in India (mainly from Asian and African nations), a number of Indian branch campuses have been established abroad, such as the offshore campus of Manipal University in Malaysia and additional offshore centres in the Gulf region.

Despite these initiatives, he finds that few Indian universities include internationalisation in their integrated strategic planning frameworks, a situation ascribed to the fact that India does not currently have a national policy governing the entry or operation of foreign higher education institutions. Likewise, few Indian institutions have alliances with foreign universities on joint course delivery, joint research, faculty and staff mobility, or other forms of collaboration. According to Mr Mathews, institutions most active in these areas tend to be newer, private institutions – those who use such internationalisation activities as value-added activities to strengthen their market position.

For Mr Mathews, the surge in the number of Indians studying abroad and a growing number of partnerships with foreign universities have occurred not because of government policy, but due to domestic political and social changes. That the number of Indian students abroad seems poised for further, substantial growth – amidst increasing efforts on the part of the government to reform and expand Indian education – points to the likelihood that internationalisation activities of all sorts will continue to play a key role in Indian higher education in the years ahead.



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