India set on becoming a major regional study destination

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • India has set a goal to quadruple its foreign student numbers, and to host 200,000 visiting students, by 2023
  • In support of that goal, the Indian government has launched a new Study in India campaign, complete with a major web portal, an international marketing campaign, and full or partial fee waivers for up to 15,000 international students

For the past couple of years, we’ve been watching as China – the world’s largest student sending market – has rapidly developed its own capacity as a destination for students, and is competing convincingly with the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada for international students. Now India, which sends the second greatest number of students out for study abroad after China, is also positioning itself as a compelling Asian study destination. India’s goal is to be a top choice for African and Asian students looking for affordable credentials from well-regarded higher education providers.

Study in India programme launched to position India as an Asian education hub

Last week, the Indian government announced that it aims to increase its international student enrolment from 47,500 students to 200,000 students by 2023. If achieved, this will quadruple India’s foreign student numbers in the span of five years – an ambitious target to say the least.

In recognition of what it will take to reach the goal of 200,000 international enrolments, the government is investing heavily in a new programme called Study in India. The programme comprises a series of integrative initiatives aimed at branding India as an affordable education hub for Asian and African students, and it was announced last week with delegates from more than 30 countries in attendance.

external-affairs-minister-sushma-swaraj-speaking-at-the-official-launch-of-study-in-india-in-new-delhi
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj speaking at the official launch of Study in India in New Delhi, 18 April 2018. Source: Study in India

Study in India has an initial budget of USD$22 million over two years and its components include a new web portal to respond to students’ interests and questions; a major new recruitment strategy targeted at students in Africa and Asia; reserved spaces for international students at India’s top universities; and a new waiver system and expedited visa processes for students from targeted regions.

The Study in India programme is jointly administered by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Speaking by video message at the launch event, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Prakash Javadekar provided this context for the ambitious new programme:

“We observed that the number of students coming to India for higher studies had become stagnant and more students were going to countries like Singapore and Australia. That is when we decided to make a single spot information gateway to attract more students, make our visa process hassle free and also offer fee waiver to students.”

Key target countries for Study in India include Nepal, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Kuwait, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Rwanda, and the Indian government plans to invest substantially in outreach activities to students across these markets.

Currently the top sending countries for India are Nepal (24%), Afghanistan (9%) and Bhutan (5%), and Nigeria and Sudan (4% each).

15,000 new seats and fee waivers

As part of the Study in India campaign, India will now reserve 15,000 spots a year for international students to study in the country’s top 160 universities and colleges. These institutions include IITs and IIMs, National Institutes of Technology (NITs), and other institutions ranked highly on the National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) or which have received the highest ratings by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).

Any spaces allotted to international students that are not filled by the start of a study term will remain unfilled (i.e., they won’t go to domestic students) – an illustration of how serious India is about its bid to attract foreign students. Responding to concerns that top Indian students would now as a result be shut out of a place in the country’s best universities, the government said that the 15,000 seats would represent extra capacity, and that there would be just as many seats available for Indian students as before.

To further entice international students to come study in India, the government announced last week that 55% of the 15,000 spots at the top universities will be supported by a fee waiver system. These are targeted at Asian and African students and awarded based on merit. Of students who are accepted for admission, the top 25% will receive a full 100% subsidy for their studies. The next 25% are covered for 50% of study costs, and the remaining students receive a 25% discount on tuition.

A gap in the marketplace

Key to the strategy behind Study in India is a recognition that Western destinations and institutions are out of reach for many students in Asia and Africa.

Speaking to The National, Meeta Sengupta, founder of a New Dehli-based think tank called Centre for Education Strategy, notes that “traditional first-world systems” do not always meet the higher education needs of students in emerging economies. Ms Sengupta cited high tuition, difficulties in obtaining visas and competitive admission processes as some of the barriers to Asian and African students’ ability to study in Western institutions. These are issues the Study in India programme wants to remove for students, while at the same time offering students a high quality of education at India’s foremost higher education institutions.

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