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Survey highlights continuing strong demand among Indian and Nepali students during COVID-19

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A recent survey of Indian and Nepali secondary school students finds a significant percentage (three in ten) planning to study abroad, and less than 10% intending to take a gap year after secondary studies
  • Half of these students say it’s too early to tell what impact COVID-19 will have on their study abroad plans, while a quarter say their plans have been disrupted
  • Affordability and post-study work opportunities are major factors in destination attractiveness
  • Gun violence, high crime rates, racism, and unfavourable immigration policies are reasons that students would not choose a destination
  • There is marked demand for career counselling among Indian and Nepali students who are highly focused on career choices even in high school

Indian education-focused think tank IC3 has just released a report summarising the results of a student survey conducted in June and July 2020 that examined the outlook of more than 2,000 Indian students, as well as a smaller number of Nepali students, in this time of COVID-19. The report is entitled Staying Resilient, Looking Ahead: COVID-19’s influence on Indian and Nepalese students’ views on education and careers.

The research helps to illuminate why students from the region are increasingly considering a wider array of destinations. There is a distinct relationship between a destination’s popularity and its (1) affordability and (2) immigration policies.

3 in 10 plan to study abroad

The survey found that 44% of Indian and Nepali high school students plan to study in India after they graduate, 29% want to study abroad, and 19.5% aren’t sure yet what they will do. Interestingly, only 7% plan to take a gap year “due to the Coronavirus,” and less than 1% said they would go straight on after high school to a job. That three in ten Indian and Nepalese students say they plan to study broad – even as the pandemic continues – is striking evidence of the high level of demand from this region.

Of course, the reality is that COVID-19 will delay or cancel some study abroad plans, as much as students would rather this not be the case. But at this stage, half of surveyed students (52%) said it was too early to tell whether the virus would impact their plans – a finding that underlines the importance of keeping communications going with prospects regardless of whether COVID-19 cross-border travel restrictions are in place.

Quality trumps prestige

The top motivator for Indian and Nepali students who want to study abroad is a perception that the quality of education is better (68%), followed by a sense that “overseas institutions offer a more flexible curriculum” (51%), and that “studying abroad leads to professional success” (44%). Notably, the “prestige of a foreign degree” was cited by only 24% – a percentage that would almost certainly have been higher 5–10 years ago. Indian and Nepalese students are looking for high-quality degrees that prepare them for good careers – and these degrees do not have to necessarily be from institutions in the traditional destinations of the US and UK for many students. In fact, Canada (64%) is now almost as popular as the UK (67%) as a study destination for Indians and Nepali; Australia is also a strong competitor (41%).

Affordability and job opportunities top priorities

While the US is still #1 in surveyed students’ minds (75%), students’ responses to other questions illuminate why they are also considering other destinations.

For example, more than half of Indian and Nepali students said that affordability and ability to get a job after studying was “very important” – only “quality of teaching” edged out these two factors. Canada and Australia are both compelling destinations, relatively speaking, when assessed according to affordability and post-study work rights; both have in fact developed policies to help protect work rights for international students faced with COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The UK has also recently become more competitive as it has restored two-year post-study work visas (three years for PhD students).

If affordability and work opportunities are “pull” factors for Indian and Nepali students considering study abroad, factors that would instead make them decide against a destination include:

• Unfavourable immigration policies (54%)
• Inability to work after graduation (50%)

Here again, we get an insight into why Indian and Nepali students are considering a wider array of destinations. In the US – where the quality of higher education remains exceptional at top institutions – the current US administration has fostered a distinctly anti-immigration climate and moved to limit post-study work rights. Not coincidentally, Indian student numbers rose by just 2.9% in 2018/19. In contrast, these were the trends in major competitor destinations:

The IC3 report notes,

“When asked about their post-study plans after completing their undergraduate degree in their country of choice, the majority reported wanting to stay back in the country either for further education (35%), or for future employment (27%), once again emphasising the importance of the post-study options that countries provide their international students.”

Indian students are also greatly influenced in their choice of destination by:

• Concern about personal safety and gun violence (62%)
• Concern about high crime rates (57%)
• Concern about racist attacks (54%)

After the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, the next most popular destination for surveyed Indian and Nepali students is Singapore (32%). Germany (27%) and France (15.5%) are also popular, and Indian student numbers in these countries have also been rising steadily.

Jobs on the brain

A striking finding from the report is that Indian high school students are likely to be highly engaged in discussions about their future career, highlighting the important role that career advisors can play in recruitment in India:

“Almost 70% of students are already beginning to think about their future employment prospects, with the remainder largely undecided. Two-thirds discuss future careers often with their peers and friends, but the remaining rarely or never do so. A similar proportion indicated that they had engaged in career-related conversations with career advisers, teachers and other professionals. Where such conversations did occur, the majority (84%) found them to be helpful.”

But here’s the problem – and the opportunity:

“While the majority of students (94%) agree or strongly agree that career and college counselling at this stage is very important for them, only 15% strongly agreed that the level of counselling currently available to them at school was adequate, with a further 37% agreeing.”

Desire for in-person education remains strong

The potential for strong demand from the Indian and Nepalese markets once COVID-19 travel restrictions ease is illustrated in the nearly three-quarters (72%) of surveyed students who disagreed or strongly disagreed that online education is a good substitute for in-person teaching and learning. These students remain optimistic even in the face of the pandemic, with 62% agreeing that “Despite COVID-19, I am optimistic about my future.”

For additional background, please see:


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