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Studying abroad

The liberalization of the Indian economy, a process that began in 1991, is certainly a major factor behind the large and growing number of Indian students seeking education abroad.  Prior to the 1990s, only a privileged few Indian families could afford to send their children to universities outside India.  With the dramatic rise of a new Indian middle class (and increased wealth of the Indian upper class), the number of students able to pursue foreign education has skyrocketed. A search through the internet reveals that in the calendar year 1996-97, 6426 Indian students went abroad for studies while in the academic year 2003/04, there were 79,736 students from India studying in the United States alone. In fact, in 2003/04--for the third year in a row-- India remained the leading place of origin for students in the United States.

What contributes to the continuing increase in Indian students studying abroad?

The Indian university student population is projected to grow from 9.3 million students now to 11 million by 2008, according to the University Grants Commission, which funds and supports central government universities in India .  Combining this magnitude of student demand and India's combination of mega-size universities, cash- strapped government budgets and stretched resources, there is bound to be a steady increase in students leaving Indian shores to pursue higher studies abroad. Also, in India , student loans are more readily available than ever before.

Financing education abroad is not a problem anymore for Indian students with liberalized loans being available at reasonably low interest rates. According to a newspaper report, amount of loans disbursed went up from 66.8 billion in 2001 to 260.7 billion in 2004. No collaterals are required for loans up to Rs. 750,000 ($16,000). S tudents find that the investment they make in good universities abroad is well worth it in terms of career opportunities.

Also, we tend to forget that India is as large and developed as it is and therefore has a huge middle class that values education highly. Students who do not gain admission to India's premier institutions see education abroad as an alternative that will open doors for them in the future.

Preferred countries and courses

While the USA is the top destination for Indian students followed by the UK, Australia and Canada are rapidly gaining in "market share".  In recent years, Australia, the UK and France have all launched aggressive student outreach/recruitment efforts in Asia.  Stung by declining enrollments from East and Southeast Asian countries affected by the Asian currency crisis of the late 1990s, American universities have also intensified their marketing efforts to students in South Asia.   

Studies reveal that Indian students mainly go to pursue Management courses followed by Engineering, Math and Computer sciences. The majority of the Indian students study at the graduate level. In 2003/04, the breakdown of Indian students studying in the US was as follows.

79.0% Graduate level 63,013

17.0% Undergraduate level 13,531

4.0% Others 3,192


Students planning to go abroad for higher studies need to take a number of tests depending on the subject, level and the country s/he is applying for. The tests include TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GMAT and SAT. The student should ensure that s/he gives his/her best while appearing for these tests as it will maximize their chances of getting scholarships from the colleges that they apply to.


It must be remembered that applying to a foreign university is an expensive business. Taking tests is expensive. In addition, the average application fee per university is between $ 20 to $ 80. To top that all, you have to pay the tuition fees, which cost you anything between $15, 000 to $35, 000. Hence, scholarships are a very necessary item on the 'must-have' list of any student planning to go abroad for further studies – except the super-lucky ones with private funding.

Those seeking to go abroad for higher studies should be informed that most US, European and Australian colleges themselves provide scholarship. It is up to the student to do the necessary research and find out such colleges. Besides, a student can compete for a host of scholarships provided by the governments of different countries. A browse through the website of the Ministry of Human Resources Development would give you a somewhat complete picture of the how, where, when and what of scholarships.

If you are desperate in getting a foreign degree but cannot afford to leave your country to do so, you should be informed that nowadays many foreign institutions have architected innovative tie-ups such as twinning arrangements or offshore programs enabling students to get foreign degrees while in India .


What are the prospects of a person with a foreign degree? Who should apply to foreign universities? What are the prospects for those who get a foreign degree and return to India?

First, it must be remembered that the top institutes in India are considered as good as or even better than many universities abroad. If one can get in any such institute, one can get quality education right at home, and at substantially less cost.

Some universities and institutes of other countries are well known. Persons with degrees from these institutes would be much sought after here as well. On the other hand, there may be some colleges or universities which may not be well known here. A person with a degree from such colleges would certainly be at a disadvantage with employers in India. Moreover, some multinational companies prefer people from Indian institutes because they are attuned to the local environment, traditions and customs.


Study abroad is not a vacation and it should not be viewed as such. Too many students go overseas without thinking about the experience as a whole. Study abroad is fun. Study abroad is exciting and exhilarating and it can also be romantic. But study abroad is also unpredictable, difficult at times, and above all, challenging. Students who only consider the "fun" aspects of study abroad often find the more difficult parts disconcerting and often insurmountable. Students should begin the entire process of going abroad for higher studies keeping this in mind.

Related Links
Standardized test: GMAT
Standardized test: GRE
Standardized tests: SAT-I and SAT-II
English proficiency tests: TOEFL and IELTS

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