The US has always been a magnet for Indian students, and now the figures suggest an increase in the number of those joining universities there. The Open Doors, an annual report on international students in the US compiled by the Institute of International Education, says that in 2015 there was a 30% increase in students from other countries going to the US over the previous year. India is the second leading place of origin for students, and 13.6% of the international student population is Indian.
The US system has several attractions. The courses are very varied and flexible. A student getting into a graduate course has to stick with the subjects chosen; in the US, the student can change midstream if he or she wants to. Students who need financial resources can access these from various sources, and universities help them in this process. In India, private scholarships are difficult to obtain, and the conditions for getting a government grant are tough and restricted largely to students in the reservation quota. Students abroad can get internships, which helps them later in the job market. Perhaps the one major attraction is the synergy between academics and industry. Many courses are tailored to help students get jobs, again quite a departure from India’s largely academically-oriented curriculum. Research opportunities are also limited in India as many higher educational institutions do not have enough infrastructure or faculty.
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The US sinks about $300 billion in higher education. India should consider investing much more in higher education as this will benefit our students and be a potentially huge revenue generator. Students from neighboring and African countries see India as an attractive education destination since it is cheaper and the medium is English. We should cast the net wider. One thing that ought to be done without delay is to ensure that international students feel welcome here. This has not always been the case, especially with African students, who face racial slurs and even violence. We must have a proactive policy of going out and seeking students once we have a more flexible and student-friendly system in place. The returns on this could be enormous, and we should not miss the bus. There are many lessons we can learn from the US, and how to structure higher education and attract a wider variety of students are certainly some of them.