INDIA: Doing the maths behind scholarship figures

There is an interesting macro-micro dichotomy inherent in international scholarship programmes. While the individual beneficiaries at the micro level stand to benefit from scholarships, the scholarship-giving country may stand to be either a net gainer or a net loser at the macro level.

The world's two largest democracies, India and the United States, have many similarities, but provide some contrasts in this respect. One striking contrast is the number of foreign students pursuing higher education in their educational institutions.

While the US, the prime destination of international students from all over the world, hosts between 600,000 and 700,000 foreign students every year on average, India hosts an estimated 40,000 at the most. Thanks to the dearth of reliable data in India, other estimates would put the figures between 10,000 and 20,000 only.

On the flip side, the count of Indian students pursuing higher education abroad stands between 150,000 and 200,000, of which more than 55% study in the US, comprising 15% of all international students in the US, next only to China.

India is followed by South Korea, Canada, Taiwan and Japan. In 2010, Saudi Arabia became the seventh leading sending country to the US, moving up from tenth position in 2009 and reflecting the Saudi government's substantial investment in study abroad scholarships for its nationals.

For Indian students studying abroad, the other major destinations are the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, some EU countries like the Netherlands, Germany and France, with Singapore joining the league lately.

All these countries also offer full scholarships to Indian students, but only to 7% to 10% of them. How many of the remaining Indian students get other full or partial scholarships from the host country, from India or a third party?

Open Doors 2010 reported that 62% of all international students in the US receive the majority of their funds from personal and family sources.

When other sources of foreign funding are included, such as assistance from their home country governments or universities, and employers of sponsored students, almost 70% of all international students' primary funding comes from home countries.

According to the US Department of Commerce, international students contribute nearly $20 billion to the US economy through expenditures on tuition and living expenses.

Higher education is among America's top service sector exports to global markets, as international students provide significant revenue not just to the host campuses but also to local economies of the host states for living expenses, including room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, support for accompanying family members, and other miscellaneous items.

It would be interesting to find out how much of this is spent by Indian students, and how much of which scholarship is from the US source that covers these expenses.

While one could look for more detailed information, recent data of the Reserve Bank of India put the figure of remittances from India for Indian students paying overseas student fees abroad at US$7 billion - a whopping one-eighth of the much-celebrated overall inward remittances of US$55 billion from Indian migrants working abroad actually flowing back silently!

Add to this all the scholarships that the Indian government disburses to foreign students coming to study in the country, and that help particularly individual students from the developing and least developed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and India could figure as a high net donor on the list of Official Development Assistance source countries.

In contrast, some of those that are already high on the list would turn out to be net receivers through their global marketing mechanism hidden behind international scholarships programmes.

* Binod Khadria is from Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he is professor of economics and education and chair of the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies in the School of Social Sciences. He is also Director of the International Migration and Diaspora Studies Project, and Coordinator of the UGC DSA Programme.

* This is an edited version of a commentary in the latest edition of
Norrag News.