Big jump in graduate entrance tests taken in India

The numbers of GRE tests – the entrance examination used by most American graduate school programmes – taken by students in India increased by 70% in 2013 from the year before, according to figures released last Tuesday.

[This is an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, America’s leading higher education publication. It is presented here under an agreement with University World News.]

The numbers, from the Educational Testing Service that administers the GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, suggest that a recent surge in the number of Indian students entering American graduate schools may continue.

A report released last autumn by the Council of Graduate Schools showed a 40% rise in first-time graduate enrolments from India from 2012 to 2013.

New figures from the Educational Testing Service, or ETS, show that more than 90,000 GRE tests were taken by Indian students in 2013. The number of tests taken in the United States increased by 5% from the year before, while tests taken in Asia overall increased by 35%.

The total number of GRE tests taken worldwide last year was the second highest in the 65-year history of the test, at 731,000, the company said. The highest number was in 2011, when more than 800,000 tests were taken.

Christine Betaneli, a GRE spokeswoman for ETS, said the company expanded its reach in India last year by conducting more visits to campuses and student fairs. It also increased emphasis on social media engagement with Indian students.

"I believe that translated into increased awareness and knowledge," Betaneli said. "But a 70% increase is enormous, and there are probably a lot of factors that go into that jump."

Rahul Choudaha, director of research and strategic development at World Education Services, a non-profit organisation that studies international education trends, said the increase in GRE-taking in India could be the result of "pent-up demand" from that nation’s poor economy in recent years.

He also said an increasing number of business schools were using the GRE.

According to ETS, more than 1,100 business schools accept GRE scores for their MBA programmes, an 8% increase from the previous year. The number of international programmes accepting GRE scores increased by nearly 12% compared with 2012, according to ETS.

Unclear enrolment drivers

Debra W Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, said she was not sure exactly what might be driving the increase in graduate enrolments from India that her group documented in a report last November.

"I don’t have any confidence in explanations about this topic," she said.

Applications to American graduate programmes from India increased by 1% from 2009 to 2010, by 8% from 2010 to 2011, by 3% from 2011 to 2012, and by 22% from 2012 to 2013.

"India has over time been much more difficult to predict than the patterns in most other countries," she said.

When the council released its report in November, Stewart said she often heard speculation that a devaluation of the Indian currency, the rupee, could explain the increase, but she was sceptical.

"That can work two ways," she said. "People can say the Indian economy is in trouble, and therefore people are escaping and coming to the US in large numbers. Or they could say the Indian economy is in trouble, the currency is down, and therefore they can’t financially afford to come to graduate school in the US."

Stewart noted, however, that Britain, which has traditionally drawn large numbers of Indian students, had recently become less attractive to international students because of drops in international student funding and changes in immigration policies.

That, she said, might be a factor making the United States more attractive to Indian students.