India overtakes China in outbound student growth

The growth rate in the number of students from India heading to universities abroad has outpaced China for the first time, according to a new report on Indian student mobility trends to the main English-speaking countries – the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

These five destination countries account for nearly 85% of outbound student mobility from India.

Although overall student numbers from India heading abroad are still behind China – crossing the 300,000 mark in 2014, compared to more than 650,000 from China, big rises in Indian students going to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand point to a revival of interest from India after a four to five year drop, and a trend that will have implications on all receiving countries, according to the just-released report by New Delhi-based MM Advisory Services entitled Indian Students Mobility Report 2015: Latest trends from India and globally.

India is “at the centre of action now, just as China has been for the past decade or so”, says Maria Mathai, director of MM Advisory Services, as international student numbers from India grew faster than from China for the first time ever in 2014.

While China saw a growth rate of 8% in student numbers to the five destination countries between 2013 and 2014, for India the increase was just over 10% during the same period – a “significant development” according to the report which brings together statistics from government departments in the main receiving countries, the Institute of International Education in the US, the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD, to examine trends since 2005.

International student numbers from India crossed the 300,000 mark in 2014, with the figure climbing back to its previous high of 2009 before it declined for four years.

“This year the direction has changed, and in a strong manner. Except for the UK, every other country has seen more students go [there] from India this year than previously,” the report said.

Even the biggest market, the US, grew sharply by 8.1%, the biggest growth for the US since 2005. The US will continue to be the most popular destination for international students in the years to come, the report predicts.

“Considering that Indian student numbers to the top five destination countries had been declining for the past few years before 2014, this bounce-back could be significant ,” Mathai told University World News. “According to our analysis this growth trend will continue for the next few years.”

Australia, New Zealand gains

Among destination countries for international students overall, Australia led growth, registering a rise of 12% between 2013 and 2014 compared to increases of 8.1% for the US, and 2.4% in the UK.

Most of Australia’s rise was driven by growth in the number of students from India, which jumped 28% compared to 2013, according to the report.

“India has been a big contributor to this growth in Australia,” said Mathai. “This is having an impact on all other countries, globally and within India.”

The highest inbound figures were registered in 2009 when international student numbers in Australia almost equalled the US.

In New Zealand student numbers from India grew sharply by 49% between 2013 and 2014, a significant increase as international student numbers have stagnated over the past 6 years.

In 2014, New Zealand saw a 12% increase in total international student numbers, fuelled mostly by the increase from India. “Both Australia and New Zealand emerged as strong choices among Indian students this year,” Mathai said, adding that New Zealand is likely to usurp the UK’s place as the fourth most popular destination for Indian students within the next two years.

Canada rising

A major change in Canada’s reporting methodology has led to a significant revision in international student numbers to Canada for all previous years – a 30% upward revision in the statistics since 2009. According to the report, this change means that the number of international students to Canada is expected to cross the 400,000 mark when 2014 figures are released, the report said.

Canada has started reporting cumulative figures for international students through the calendar year rather than the end-of-year figures it reported previously. The revised numbers suggest Canada has increased its international numbers at the rate of almost 10% every year for the past five years.

From the Indian student perspective, interest in Canada, which previously attracted less than 10,000 Indian students a year, began to grow when concerns over racially motivated attacks in Australia led to a sharp drop to that destination. “Indian students are discovering Canada,” Mathai said.

Gains in Australia and Canada are at the expense of the UK which brought in tighter work and immigration laws and was seen as less welcoming for international students.

The UK’s overall international student numbers grew by about 2.5% in the past year, but its numbers from India declined by almost 12%. “Stringent work and immigration laws have led to disenchantment with the UK market, and given the country’s immigration pressures, we don’t expect a let up in the decline,” the report said.

The number of Indian students to the UK declined in recent years from around 30,000 to 20,000 in 2014. However, Mathai said, “on its own the loss to the UK [of Indian students] is not sufficient to explain Canada’s growth”, which has gone from 8,000 in 2003 to 50,000 Indian students. “UK’s drop will have contributed a bit, but the bulk of Canada’s growth will have been at Australia’s cost,” she said.

According to Mathai much of the growth in Canada was because student recruitment agents in India shifted focus to Canada from Australia, due to the negative perception among students in recent years.

Australia has relied mostly on agents for international student recruitment, even at the masters level. Most of the growth in Canada came from student sign-ups for community colleges, which have also been driven almost entirely by agents.

The 2014 Australia data suggest that agents are likely switching back to the Australian market again, the report said.

Overall trends

The US is likely to hold on to its number one position for Indian students heading abroad with the numbers rising again after a hiatus of some five years, the report says.

However, some other countries could enter the top destinations list – Germany is close to attracting 10,000 students from India this year, compared to 3,000-4,000 a decade ago.

Although France last month announced a special two-year residence permit for Indian students graduating from French institutions and work permits for those hired by French companies, it is still only attracting some 2,600 students from the country.

It hopes to double the number over the next five years, but Mathai said, visa issues on their own may not be enough.

“The visa requirement is an incentive, but if you look at trends from India just positive visa requirements or post-study work is no longer sufficient. New Zealand has had incentives and post- study immigration for many years but until the immigration incentives were coupled with a proper marketing campaign to get that information about universities out to Indian students, New Zealand hadn’t seen growth in numbers.”

In the past 3-4 years New Zealand has launched concerted campaigns to attract international students, she said.

According to Mathai, for all the main destinations: “I would expect growth year on year from India for the next 10 years barring another global financial crisis or other negative incidents.”

“There are simply not enough higher education institutions in India and large numbers of quality students who are not sure they will get admission locally, ” Mathai said, referring to the very high marks required to get into top Indian institutions.