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Charting A New Course
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There are scores of wide-eyed youth like Jha, who believe that a foreign degree is a ticket to success in life. Australia is not a top choice anymore; there has been a 50 per cent drop in the number of students to 35,000 since 2009. True, many have been put off after a spate of racist attacks, but a reshuffle of priorities is clearly on. Traffic to the UK is down 40 per cent this year after it tightened work permit regulations. In the case of the US, the figure is stagnant; it was 103,260 in 2009.
Shiksha.com, an online portal from the Naukri.com group, which connects education seekers with education providers, says ‘off-beat' countries such as Canada, France, New Zealand, Singapore and even China are giving residency permits at lower costs and more easily. Student traffic to these countries has grown 10 times over the past five years, and by 15–20 per cent in the past couple of years.
Canada is right on top this year followed by New Zealand. "Canada has seen a lot of applications for MBA and biosciences, risk management, finance and marketing," says Soni Khanna, manager of public relations and communications at The Chopras, an overseas education consulting firm. The number of Canadian visas issued to students in 2010 tripled to 10,000 from 2008. "Canada is about 30-50 per cent cheaper than the US and UK. Facilities are equally good," asserts counsellor Usha Albuquerque, founder-director of Careers Smart. And if you complete a post-graduate degree, you are automatically eligible for a permanent citizenship. New Zealand saw 12,000 Indian students in 2011, a huge jump from 3,700 in 2006.
Singapore, Germany and France, too, are on the radar. "Singapore is closer home. Flying in and out is very easy for students or their parents," says Naveen Chopra, promoter-chairman of The Chopras. In the case of Germany, France or the Netherlands, they offer bigger scholarships and have subsidised education systems. "You only pay for your hostel accommodation and living expenses. If you are willing to learn German and French, you can take up offers from universities with ease," says S. Srivastava, director at the Jaipur-based JLN Overseas.
According to DAAD, which promotes academic exchange between India and Germany, Indian students' interest in Germany is on the rise. "I chose Germany as they are the leaders in engineering and technology," says Sudhanshu Gupta, an engineer from IIT Mumbai, who did his MSc from Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nurnberg. Visa norms are relaxed; Germany provides one-year job-search visas. "When you study, you can easily find a job in that particular area," says Gupta, who recently got a job with Procter & Gamble, Germany.
France, too, has seen traction. Bedojyoti Bhattacharjee, national coordinator for CampusFrance India, says that the French government offered 350 scholarships this year and increased the level of communication to attract good students to its campuses. "Education in France is subsidised and it prefers students with strong educational background," he says. This year, France is expected to have about 2,500 Indian students, up 25 per cent from last year.
China now offers more courses in English. It is a much sought-after destination by both post- and undergraduates because of the lower fee structure. Take, for instance, engineering. A seat in an averagely rated private college in the US would cost you between $30,000 and $50,000 per year just in fees; a similar course in China is 50 per cent cheaper. "China has many good universities, but by and large, the universities that charge lower fees are equal to some of the third- and fourth-grade institutes in India," says Albuquerque.
No Easy Way Out
"It is getting difficult to get admission into domestic colleges and people want to keep admission to a foreign university as a back-up option," says Vineet Gupta, managing director at Jamboree that helps students with education abroad. And if it is cheap, it is in demand. "Even in the UK, a few institutes are cheaper than the prestigious ones and students who are willing to take the risk are heading there," says Albuquerque. There are enquiries about even Ukraine, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan and Spain.
New Zealand is famous for courses in science and technology, but you cannot saunter in. "It is tough to get admission for a post-graduate course in New Zealand," says Khanna of The Chopras. You need to have a relevant undergraduate degree to do any masters programme. Or you have to apply for a postgraduate diploma course before you enrol for a degree. "This makes the duration of the course longer and hence, more expensive. The New Zealand economy isn't large enough to absorb a huge rush of foreign students", says Prakash Sangam, business head of Shiksha.com.
So, it seems there aren't enough rosy signs for students. "There are very few jobs for foreign students. So if one goes abroad, you have to be prepared to come back, and then it doesn't make sense financially because you have no way of covering the huge cost," explains Albuquerque. According to her, students still go abroad, but there aren't as many students as there were five years ago. Back then, you could stay put and get a job in the US, UK and Australia.
Scholarships, too, are limited; a lot many countries battle unemployment, and have tightened visa policies to discourage import of talent.
However, you can still globetrot for a degree, which you can trot out as well.
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 08-08-2011)