New Delhi: Amit Agrawal from Ajmer and Sulagna Bhattacharyya from Barrackpore represent the growing tribe of students from Tier 2 and 3 cities making a beeline for foreign degrees.
Once associated with their counterparts from metropolises and from well-to-do families, global exposure is now being chased by those in small towns and cities across the country.
Education consultants and student financing companies vouch for the growing numbers of such college and university aspirants who are aware of the courses suited for them. The diversification of education avenues to “affordable countries” like France, Italy and Spain has aided these youths who dream of achieving big in their lives, they say.
Amit, 21, who graduated from a college in Ajmer, is busy filling up application forms for universities in the UK, the US and Germany.
Coming from a middle class household, he is banking on scholarships and student-friendly self-funding options to finance his education. “I am the first in my family to even consider education abroad. I thought that foreign education was unaffordable, but now with financing options and an idea about the kind of opportunities that foreign education has to offer, it is a risk worth taking,” he says.
The Ajmer youth says his family is willing to take a loan to fund his education if he gets admission to a good university.
Ditto for Sulagna Bhattacharyya. The B.Tech degree holder is applying for courses in sustainability consultancy in France, as she feels the options for growth as a software engineer are limited.
“I chose France because it gives me an option of a work-study programme where my employer will fund a part of my education. Also, the diversity and scope of courses there is much more when compared to India. This works as a good arrangement for me since I will be able to fund my own education,” she says.
The 24-year-old has started applying for universities in the UK as a backup option. Education in the UK is expensive and will require a loan, but it will offer better options for employment, she says.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, 1,33,135 students left the country for education in the first three months of this year. The figure was 4,44,553 for all of 2021.
Middle-class aspirations & growth of funding options
Numbers, shared by an overseas study platform and a student financing company among others, show how students from the hinterland are eager to move abroad for higher education.
In a report released Tuesday, overseas study platform LeapScholar found that 57 per cent of Indian middle class families with a household income in the range of Rs 3-10 lakh were inclined to spend on overseas education. The reasons they cite include the promise of a superior education and lifestyle, global career opportunities, and better salaries.
The online survey of 649 people from across the country was carried out between July and August this year. It found that 83 per cent of the students surveyed believe that an overseas degree will enhance their prospects of securing better job opportunities, and provide an edge over peer competition in the talent pool.
“Fuelled by the student community’s growing aspirations, the Indian overseas education market is expected to grow multi-fold and will see over 2 million Indian students fly out by 2025 spending over $100 billion on their international education,” Vaibhav Singh, co-founder of LeapScholar, said in a statement.
These rising aspirations are reflected in the growth of the student finance ecosystem.
Student financing company Prodigy Finance says it has has registered 135 per cent growth in disbursements in India in 2022. Mayank Sharma, head of global partnerships at the firm, attributes this to the interest that students from small towns have shown over the past year, as well as goodwill towards the company.
Prodigy Finance registered a whopping 689 per cent growth in Tirupati, 332 per cent growth in Vijayawada, 337 per cent growth in Guntur, 133 per cent growth in Nagpur and 552 per cent growth in Warangal. The data has been shared with ThePrint.
Delhi-based student financing firm GyanDhan, too, saw substantial growth post pandemic in applications from small towns and cities. Tier 2 and 3 cities accounted for 53 per cent of the applications in the current financial year, up from 37 per cent in the previous year.
University Living, an accommodation platform that helps students with hostels and rooms, in Australia, the UK, Ireland, Canada and the US, also found a similar trend. “In 2022, 69 per cent of traffic on University Living were from Tier 2 and 3 cities compared to only 48 per cent in 2021,” its founder, Mayank Maheshwari, told ThePrint.
While the US, Australia and Canada remain the top destinations for Indian students, there are new entrants to the list — France, Spain and Italy.
Earlier this month, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna had said that the country wished to have 20,000 Indian students by 2025. “We’re starting from something close to 5,000,” she said, calling the plan “very ambitious”.
Language was a big barrier for students to branch out to non-native English speaking countries such as France, Italy or Spain. However, over the past year, these options have slowly gained popularity among students and parents. University Living found that in the past year, 5.67 per cent of Indian students going abroad have moved to countries like Germany, Spain, France, Portugal, and the UAE.
The report by LeapScholar says that students are now diversifying their options of country by overlooking language as a barrier.
Shrilekha, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur whose daughter will be flying to Italy to study at a design school, believes that the higher education options in India are so scarce that affordable education options abroad can provide a better deal for students. She says her daughter has much more to gain with her foreign degree.
“Good colleges in Italy will cost around Rs 7-8 lakh per year including stay and education. While the cost of enrolling in a private university is the same in India, my daughter stands to gain global exposure in another country. She will also learn a new language and build global connections,” Shrilekha says.
Post pandemic, the UK has made a comeback in terms of popularity as an education destination. The relaxation of visa policies and increased options for students to stay and work has made it an attractive foreign destination for higher studies, according to industry watchers.
“Education continues to be one of the mainstays of the living bridge between the UK and India. The UK is a world leader in education. Indian students make up one of the largest groups of international students. The number of UK visas issued to Indian students doubled last year; nearly 1,18,000 UK student visas were issued to Indian nationals in the year ending June 2022, up from nearly 56,000 in the previous year,” a British High Commission spokesperson said in a statement to ThePrint.
(Edited by Tony Rai)