The Narendra Modi government replied to an unstarred question in the Lok Sabha Monday, that there was a decline in the number of Indian students who went abroad in 2018-19. It is particularly stark for American universities where compared to 4,47,836 in 2017-18, only 2,09,063 Indian students went to the US.
ThePrint asks: Fewer Indians in US universities in 2018-19: Trump’s policies making America less popular?
If US was unpopular under Trump, there wouldn’t still be lakhs of Indian students studying there
Executive council member, VIF, and former foreign secretary
If the US had become a less popular destination for international students because of Trump’s policies, then there wouldn’t be lakhs of Indian students studying there. The percentage of increase in the number of Indian students has declined, but India is nonetheless the second-largest source of international students opting for the US.
The growth in numbers was 5.4 per cent in 2017-18, down from 12.3 per cent in 2016-17 and 29.4 per cent in 2015-16.
Indian students constituted nearly 18 per cent of total foreign students in the US and contributed $7.5 billion to the US economy in 2017-18.
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It is true that the atmosphere in the US for foreigners appears less friendly because of Trump’s overtly anti-immigrant policies, and there is the added factor of the tightening of H1B visas. Both send negative signals, which may partially explain the decline in the annual growth of admission seekers from India.
According to the US 2019 Open Doors Report, the number of Indian graduate students seeking admission has dropped by 5.6 per cent, but at the undergraduate level, in mathematics, computer science and engineering, the number has increased by 6.3 per cent.
Another factor responsible for the decline in the numbers has been increasing opportunities in other English-speaking countries.
Rise of dollar against rupee & Trump tightening post-study work visas have forced Indians to look elsewhere
Donald Trump’s America has indeed become less attractive for Indian students. India has been the second-largest country sending students to the US, just behind China. But India’s ranking could be threatened.
American universities have become increasingly reliant on income from overseas students as their operational costs have increased and state support for universities has declined.
In his populist promises to save blue-collar jobs for natives in factories, US President Donald Trump has managed to convince the unemployed American youth that immigrants like Indians are responsible for snatching jobs.
The deciding factor has been the tightening of post-study work visa regimes by the Trump administration. As a result, pursuing higher education in the US has no longer remained an economically viable option.
Indian students spend a fortune on acquiring a US degree. But recovering the costs of their American education becomes difficult when they are not offered jobs in the US. The rise of the dollar against rupee has been another factor that has made American education very expensive for Indian students.
Besides, the socio-cultural atmosphere in the US is no longer accepting of Indians working there. There have been cases of violent attacks on Indian techies. Indians have been subjected to hate, which is forcing some of them to leave the US.
For Indian students today, Canada and Australia are far more attractive destinations because they are more tolerant of immigrants.
Perception that US universities aren’t attractive is misplaced
The growing perception that the US is no longer an attractive destination for Indian students because of Trump’s policies is misplaced. Such a notion doesn’t take into account how Trump hasn’t changed some fundamentals of the US education system or its economy.
The US continues to, by and large, have the best universities in the world. So much so that leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, including President Xi Jinping, prefer to send their children to Harvard and Princeton.
Additionally, no other country in the world has enough funds available for research. Just contrast the number of research assistants working for a celebrity professor in the US with the ones in Canada or Germany.
Moreover, when it comes to high-tech research, the US is still the global leader. Be it John Hopkins Genomics or MIT’s artificial intelligence department, the US is still leading in race of countries with most cutting-edge research.
It is true that Trump’s trade and immigration policies are beginning to hurt the US economy. But the impact is far from uniform. For instance, the rise in tariffs are hurting US’ manufacturing towns and the average consumer, but they are neither hurting the Wall Street nor Silicon Valley.
Thus, when it comes to either banking or tech services, the US still provides the best job market in the world. And needless to say, A-list US universities are the best bet to enter that job market.
Trump’s immigration policy, visa scrutiny & H1B visa fee hike are some factors to blame
Robinder Nath Sachdev
President, The Imagindia Institute
Trump’s immigration policies are having an impact on the number of international students choosing to study in the US. However, this isn’t specific to Indian students.
There has been an overall tightening of immigration procedures. The cost of the H1B visas has increased, after which Indian students feel less enthusiastic about pursuing jobs in the US.
The state of the economy has anything to do with fewer number of jobs being offered since the US economy is doing very well. The primary problem is the policies of the Trump administration.
The increased focus on national security measures to combat terrorism cannot be discarded either. Consequently, visa scrutiny has become more stringent, a factor that students do consider while deciding whether to go to the US or not.
The emergence of alternative destinations that are marketing themselves better is another reason why the popularity of American universities is declining. It is not just English-speaking nations anymore but countries like Japan, Singapore and South Korea are also accepting Indian students. Some countries are forced to invite professional immigrants because of ageing demographics. Japan has reached a critical point where it is having to modify its immigration policies. Therefore, countries like these are fast becoming popular destinations for Indian students.
There are other factors at play. Ugly nationalism leads to hate crimes. However, this issue is not specific to the United States. This is happening in other countries too.
Indian students contribute to US govt revenue, but Trump chooses to view this from the lens of immigrants
Dean, Global Education and Strategic Programs, Ashoka University
US President Donald Trump’s policies have certainly had an impact on America becoming a less attractive destination for Indian students. I say this based on my own experience and interactions with other immigrant students there. Post Trump’s election, there has been an increase in immigrants being viewed as the ‘other’.
In terms of policies, it is not so much Trump’s education-related regulations but his immigration rules that have adversely affected Indian students.
Visas are strongly linked to the way people look at pathways to higher education. In the UK, Theresa May government’s policies were stringent to the extent that international students were forced to return home after completing their studies. The share of Indian students in the total number of foreign students in the UK declined rapidly by 2016, registering a mere 6 per cent.
Higher education import for countries like the US is very profitable. Indian students have spent as much as Rs 44,000 crore, which is a huge monetary boost to these countries. Trump’s office is clearly not connecting the dots. Higher education is a source of revenue for the US government, but the Trump administration chooses to view incoming international students from the lens of immigrants alone.
By Kairvy Grewal, journalist at ThePrint
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