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On 1 December 2021, Minister of Education Dharmendra Pradhan answered the questions asked by Rajya Sabha MP from Samajwadi Party Rewati Ram Singh. In his questions, Singh had asked about the number of Indian students studying abroad, the average amount of funds spent in US dollars by Indian students studying in foreign nations, and the government’s plan to facilitate the same quality of education in India at a cheaper price.
In his answers, Pradhan revealed that 5,88,931 students went abroad to study in 2019 and this number dropped to 2,61,406 in 2020. The reason behind this massive drop was the COVID-19 induced pandemic and array of lockdowns imposed by various nations around the globe to stop the spread of the virus.
While talking about funds, Pradhan stated that there is no centrally maintained data on how many US dollars students spent on education in other nations.
Pradhan also highlighted plans to internalise higher education in India and to do this, the government will focus on exchange programmes for students and faculty, MOUs will be signed with foreign universities, high performing universities in India will be encouraged to set up campuses in the foreign nations and world’s top 100 universities will be facilitated to operate in India.
If we look at the data revealed by the Minister of State External Affairs V. Muraleedharan in the Rajya Sabha, the number of Indian students studying in other 99 nations is 11,33,749.
During the evacuation of 20,000 Indian students from Ukraine, the question on everyone’s mind was: Why are millions of students flying abroad to pursue higher education, despite the Indian government’s whopping expenditure on education? In this year’s Union Budget, the government has allocated Rs 1,04,278 crore for the education sector, which is around 11% more than last year.
Patriot talked with several Indian students across the globe to know why they have preferred foreign educational institutes to Indian universities and colleges and what difference have they noticed between the education system of foreign nations and that of India.
Gaurav Dwivedi, who belongs to Varanasi and is doing his second master’s degree, is studying Data Journalism at the University of London. Before moving to London, he completed his postgraduate diploma from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication and a Master’s in Journalism from Guru Jambheshwar University, Hissar.
While explaining his reasoning behind choosing London for his further studies, Gaurav said, “Data Journalism is a very unique course. This field is an amalgamation of technology and journalism. Unfortunately, no government university in India offers a course in Data Journalism, so, I chose City College London for my further studies”.
England has become a new destination for Indian students. According to University and College Admission Service, the shared admission service of the United Kingdom, admissions in an undergraduate course for September intake increased by 11% as compared to last year when 7,830 students enrolled for U.G. The number has touched the 8,660 mark this year. India is the second biggest non- European Union nation to send students for higher education in the UK after China.
Highlighting the difference between the standard of education in India and the United Kingdom, Gaurav said, “The Indian education system is conventional. We are using the same framework which we were using decades ago and the current need of the system is matching pace with the industry. The prime focus of teachers here is to teach practical skills, and in India, the education system gives more focus to theory. I came to London last year in October and the first question my professor asked me was whether journalism is art or science. From this, I understood that here they are focusing on developing the thought process of students”.
Lack of infrastructure, shortage of seats in government institutes and costly fees in private institutes are some major problems in India that push students to opt for overseas education opportunities. And this is perhaps why Indian students have become a witness to the Ukraine-Russia crisis.
“Here, teachers and institutes provide students with a professional set up. Moreover, infrastructure, state of the art campuses, latest devices and software, and practical experience by faculty make education and learning interesting here. But back in India, it was boring”, Gaurav added.
Another aspirant who was unable to leave the country amidst the second wave of Covid, Mantasha also talked of the specific loopholes she has noticed while growing up in the Indian educational system. “The course and the combination that I wish to pursue are not available in India. There is hardly any flexibility for us here which is available overseas”, she says.
She then adds, “Additionally, I believe that the method of objective testing can be a problem. MCQ based papers are very random and the universities here do not take our extra co-curricular activities into account. So, I got admitted into institutions in the UK and Italy, but I could not get into places such as JNU because the combination of subjects that could prepare me for entrances were not included in the teachings of my BA degree syllabi. And to them, my work experience does not matter anyway.”
After Canada, the USA is the second most visited country for higher studies by Indians. According to data by the Ministry of External Affairs, around 2,11,930 Indian Students are studying in the US, and in Canada, this number is around 2,15,720.
Tushar Saini, who is currently pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of North Alabama, Florence, explains his reason to choose the US for his Master’s. “Universities in the United States are top-ranked institutes in the world. The US provides better education as compared to other nations around the world and if we compare it with India, it is far better. I know fees here is also costly as compared to India and other nations, but better job opportunities and higher salary packages give America an edge over other nations”.
When we asked him what difficulties did he face in India while pursuing his graduation, and what difference has he noticed between the education system of India and the US, he said that Indian education system kills the creativity of a student by laying more emphasis on marks. In US, however, the focus is on developing skills and knowledges while providing proper faculty and facilities.
As per Saini, “In India, competition is high and this kills the creativity of a student. In India, prime focus is laid on marks, but, in the US, they focus on skills and knowledge. In the US, people from the industry are roped in by people from the industry for teaching students, and the curriculum too is designed according to current needs of industry. But, in India theoretical and paperwork is given more importance as compared to practical knowledge.”
Simranjeet Singh, who belongs to Patiala and is currently residing in Adelaide, Australia talked about why he chose to immigrate to Australia to study automotive studies. He stated that while teachers in India relied on theory, the teachers in Australia used real cars and industrial robots to train them.
“I came here as a student of automotive studies in 2018. I chose this field because of my interest and I opted for Australia because the level of education is better compared to India. While I was studying in India, our teachers used to only teach us theory but here in Australia, they use real cars and industrial robots to train us. Collaboration with industries also paves way for employment”.
Speaking about the flexibility of the education system, he said, “While I was studying, I was able to work part-time and use the money that I earned to pay my tuition fees. I have also sent money back home to India to help my family financially”.
This thought also finds a way in how Kerala’s Helen Thomas Ellenjikal distinguishes the significant ways in which universities abroad function differently. She says, “Here, you can work part-time, fund your studies, and meet the expenses because of the flexibility in education and the way the timetable is set. In Australia, you would become culturally competent, help in professional development and become independent in life. Here, assignments and studies are self-paced rather than relying on a tutor. The only difficulty in India is in getting placed in a good company and earning a decent salary, which is impossible without years of experience in the field.”
In the future, Simranjeet plans to settle in Australia and after getting a permanent residence, he will call his parents. “Weather here in Australia is awesome, and one thing which I love about this nation is that they respect you for your hard work. They care for their human resource. But in India, human life has no worth”, he said.
Sagarika, a resident of Delhi and a student of English, says, “I think the number one factor why I aspire to go out is that the quality of education and academic freedom is likely to be better outside of India because most educational institutions here are wary of what you write. They criticise and analyse. Even though you’re an objective observer, some issues end up putting you in a situation where you face an unprecedented amount of backlash.
Hinting at censorship and constraints on expression that one faces in the spaces for budding Indian academia, she adds, “I think it’s almost risky to be in that situation”.
She continues, “That being put aside, I wasn’t also exactly confident that the intense competition for a limited number of seats between a large number of students would do my mental health any good. I thought that it was always safer if I am certain about whether I’ll be enrolled in an institution for secondary education or not.”
Sagarika also adds that the number of seats in educational institutions is extremely limited even for mediocre education quality. “There is an exponential number of students who don’t get admissions into public educational institutions just because there isn’t an availability of seats”, she says.
This line of thought echoes in the way Srajit, who is from Lucknow and studies MA in Delhi, explains why he aspires to get a degree in social sciences from Germany or USA. He does so while hinting at how Indian academia is dominated by generational scholars who perceive the space as part of some kind of feudal inheritance.
“The condition of my field in India is the primary reason why I want to go abroad because there is no scope in academia to become a professor. Even if you pursue your studies from an Indian university, you have to have a degree from another country or you need to have the money and connections”, he says.
He then adds that it is easier to get a foreign degree than to have money and connections. Apart from exclusionary practices in academia, if I talk about my field, the tradition of the universities set up in the 70s was that they used to hire people from within. They only gave promotions to the people who were pursuing PhD in these institutions. They promoted people based on their age instead of publications.”
He says that these people end up acting like gatekeepers of academia in India. “Even methodologically, India is really behind, especially in social sciences. Outside is better in this regard and so we leave India”, he says.
Adding a different perspective, another student, Saumya says, “The city I am studying in currently (Madison, Wisconsin) is safer overall than Delhi since it’s a smaller city and I live on campus which is mostly all students. I also live in a dorm building, so there’s added security measures that may not be available in an apartment.”
She then adds that she feels safer walking in the dark in Madison alone than she would in Delhi. “I’m less afraid of going to places alone, but obviously, no place is completely safe, especially for women. So, I still try to avoid being out too late or walking alone in the dark”, she says.
She clarifies that she is also not someone who goes out a lot, so that could also just be a factor. “But, honestly, having lived in Delhi, which can be such a big and overwhelming place, Madison is significantly easier to navigate”, she adds.
In contrast to all of these remarks from other students, Rasheed*, a Delhi resident who was accepted at the University of Cambridge amidst the pandemic, remarks, “I was only planning to leave the country if I would not get into an IIT here. Surprisingly, from the point of view of someone pursuing engineering, the education system (in India) is oddly perfect for us.” He is a student at IIT Madras as of now.
To return or not to return
On being asked about the possibility of returning to India, we received varying responses and reasonings around their choice. “I would love to stay back in Australia because of the opportunities this country provides us,” says Helen. “If we become a Permanent Resident, we are entitled to all the opportunities and facilities like education, housing, health, travel that are available to the citizens here. It is a perfect place to build your life from scratch and begin a family,” she adds.
In this regard, Srajit adds that he “would want to return to India (after studying overseas), but I would hope to first earn in dollars or euros for the first 5-6 years. That way, if I come back, I could survive on fellowships or some earnings if I do not get employed in India early on.
In the future, Gaurav too plans to come back after completing his education. He is aiming to establish a centre in India where he can introduce the technology of Data Journalism for Indian students.
On the other hand, Sagarika says that if she does leave the country, it is likely that she would not like to return. “Even though I understand that my home country would probably need my educational expertise more, from a completely selfish perspective, I think my education will be valued more in the country I move to than here.”
Paving the way forward
Suggesting a few ways in which the Indian education system could be improved, some of these students spoke to us based on their experiences with the Indian education system.
Sagarika says, “It’s very important to revise the quality of education that is meted out to the students and make it more adept to the times that we live in. The syllabus that is becoming obsolete needs to be changed so that there is no redundancy in education and real progress can be made in the country.”
As per Helen, instead of exams, students must be encouraged to write essays and assignments. “Certificates and degrees should meet international accreditation standards. Students should be given opportunities to work part-time at the Universities to fund their studies. Timetables should be made flexible to meet the needs of the students. Studies should be made engaging and interactive. Group work should be promoted”, she adds.
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