A Safety Net for Students Abroad | 07 Mar 2022

This editorial is based on “A Safety Net for Students Abroad” which was published in The Hindu on 07/03/2022. It talks about the need for Indian students to study abroad.

For Prelims: HEFA (Higher Education Finance Agency), Indian Diaspora.

For Mains: Indian students - issues regarding higher education within the country, need to study abroad, challenges associated.

Indian students going abroad to study is not a new phenomenon. For decades now, lack of quality education institutes in India and demand-supply gap has been forcing many families to send their children abroad. The spotlight, however, has turned on these students with two recent events — the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Unless the education system in India is tailored to the needs of students, they will continue to fly abroad. Indian institutes need to start providing students with more options for professional courses including technical, medical and others.

What is the Current Scenario?

  • Currently, 7,70,000 Indian students are studying abroad from 4,40,000 in 2016 which is a 20% growth. On the other hand, the growth in the domestic region has been merely 3% when compared to the demand for education abroad,
  • India is the second largest source of international students after China. Before the onset of the pandemic, the Indian students studying abroad were spending $24 billion in foreign economies, which is around 1% of India’s GDP.
    • The number is expected to rise to around 1.8 million by 2024 when the Indian students will be spending nearly $80 billion outside India.
  • To pursue a medical degree, Indian students have been heading out to Russia, China, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and the Philippines for about three decades now.
  • Sushma Swaraj, former External Affairs Minister of India, referred to Indians abroad as “brand ambassadors”. The Prime Minister of India and U.K. have called Indians in the U.K. the “living bridge” between both countries.
    • The larger benefits of this Indian diaspora come in terms of soft power, knowledge transfer and remittances that come back to India.

What are the Causes of Studying Abroad?

  • With more than half the Indian population under the age of 25, and no Indian university in the world’s top 100, it is natural that aspirational students would look to study abroad.
  • In terms of medical degree, the amount spent on living and the tuition fees are far more affordable than paying for an MBBS seat in private medical colleges within India.
  • There are far more MBBS aspirants than there are MBBS seats in India. As per data from the National Medical Commission (NMC), in 2021-22, there were 596 medical colleges in the country with a total of 88,120 MBBS seats.

What are the recent crises faced by these Students?

  • Amid the recent Russia-Ukraine Conflict, there have been cases of the unfortunate deaths of two Indian students (one died in shelling, the other suffered a stroke) in Ukraine.
    • Although there is chaos amid an external armed aggression, the situation warrants serious interventions.
    • It is estimated that around 20,000 Indian students were stranded in Ukraine.
  • More recently, about 2,000 international students, mainly from India, have been affected after three Canadian colleges shut down abruptly.
    • As per the allegations, the colleges,which are now bankrupt, collected lakhs of rupees in fees, thereby jeopardising the students’ futures.
  • A similar incident happened during the pandemic when Australia shut its borders to the thousands of Indian students enrolled to study on its campuses.

What Steps Can Be Taken?

  • Role of Host Countries: The Indian students are the consumers of higher education abroad, and guests of the nations they reside in. It is only natural then for India to mandate protection of Indians abroad by ensuring that host countries take on this responsibility.
  • Safety Net Through International Treaties: The Indian government should proactively create a safety net for the international students. International agreements that oblige host countries to ensure the welfare of Indian students during times of crises and contingencies should be given paramount importance.
    • The trade agreements India is currently negotiating with the U.K. and Australia make for a great opportunity to do so.
  • Student Insurance Schemes: Contrary to popular opinion, a considerable chunk of students who study abroad are not from wealthy families; they take expensive loans to finance their education.
    • The aspiration to secure a better exposure and future can render them prone to difficulties.
    • A mandatory student insurance scheme as well as responsibility for the welfare of students in the foreign country should be incorporated into agreements to secure the interests of students who also spend considerably in the host country.
  • More Public Sector Medical Colleges: Creating more medical colleges will be beneficial for the country, if access and availability can be ensured.
    • However, this will not be possible by resorting to private enterprise only - the State and Central governments can start more medical colleges, as recommended by NITI Aayog, by utilising district headquarters hospitals, and expanding the infrastructure.
    • This way, students from the lower and middle socio-economic rung, who are otherwise not able to access medical seats, will also benefit.
  • More Investments in Higher Education: Enhancing investment in higher education, especially in research and development, is urgently required to raise the standard of higher education in India.
    • HEFA (Higher Education Finance Agency) is a welcome step in providing finance to premier educational institutions for creation of high quality infrastructure and innovation ecosystems.
    • Taking measures to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India will increase the inflow of foreign funding in India’s Higher Education system and reduce “Brain Drain” from India.

Drishti Mains Question

Discuss the key challenges faced by the students in India to pursue higher education within the country and suggest the steps that can be taken to develop a better ecosystem for higher education within India.