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Draining dollars abroad

Draining dollars abroad
This is not the first time that foreign education-seeking Indians have been either barred from entering the United States, or locked up there because their preferred educational institutions are unreliable or nonexistent. Some students were known to have traveled to the US unknowingly with bogus institutional enrollment documents before getting caught. Shamefully, on December 22, 2015, a number of Indian students who landed at the Abu Dhabi airport from Hyderabad for their US pre-clearance (immigration) were publicly shamed as they were reportedly locked up like criminals for 16 hours, hit by a volley of irrelevant questions, and eventually deported unceremoniously to India. What is wrong with India and its education system, and the government policy allowing expensive foreign education to those less deserving with the help of cheaper public bank loans that are often not fully returned in many cases? This is more so when nearly 30 per cent of seats in India’s most private educational institutions remain vacant. Maybe their education standards are not up to the mark or maybe as bad as in those obscure foreign universities in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada.

Those deported students, mostly from Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, were believed to have possessed admission letters from two California-based institutions - Silicon Valley University, San Jose, and Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU), Fremont, as well as valid visas. Mohammad Asharaf, who dreamt of pursuing a Masters in Computer Science from the little locally sought after NPU, the incident came as a nightmare, instead. He, along with 16 others, was dumped on a flight back to Hyderabad on the fateful day. Their US visa was reportedly cancelled.  Even before this incident, at least 50 students from Hyderabad region with valid student visas were stopped from boarding flights to the US on discretionary grounds. They all desired to study in America and had pocket full of money and bank loans for the purpose. 

Education abroad is not cheap. Ordinarily, costs Rs. 18 - 20 lakh per annum or even more. However, thanks to the government policy and the easy public sector bank support, Indian foreign education aspirants are generally not short of funds.

Lately, poor India, the home of the world’s largest number of underfed, undernourished people of nearly 400 million making do with less than $2 per day, is blowing up billions of dollars every year to support junk foreign education of rich less-merited Indian students, who are rushing for overseas degrees and certificates like never before. If India had officially spent about $13 billion in 2008 on foreign education of Indian students – from undergraduate to postgraduate levels – the forex spend on this account in 2014 was well over $30 billion. In 2016, the country’s gross expenditure to support the latest craze for overseas education by an expected number of nearly half a million new students, most of them are being under-qualified for admission in even lower grade domestic institutes, could be close to $ 50 billion. This is almost 20 percent of the country’s entire export income of 2015 or nearly four times more than India’s farm products’ export earnings during the year.

According to the “Indian Students Mobility Report 2015: Latest Trends from India and globally”, India has overtaken China in terms of growth rate in the number of students studying in foreign countries. In 2014, well over 300,000 Indian students headed abroad for studies. India recorded a 10 percent increase in foreign-going students rate as compared to China’s 8 percent. The students head to United States, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to pursue their studies. These five major English-speaking countries account for almost 85 percent of the total Indian pupils going abroad to study. The US is the most popular destination. Australia and Canada too are popular. All this is because of the reasonably good job opportunities there. The demand for the UK, which offers little job opportunity for post-course Indian students and treat them only as a big income opportunity, is dropping  and limited to such rich students who don’t care for low paid employments there. Australia and Canada are popular study destinations for Indian students as they can stay in the country for one year after completing a course and get a work permit.

It is difficult to understand why the government is wasting billions of dollars on junk foreign education for rich Indian students when “skill development” is a Key Result Area (KRA) of the Modi government and why is not the government taking the initiative to build more world-class educational institutes in India involving well known, highly rated global institutes, universities, and schools in a wide range of areas – from humanities, engineering, medical, technical, IT services, management, art and services – on an attractive equity partnership basis. Maybe, such an effort in the field of education can be made under the “Make in India” programme.

Education is a huge business globally. Countries such as the US, the UK, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are earning increasing revenues from foreign students. China, the world’s second-largest economy and a major participant in foreign education for its students, is now offering a host of incentives to attract foreign students to study in China in a number of disciplines to promote China and Chinese wares across the world. EdCIL, India’s public sector enterprise to market education in India among students mostly from West Asia and Africa, has been drawing positive response though in a limited manner.

Investment in good education in India can create a big global market for itself. To begin with, India can have some 100 colleges with first class infrastructure with housing, classrooms, labs and a reasonably good teaching staff. If necessary, teachers can be imported. Prestigious educational institutions all over the world have foreign teachers, mostly contractual.  Each year, India could have an additional capacity for 10,000 college students. Imagine how much educational infrastructure India can build by spending $50 billion annually on education. Deserving Indian students can always go for specialised higher studies with or without government assistance. Sadly, very few Indian educational institutions figure in the top grade global learning centres now.

(Views expressed are strictly personal)
Nantoo Banerjee

Nantoo Banerjee

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