Indians studying in the US are a profitable investment in talent
Recent Open Doors Report data from the Institute of International Education revealed that the number of Indian students enrolling in higher education in the US grew by 30% last year.
This data was all over the news. But what does it tell us about education in India? It reconfirms what we have known for a while: India is a difficult place to get a good education. This is not because its institutes for higher learning are low in quality, but it is because there are not enough of them.
We know this from news stories about students who are rejected from established institutions, such as St. Stephens College in Delhi because of high cut-offs, only to be awarded scholarships from Ivy League colleges. We also know this from The Chronicle of Higher Education, which estimates that India needs to build 1,000 new universities and 50,000 colleges by 2020 to meet the demand of its young population. The message is clear – India’s education landscape is oversubscribed. This situation, coupled with economic liberalization and rising incomes among Indian families, accounts for much of the westward movement reported by Open Doors. These are some of the push factors.
But there are pull factors as well; the reality is that international students contribute more than $30 billion to the US economy. This is not a paltry sum. This is a sum that many stakeholders in the US (and other countries) have an interest in growing and accessing. The Open Doors Report listed the top 20 colleges in the US that host the largest number of international students. All of the colleges listed regularly visit India. These colleges spend considerable money to increase the visibility of their college brand around the world. They are marketing. And because they market, more students apply. It’s a fairly simple strategy and it works. I have seen that once a college sends representatives for a few years their name starts popping up on students’ college lists.
While some might look at this situation cynically, with a brain drain sort of lens (I do not know the number of students from the 1,32,000 who return to India), it really should be viewed as a win-win situation and managed accordingly. Indian students benefit from high quality education in the US; US college campuses continue to invest in the resources they need to maintain high quality and diversity; the US economy benefits from an infusion of money and job creation. In the long run the Indian economy too benefits from its citizens who return home and the non-resident Indians (NRIs) who contribute by way of skills, knowledge creation, business ventures and new markets. Economic data shows that NRI investment has contributed significantly to the growth of the Indian economy through foreign direct investments, joint ventures and partnerships, tie-ups with educational institutions – all of which requires skilled and educated talent to maintain its success. This in turn feeds the economy by creating jobs and growing wealth.
Rather than seeing the exodus of Indians studying abroad as a depletion of resources, it can be looked at as an investment in human capital and talent, which is critical to the success of any economy. Ultimately the beauty of the US education system is that it has the potential to meet diverse needs and fuel vast dreams of the students studying in its universities. The academic freedom offered by US universities and the robust offerings in courses that are scarcely offered in India can inspire students to think beyond traditional professions and prepare them for unique and unexpected careers that are enriching for both student and society.