The ongoing worldwide financial crisis has claimed yet another victim: the Indian student hoping to pursue post-graduate studies in the US.
A survey to be released Tuesday by the Council of Graduate Schools shows that 2009 applications from students in India to US grad schools are down 9 percent from 2008.
"The global economy is really impacting students' ability to come to the United States. Students in India are now finding it difficult to borrow money," noted the Council of Graduate Schools president Debra W Stewart, according to Wall Street Journal portal online.wsj.com
Reversing a trend that developed throughout the late '90s and early 2000s, Indian applicants to US universities have dropped precipitously in recent years. In 2006, the number of Indian applicants rose 25 percent from 2005. By 2008, that number had stagnated at 0 percent growth. And now that the figure has dipped into the red, with no clear indication of where it will go next year, no one's sure what to expect.
Indian applicants aren't the only ones suffering, either. Applicants from South Korea -- another nation which traditionally sends many students overseas -- fell by 7 percent from 2008 to 2009.
Chinese and Middle Eastern students, on the other hand, continue to pour into US universities, at an impressive 16 percent and 20 percent respective annual growth rate from 2008 to 2009. Overall, the report shows that foreign students' applications for 2009 graduate schools rose 4 percent from 2008. Still, that number is down, significantly. Last year saw an increase of 6 percent, while 2007 and 2006 saw 9 percent and 12 percent growth respectively.
These results have several possible explanations. First, perhaps foreign students are increasingly convinced to stay at home for post graduate education, knowing that domestic job markets are better than in the US. Then there's the possibility that the steep tuition of US universities, coupled with decreased lending options, have frightened off the families of prospective students, particularly during this period of economic downturn.
The US prides itself on its higher education system, which admittedly sustains itself through the annual infusion of top foreign talent, particularly in key technology and science fields, like computer science and civil engineering.
If applications continue to dwindle, it could drastically alter the make-up of some of America's top institutions of higher learning. The graduate schools at top universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University, for example, feature student bodies comprising 33 percent or more international students.
Experts say that one way the US can encourage increased international aspirants is to simplify visa regulations, so that students can more easily transition from the classroom to the work force.
The US government, however, seems to be doing exactly the opposite, as H1-B visas for skilled workers have dried up in recent months. Indians working on H1-B visas in the US have been particularly hard hit.