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Changing trends in overseas education

Last updated on: September 29, 2010 15:05 IST

The role of foreign universities in shaping Indian graduates into future leaders is all too well-known. Over the past two decades, however, Indian students' mobility to foreign universities has become an integral part of the India's higher education landscape.

Though the Government of India had been allocating more funds to higher education to improve the quantity and quality of tertiary education being offered within its borders, capacity has been insufficient to meet demand. At the same time, with rising per capita income, more students from across India were able to participate in higher education abroad.

According to the reports, currently around 104,522 Indians are studying in the US followed by over 97,000 in Australia, 25,905 in the UK and over 6,040 in New Zealand.

The beginning

While USA and Europe were the most favoured destinations for overseas education of Indian students, Australia took a leap in the last few years of its entry in the international education domain. Australia entered the race somewhere around 1989-1990, and in 2001, its growth increased by 10.8 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The supply of internationally-oriented degree and non-degree programmes steadily rose. Western economies were increasingly seeking to both recruit international students and retain them after graduation either because of high jobs availability in countries like Australia or low birth rates in countries like Canada.

The importance of migration opportunities for overseas students arguably tops the chart for the reasons of studying abroad as reflected by the statistics produced through a 2006 survey undertaken by Australia's Monash University.

According to the findings, 75 per cent of Indian students who completed a university education in Australia in 2003 applied for and were granted permanent residency (PR) visas. The author of the study, Michiel Baas, suggests that the most important reason Indian students chose to come to study in Australia was not the academic reputation of the universities but the opportunity to gain PR. Canada and New Zealand also started following a point system to process immigration based on criteria like age, educational background and experience.

Education institutions worldwide increasingly felt the need for an international student population, on or off campus. In the last few years, Australia and New Zealand have seen the emergence of a large number of private players piggybacking on the opportunities of permanent residency to the international students and offering PR-related courses like cookery, hair dressing and community welfare [Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector].

This trend gave way to the mushrooming of agents in India as they were offered handsome commissions. These agents neither had the expertise nor the infrastructure to be an agent for good universities, but private institutions didn't pay much attention to the credibility of the agents and appointed them to expand their reach.

Decline in standards of overseas education

The factors that contributed to the rise of international education became the reasons for the decline as well. Many Indian students chose education as a pathway for migration or permanent residency thereby putting money and their careers at stake.

Educational institutes offering courses in sync with the migration policies got maximum inflow of international students. But in the absence of strong quality measures some of these institutions could not sustain themselves. The result was that thousands of Indian students studying in Australia had been left stranded, with the sudden collapse of the some of the not-so-credible institutions in last few months.

The Australian government strengthened checks on the student visa applications from India in August 2009. The forensic analysis of applications conducted by Australian High Commission in New Delhi revealed that over 50 per cent of cases contained at least one fraudulent document, with many of these cases containing numerous fraudulent documents.

The VET sector that once contributed to the growth in the number of Indian students going to Australia saw a major drop in its numbers with the refusal rate declining from 8.2 per cent in the Jul-Oct (2008-2009) quarter to 40.6 per cent in the Jul-Oct (2009-10) quarter. This increase in visa refusal rate, in our view, would make situation even worse for some of the private colleges in Australia who would suffer a significant cash flow crunch. This is likely to send more private colleges in Australia out of business.

Australia's tighter migration rules clubbed with bad publicity over a spate of assaults on Indian students and change in migration policy resulted in decline in enrolments from India. This then led to agents and non-serious students to turn to the UK because of its relaxed migration rules.

But an unusual increase in visa applications for the UK from North India alerted the UK Border Agency. In October-December 2009, they received 13,500 applications, whereas in the same period in 2008 it was 1,800 and in 2007 it was 1,000. Fearing abuse of the visa system, the UKBA announced a temporary suspension of student visas in north India.

Seen from a broader perspective, these changes are in the interest of the students and their families. This would promote quality education and would also help the system get rid of the Australian colleges that mushroomed in the last few years to encash on the PR wave by lowering their entrance requirements specially related to English. These changes will ensure better employment opportunities for the students both in Australia and elsewhere as they would have the genuine skills set required to be job ready anywhere in the world.

it is no secret that international education has been falling prey to increasing fraud. At times, providers are dubious, institutions are bogus, and degrees are fake. In some instances it is found that admission rules are relaxed, the evaluation process is distorted, and examinations are faked in different ways. Furthermore, students use fraudulent documentation in some cases while agents are driving the use of fake documentation in others. The fraud ranges from fake financial documentation such as bank loans or bank statements, fake marriages and also fake qualifications documents.

Students need to understand that overseas education and PR are two very different things and it is dangerous to mix them for short-term gains. Many Indian students chose education as a pathway for migration or permanent residency thereby putting money and their careers at stake. Students are misguided by fly-by-night consultants who suggest admissions in not so credible colleges. This is merely to secure permanent residency. For instance, some students pay thousands of dollars for courses like hairdressing after believing unscrupulous agents who tell them that they will would get PR in Australia as that particular course is regarded as a high-demand subject.

So how do students make the most of international education and the opportunities it provides?

Choose the right course

Students aspiring to go abroad should bear in mind that permanent residency will yield only temporary gains. Only those students who consider education as an investment stand to gain in the long-term, while the rest will be left behind with a weak bank balance and sour memories. Thus it is important to be sure that the university/ college/ institution one is applying to has a certain standing and is recognised within the home country.

Since, it is not just about spending a few years at a foreign locale but also your entire career and life thereafter, finding the 'right' institution is of utmost importance. Choosing a course with a focus just on its 'PR value' could prove detrimental.

Choose the right institution

Selection of the right kind of school plays the most important role in the whole process. Selecting a good and accredited school ensures your future prospects of recruitment and also the value of your degree. There are several criteria to consider when choosing an institution.

For some it could be the American dream, Australian adventure or London lure. For others, the reputation of the university, study programmes, size of the institution, cost effectiveness, placement opportunities and so on. Broadly, there are two types of institutions -- one which needs money to impart education and the other who impart education to make money. These are some questions one should ask to differentiate between the two and make the right choice:

  • How old is the institution?
  • How successful is the institute with local students?
  • Is it offering a range of courses across the board or just a handful of PR-related courses?
  • Which university or awarding body will award the degree at the end of the course?
  • How strong is the infrastructure of the institution?

There are a lot of complexities involved in the whole process of studying abroad. Before enrolling in a foreign institution, it is essential to find out as much as you can about the accreditor and the institutions it accredits, as well as the recognition process of the foreign education ministry.

Choose the right overseas education consultant

Last but not the least is hiring a good overseas education consultant. A genuine educational consultant will not mislead students. On the contrary, they will play a vital role in helping students decide on the school they want to attend and also the right courses.

Aspiring students should check the credentials of consultants before placing their trust in him/her. Here are some tips to find the right partner in your study abroad success:

  • How long has the consultant in the business?
  • What are the fees the consultant is charging? Agents are paid by overseas educational institutes/ universities or they may charge a nominal fee to cover incidental charges.
  • Is the consultant representing reputed universities and institutes or some not so reputed institutes only?
  • Visit the office of the consultant and check his/her infrastructure.
  • Most important, the credentials of the consultant and the visa success rate.
Naresh Gulati, CEO, Oceanic Consultants