Migration of Students from India: An Overview

Author:   Dr. Amba Pande

Migration of Students from India: An Overview

By Dr. Amba Pande


India is the world’s second largest student sending country after China with the number of Indian students abroad having increased four times in the last 14 years. Students’ migration of such magnitude has become a major source of capital and brain drain for India while hugely benefitting the economies of the advanced countries. Ninety percent of student movement from India is concentrated in five countries of which the United States is by far the largest recipient, receiving more than half of the expatriate Indian students, followed by Australia and the United Kingdom.

Several factors appear to be at work propelling the massive flow of students beyond the Indian borders. These can be largely divided into two broad groups:

International Developments: include factors such asthetechnological revolution; globalization of education; global demographic trend; and most importantly policy changes to aggressively recruit foreign students who are preferred over the immigration of already skilled labor force because the additional revenue earned in terms of fees that significantly contributes to the cross-subsidization of education of domestic students in the developed countries.

Domestic Conditions: include factors such as widening gap in the demand for and supply of higher education; regulatory framework of the country; rising income levels; availability of education loans, the desire of the Indian middle class to migrate to developed countries; the desperation to gain access to quality education to climb up the socio-ladder.

The Government of India, although a bit late, has awakened to the problem of massive exodus of students.  It has been highlighted in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007–2012) and the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012–17) which states that: ‘Higher education in India is passing through a phase of unprecedented expansion, marked by an explosion in the volume of students, a substantial expansion in the number of institutions and a quantum jump in the level of public funding’(Government of India, 2012).Of late, some state governments such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Haryana have also got into fray of edu-business. These states are putting efforts toward setting up of ‘Educational Cities’ and ‘Special Education Zones.’ The government has also encouraged Private participation in the education sector in India in a big way.

The private sector, now accounts for over one-third of the overall enrolment in general and about four-fifths of the enrolments in professional education. In the case of engineering colleges and business schools the private sector accounts for about 90 per cent of the seats. In medical education, the proportion of private sector seats has risen to about 55 per cent in 2013. Private deemed universities have grown more than 100 per cent since 2002, though now the government has ceased to accord any institution the status of a deemed university.In addition, private universities established under state (provinces) legislation have witnessed a phenomenal growth from nil to 200 in 2014. During the past decade it appears Indian states have permitted the establishing of some 20 universities per year on an average (See UGC 2015).

The Indian universities are also being encouraged by the government to solicit entry of foreign students. The universities have responded by tailoring their courses to international requirements and appointing agents abroad and publicizing the offers widely in the media (Kaul, 2006). It has resulted in a slow but steady rise in the trickle of foreign students in India with receiving only about 7000 foreign students in 2002 to about 12,000 in 2008.


International students in India: 2000-2011 (numbers)



















Source: MHRD 2014

However, India still has to go a long way in terms of net earnings from the foreign students to be able to cross-subsidize the domestic students. None of the Indian Universities find a place in the top 200 Universities of the world (QS 2012–13), and unless adequate attention is paid on the improvement of the quality of education and infrastructure, it will be difficult to exploit the opportunities that internalization of higher education brings. India has multiple challenges of improving literacy, universalizing access to quality basic and secondary education and at the same time to meet the rising demands for education through appropriate reforms, quality control, and creating opportunities for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship at home.As Pawan Agarwal ( 2009) argues, ‘the country would not be able to sustain its growth momentum and maintain competitiveness unless problems of higher education are fixed’.


In this regard, the role of India diaspora (which is already active in the education sector) can prove to be extremely significant

There appears to be a complex interplay of factors at the international and domestic levels which have opened the floodgates of the student migration from India. However, a right mix of policies and initiatives can not only curtail the flow of students but also transform India into an education hub attracting foreign students. Opening up of the education sector and thereby making it more competitive had encouraging trends across the world. The new approach towards education has led to a regular review of education policies and revamping of the curricula providing choices and innovative subject combinations. Even if the idea of profit making is contested, cost recovery, without doubt, seems to be a pragmatic approach to improve the quality and keep pace with the growing demands. Higher fees extracted from the foreign students and also making at least better-off domestic students to pay at the market rate has resulted in substantial surplus to cross-subsidize the education of domestic students to a large extent. Entry of foreign institutes, faculty, and students also sets high benchmarks improving the overall quality of education. However, this has to come with strict regulation especially on ‘for profit’ institutions to ensure that the incoming institutions reinvest all surpluses in the institution and do not repatriate profits, maintain quality and offer adequate facilities. As Nick Clark (2010) states ‘The government has to find the right balance between regulating the sector to ensure unscrupulous providers do not dominate, and deregulation so that foreign universities will actually be interested in the opportunities  in India.India has immense potential to tap the trillion dollar industry worldwide given its history, demographic advantage, growing knowledge economy, and rich heritage. It will not be surprising if India emerges as a success story in higher education as it has done in some other sectors such as IT and health. All it calls for is the adoption of an outward-looking approach to expand the education sector.


Agarwal, Pawan (2009) Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future.New Delhi, India: Sage.

Government of India. 2011. Mid-term Appraisal, Eleventh Five Year Plan, Planning Commission, http://planningcommission.gov.in/plans/mta/11th_mta/MTA.html

Kaul, Sanat (2006) Higher Education in India: Seizing the Opportunity. Working Paper No. 179, ICRIER. Available at http://www.icrier.org/pdf/WP_179.pdf (last accessed 15/11/2011).

Nick, Clark (2010) Branch Campuses in India: Will They Come? World Education News and Reviews, Vol.23, Issue3, available at www.wes.org (last accessed 30/8/2012)

QS World Universities Rankings 2015-16, http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings.

UGC. University Grants Commission. Government of India, http://www.ugc.ac.in/


Dr. Amba Pande, School of International Studies , JNU


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