International students in America topped the one million mark for the first time this year, and with 165,918 students, Indian students are the second biggest group after the Chinese. In terms of cost of education, even at a conservative estimate of Rs20 lakh per annum, Indian students are collectively spending a whopping Rs33,000 crore on their American degrees annually. “While the college tuition fee varies between Rs 5 lakh and Rs25 lakh per annum depending on the course and the college, the cost of living and other expenses add up to Rs 10 lakh a year,” says Kamal Kant, Director of Delhi-based Study Overseas Global consultancy, adding that studying in America costs an average of Rs20 lakh a year, with the cost going up to Rs40 lakh a year for an MBA from a top American business school. “Though mathematically, the figure of Rs33,000 crore looks humongous, from every individual student's point of view, it is seen as the cost of opportunity for a better future,” says Kant, adding that even after factoring for the scholarship component and the earnings from working while studying, only a small percentage of the costs are covered.
“The number of hours are fixed and the wages are fixed. 15$ an hour may seem big when converted to Rs1,000, but we advise students that they should not expect to pay off their student loans by the time they get their American degree,” says Kant, adding that the cost of education in America is at par with other destinations like UK, Australia and Canada, give or take 10-15 per cent. Given that a total of 3 lakh Indian students are studying abroad, the total amount going out of the country for foreign education adds up to Rs60,000 crore.
The record rush to American colleges is with good reason. “Students are spending because America is the land of opportunities. We have several people taking loans and going to US because they know when they graduate, they will get a job and a lifestyle that few other countries offer,” says Karan Gupta, a Mumbai-based education consultant, adding that a majority of the Indian students in America are taking up STEM courses, which allow them to stay on and work for at least three years after completing their education. “In UK and Europe, you can't stay back, while it's extremely competitive in Asia-Pacific centres like Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Besides Canada to a certain extent, America is the best bet for settling abroad after the education,” says Gupta.
In terms of numbers, the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange released on Monday revealed that the 1 million foreigners account for 5 per cent of America's student population and India accounts for one out of every six international students in the United States. Approximately three-fifths of Indian students are at the graduate level and three-fourths are in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “I am delighted to see the incredible year-on-year rise in the number of Indian students who have chosen the US as their preferred destination for higher education,”says American Consul General Thomas Vajda, adding that the choices are reflective of the ever-stronger ties between India and US and the exceptional opportunities for education available to students at every level and in every field. With India emerging as an increasingly important market for the American education system, the US government has set up seven Education centres in the country, with a series of seminars and programmes lined up to woo Indian students and increase the intake every year. CS Kulkarni, a professor at an engineering college associated with the University of Mumbai said, “Indian job market has been going through a tough phase. While jobs are few, pay packages have also gone down in last two years. This has prompted highly skilled students to go abroad and complete post-graduation to better their job prospects.” A professor of IIT Bombay said, “More than 95 per cent Indian students going abroad actually aim to work and settle there. Study is just a stepping stone.” Students blame it on government's inability to reform the crucial higher education sector. “Unless we expand quality University education, we would continue losing out higher number of bright brains to the west along with foreign reserve,” said an Indian student currently studying in Stanford University. “The premier institutions have intake capacities in hundreds while our college-going population is in millions. The New education policy is yet to be implemented. We have been hearing since long about world class universities but reforms seems to be far away making youngsters anxious and looking for better options abroad,” says a Lucknow University professor. International politics experts give some credit of this rise to improved diplomatic relations between India and US in the last few years. “The bonhomie between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and outgoing US President Barack Obama has created more enthusiasm among Indians.” China remains the top country of international students in the US, increasing by eight per cent to 328,000. India and China account for nearly half of the overseas enrolment in the US.