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Updated: October 19, 2009 14:59 IST

Advantage Europe

R. Andre T.
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Compatible courses: English courses are offered predominantly at the master’s and research level in European countries. Photo: AP
AP Compatible courses: English courses are offered predominantly at the master’s and research level in European countries. Photo: AP

What are the additional incentives that Indian students get, if they choose to pursue their higher studies and research in Europe?

Many universities on the European continent have seen their numbers of foreign students skyrocket in the last few years. And the trend seems likely to continue. The English language, once forced upon Europe’s continental universities, is now turning into one of their strongest selling points. Meanwhile, study costs and structural reforms provide Indian students with additional incentives to head for the continent.

Take the example of Sweden. The number of foreign students in the country has tripled over the last decade to a total of 31 000 in 2008. Its Indian student contingent has sharply increased from 301 in 2002 to 866 in 2008.

One likely reason accounting for Sweden’s success is that its higher education is free, for natives and foreigners alike. As with their counterparts in neighbouring Norway and Finland, Swedish universities do not have tuition fees. Yet that is soon to change. “Most likely non-EU students will have to pay tuition fees between 50 000 (3.3 lakh )and 120 000 (8 lakh) from 2011 on,” says Anders Flodström, Chancellor of the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education. The Fins too, have made it possible for their universities to charge tuition fees for non-EU Master’s students, starting earliest from 2010. In Norway, on the other hand, the no tuition-policy remains firmly in place.

Another reason is probably Sweden’s remarkable proliferation of English-taught programmes: the number of English-medium Masters surpasses 500 now. That puts it right in the league of The Netherlands and Germany, two countries that already had a solid track record in English-language courses.

And these countries are part of a broader trend. A 2008 study by the Academic Cooperation Association in 27 European countries showed a threefold increase in English-medium programmes since 2002.The evolution is not equally spread over all European countries, however. “There seems to be a North-South gradient. While The Netherlands, Germany and the Nordic countries are doing very well, the initiatives in Belgium or Switzerland for instance are more limited. And countries like Italy and Spain offer very few English-medium degrees,” says senior ACA officer Maria Kelo.

Unsurprisingly, France is among the most reluctant countries to adopt English as a teaching language. “There are a few business schools using English as language of instruction, but that is still a marginal phenomenon,” Ms Kelo notes.

Furthermore, there is a strong predominance of master’s courses among these programmes. “Almost 80 per cent according to our research,” says Ms Kelo.

The bulk of English-language classes in continental Europe is taught by non-native English speakers, of course. An often-cited concern is that the quality of their lectures might suffer from that. A study by Robert Wilkinson of the Maastricht University Language Institute suggests that the content of some classes in The Netherlands has indeed become poorer because of the professors’ inadequate command of English. These lecturers have a hard time enriching their teaching with anecdotes and additional clarification, and the students report their teaching as dry, technical and lacking spark, according to the study.

However, a lot of instruction manuals are written in English anyhow and not every subject requires the same linguistic prowess of its teachers.

“I have never experienced any problems in the communication with professors or co-students” says Kishore L.G., a Hyderabadi postgraduate chemistry student at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, a country with only a modest amount of English courses.And even philosophy students concur. “It is probably not the best way to refine your English vocabulary, but the crux is always clear,” notes Maarten Boudry, a Belgian PhD scholar who recently completed an English-language master’s course at the University of Ghent.

Indian students willing to go to Europe can nowadays apply for generous scholarships, such as the Erasmus Mundus grant, which has been open to Indian students since 2005. And since the reforms in EU education under the ongoing Bologna process, European universities adhere to a Bachelor-Master structure, making their programmes more compatible with those at Indian institutions.

The combination of financial incentives, English as language of instruction and the growing awareness of the quality of European institutions among Indian students seems to be paying off. And Sweden is not the only country with the statistics to show for it. The number of Indian students opting for Germany has increased from 3300 in 2002 to 4500 in 2008 while the count in The Netherlands has surged from 76 to 500.

“I have definitely noticed more interest in students for European countries like Sweden, but also Italy for instance,” says Prof. Krishnan Baskar, director of the Centre for International Affairs at Anna University. “I do believe that can be attributed to the availability of stipends up to 2500 euros per month as well as the rise in the use of English,” he adds.

This year, Indian student visa applications for the United States have fallen with 25 per cent. Australian education experts are predicting hefty drops in their country in the wake of the assaults on Indian students there. And while the UK is still growing strong, it is no longer Europe’s sole option for English-speaking international students.

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