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Helping students realise `foreign' dreams

Today, every youngster dreams of making it good abroad. And to help them realise it are a support network of training centres and consultation firms that have sprouted by the dozen in Kochi. CHANDY JOHN on the benefits of studying abroad and of the institutions that help them reach there.

THE UNITED States is the world's number one educational destination and despite the 9/11 terror attacks and the economic slowdown, the country is attracting Indian students in droves. In Kochi itself, a support network of training centres and consultation firms have mushroomed over the last few years to facilitate this.

"According to a recent study conducted, middle class Indians comprises the majority of foreign students in the U.S. Earlier it was the Chinese. Most upper middle class households in the country will have a family member or a relative studying or having studied abroad," says Mr. George Mathew, a planter who having studied in the U.S., plans to send his son there. "Studying abroad is a multi-faceted educational experience. It broadens one's horizons. You will first of all learn to stand on your own feet and treat your independence with responsibility. One becomes mature both socially and intellectually when one interacts with people from diverse cultures," he elaborates.

Sitting in Kochi or in the backwoods, a student will find it difficult to accomplish his dream of making it abroad. This is where the educational consultants make their entry. Mr. P. Manoj, chief executive of Global Educational Consultants, Kochi, explains, "We evaluate a student's academic credentials, financial capabilities and areas of interest and accordingly find the student a suitable country and university and get him there. We also help the student through the complicated visa and admission process." He says that his firm has placed more than thousand people since 1993.

Mr. Manoj adds that in their effort to provide their client with a sound education they do not restrict themselves to any country. Ireland is increasingly becoming a favourite educational destination as it is among the fastest growing economies in the world with one of the lowest unemployment rates. Cyprus is also another hot destination for those interested in studying Hotel Management as the country has a vibrant hospitality industry and is on the verge of joining the European Union, thereby opening up opportunities in other countries.

Arunkumar Nayar of Kampus4U adds that Russia and several Eastern European countries are favourites for medical studies as they are cheaper and that Singapore, where the government has only recently allowed private colleges, is also looked upon favourably.

Education is big business. The U.S. continues to attract the largest number of foreign students, more than half a million every year and contributes more than 12 billion dollars to the economy annually. So it is not surprising that most countries promote education, like the tourism business. Mr. Manoj points out that a majority of the students who approach his firm want to make it to the U.S. But this requires a satisfactory academic record and a lot of hard work to clear the entrance exams. Then there is also the difficult process of getting a visa. So not surprisingly, not many make it. He explains that in the United Kingdom, various universities and affiliated colleges maintain different standards. The more relaxed these prerequisites, the lower the value of the programme.

What makes the U.S. the most sought-after educational destination? "It is not just their excellent educational facilities; there are several colleges in the U.K. and Australia which have that. The United States of America has better employment opportunities. In the U.K. you will have to leave as soon as your course is completed. Also, the U.S sets aside the largest amount of money for scholarships. It is not very difficult to get some form of financial assistance in the form of a tuition waiver or an assistantship at an American university," Mr. Surendra Madhavan, Director of IMS, Kochi, opines.

He says that most of the Indian students who prepare for studies abroad are engineers, en route to the U.S. and they have to tally satisfactory scores in the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The number of students who want to go to the U.S. for an MBA are second only to engineers. The exams they have to write are the GMAT or Graduate Management Admission Test and TOEFL. Students who go abroad for studies in humanities and other branches are in the minority.

An exam that is much talked about these days is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which is necessary for immigration or studying in Australia and New Zealand. The British Council administers the exam, which is also increasingly being recognised in the U.K, Canada and the U.S. In Kochi, there are several centres for IELTS training. A spokesman for Key Institute says that most of those who attend these classes are nurses who are emigrating abroad. The test is, however, not mandatory for admission to the U.K. though it does make it easier to get a visa.

Studying abroad is no doubt expensive. As Shabeer M, an educational consultant illustrates, "Living expenses, including accommodation, would cost around Rs. 5 lakhs annually in the U.S. and in the U.K. it would amount to almost Rs. 7 lakhs. But again, this varies from person to person. Studying in the U.S. could cost from around Rs 3 lakh to Rs. 10 lakhs, depending on the university. In the U.K, the same could cost between Rs. 5 lakhs and 7 lakhs in annual fees. Educational loans are available at most of our banks, but the student has to nonetheless pay at least 25 per cent of the fees and other expenses."

What about brain drain? The concept does not have many sympathisers. Mr. George Mathew says, "At the end of the day, we have to realise that people are going abroad because of a dearth of opportunities in our country. Those who make a hue and cry about brain drain should try and do something to correct this first. Look at the brighter side, most Indians who go abroad make it big and many of them do set up businesses or send valuable foreign exchange back home. The world is transforming into a single community, so it is now necessary to have a workforce accustomed to conditions abroad."

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