What does the study-abroad sector hold for students in 2024?

2023 was a tumultuous year for students who were looking to go abroad for higher studies. What does 2024 look like?

December 24, 2023 10:20 am | Updated 12:36 pm IST

Undergraduate degrees in STEM streams and Postgraduate Management courses are popular among Indian students.

Undergraduate degrees in STEM streams and Postgraduate Management courses are popular among Indian students. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Tectonic shifts in diplomatic ties between countries and tightening of immigration rules have not really taken the shine off overseas education, at least among Indian students. Surviving the turmoil created by the COVID-19 closures, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the diplomatic stand-off with Canada, they still find a foreign degree worth it.

According to ICEF Monitor, the number of Indian students enrolled in studies abroad is expected to increase to two million by 2025, up from approximately a million in 2019, as per University Living’s survey Beyond Beds and Boundaries: Indian Student Mobility Report 2023. It also found that direct spending on overseas education by Indian students amounted to $47 billion for 2022, which is expected to rise to as high as $70 billion by 2025. Cashing in on this market, study-abroad consultants have introduced AI and digitisation, and made their processes more transparent.

“Indian students from tier-2 and tier-3 cities now have access to consultants, who advise learners on the process of developing a unique personal brand when applying to universities across the globe. Consultants also help students apply for financial aid and scholarships, leading to an increasing number of Indian students applying abroad,” says Kunal Mehra, managing director and CEO, Crimson Education India.

Changing rules

India’s overseas education market is mostly geared towards Canada, Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. This year, these countries changed their rules in a bid to streamline the application process. The U.S. cracked down on fraudulent universities with stringent checks. The waiting time for its student visas in India ranges from 100-325 days, depending on the place of application. From January 2024, the U.K. will issue dependents’ visa only for those international students pursuing a PG degree, leading to a last-minute visa rush among this year’s undergraduates. Canada’s diplomatic row with India has spurred many students to defer their applications from January to September. In May this year, leading Australian universities announced a ban on students from Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir due to a rise in fraudulent applications from these states.

“Despite the changes, we receive over 30-40 queries a day,” says Mamta Shikhawat, founder, Gradding, an overseas study platform. “Current Indian students are so well-equipped that, sometimes, we are surprised to see students who have still not attempted their board exams being quite certain about what they want to do after school, and which university abroad would be the best choice for them.”

The churn, though, is constant. “The current Indo-Canadian diplomatic row has negatively impacted our business. We have seen a 30% reduction in our India business mainly because of the slow visa processing. The Canadian institutions are open to taking Indian students but the application and visa processing has slowed down,” says Raghwa Gopal, CEO of Canada-based global education consultancy M Square Media.

Popular subjects

Undergraduate degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths (STEM) streams and Postgraduate Management courses have a steady following among Indian students. “I chose to do a 12-month Master’s in Management abroad after graduating in Computer Science and working for three years in India because it offered a way out of the CAT drill back home,” says Sanjana, who is studying in Maastricht School of Management, the Netherlands. While foreign degrees add an edge to job prospects in India, they also help students step out of their comfort zones and broaden their horizons at their own pace, she adds.

Many countries are tying up with institutions across borders to cater to the shortages in their job market. “Due to the shortage of doctors, nurses and other support staff in Canada, Caribbean institutes have linked up with Canadian ones to train students who will be employed exclusively in Canada. This is a good pathway for medical aspirants from anywhere in the world, hoping to work here,” says Gopal of M Square Media.

Most of the growth at the undergraduate level, for the next year, seems to be focused on AI, Blockchain, Cyber Security and Data Science even though the programmes are still evolving, he says.

Increasing transparency

For long, student visas have been seen as a backdoor channel for illegal immigration, a phenomenon that consultancies are combating with the help of AI and digitisation. “There will always be some bad apples, but the majority go there for the right reasons,” says Gopal. “We are using AI to detect fake documents. A lot of the mundane work that we need multiple staff for can be done much faster and better by AI. On the validation side, it helps us ensure that documents and information provided by the students is correct,” he adds.

At Gradding, software impedes potential fraud at every step. “We have quality control teams to check applicants’ financial fitness. The applicant, too, can see the progress of their documents through the channels. Transparency is key to the sector’s success,” says Shikawat.

The outlook is upbeat for 2024. “Elite universities across the world are experiencing paradigm shifts with the digitisation of SAT and introduction of blended study programmes. With a burgeoning middle class in Asian nations such as India, more families are expected to explore international education options for their children,” says Mehra.

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