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India: “politicians can’t control student desire”

Despite some possible wishes by candidates in the country’s upcoming election, it’s unlikely that it will be easy to get more students to study in India.
April 24 2024
4 Min Read

Despite some possible wishes by candidates in the country’s upcoming election, it’s unlikely that it will be easy to get more students to study in India, stakeholders have predicted.

The Indian election, which began on April 19 and will continue in phases until June 4, will see incumbent PM Narendra Modi face off with what has been described by one media outlet as a “broad but flailing alliance of opposition parties”.

Speaking to Indian agents and experts in the international education sector, it seems that either way, things may continue as business as usual.

“Prime minister Modi, if re-elected for a third term, is likely to continue his efforts to promote India as a global education hub,” Ashish Jaiswar, an international education expert based in the UK, told The PIE News.

“His government has already taken steps to attract international students and encourage Indian universities to establish branch campuses abroad.

“Modi’s motivations for supporting the international education landscape may include enhancing India’s soft power, fostering economic growth, and promoting cultural exchange,” he continued.

Branch campuses from overseas institutions are now allowed to set up in India after a decision made by Modi’s government, and in recent years Indian universities have also begun setting up in Africa.

At present, said Sushil Sukhwani, CEO of EdWise International, it looks as if Modi will indeed hold on to claim a third term in office.

Jasminder Khanna, co-founder of Mumbai-based consultancy, Gresham Global, told The PIE that higher education has very rarely been an agenda point in the Indian general elections.

“Saying that, both major national parties – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the single largest opposition Indian National Congress – in their election manifesto, have proposed various schemes around employability, especially amongst the youth,” said Khanna.

“Whilst INC has promised to tackle the growing issue in the country through the proposed ‘Yuva Nyay’ or the ‘Youth Justice’ scheme, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party has expressed its commitment to grow employment for youth by scaling up its investments in the existing Production Linked Incentive and Make in India schemes, especially in defence, automotive and infrastructure sectors.”

More students studying at home?

“There is a view that the government would like more students to study in India,” he noted.

“However, the government is aware that there has to be a lot done in creating the right kind of infrastructure, quality and number of institutions to meet that demand,” Sukhwani told The PIE.

In agreement was Santosh Kumar Polamarsetty, CEO of the Flying Sparrows agency, who also noted that “politicians could not control the huge student desire to move abroad and study in a foreign nation”.

The large population of middle-class people are always striving to rise their economic standards through education – and will continue to motivate their children to opt for studying abroad, he said.

“Politicians could not stop this trend – they’ve tried to create start-up grants, bank loans to help small business to guide students to build a career here – but their efforts are sadly in vein,” Polamarsetty explained.

Even if the idea was to be discussed by the next government – be it the BJP, led by Modi, or someone from the 27-member bloc opposition alliance, named INDIA – they may not have enough time to implement it.

“Even though this might be on the agenda, it might not be that easy for the government to achieve that in the short term,” said Sukhwani.

“The ongoing general elections in India is expected to have little or no impact on the students’ outlook on study abroad,” Khanna told The PIE.

“The number of students leaving India to study abroad every year is only expected to grow, considering the growing aspiration, the rise in average family disposable income, easy access to funding, better research and work opportunities abroad.”

“The ever-growing competition to get into ‘top Indian universities’ is also a major factor in Indian students choosing to study abroad,” he continued.

The Canada question

Since the fallout between Canada’s and India’s governments over a murdered Indian citizen in Vancouver, relations have been frosty, even they have begun to improve after the initial spat.

“The government is aware that there has to be a lot done in creating the right kind of infrastructure”

Canada has, in Polomarsetty’s view, “hurt the sentiments of the whole nation”, and he has seen interest in Canada go down as a result.

“More… are opting for Germany, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, France, and even Japan is encouraging Indian students,” he noted.

Germany is beginning to ramp up its attractiveness towards Indian students to get them into its labour market, and France saw a strong increase in students from India in its latest figures.

Sukhwani doesn’t see any change or improvement within the relationship in the near future, especially by the likely next Modi government.

“The reduction in business in Indian to Canada started off with the issue of the Prime Ministers, but then it has been escalated by other policy changes made by the Canadian immigration authority,” he explained.

Polamarsetty suggested that improvements would have to come with Canada making the first move.

Strong UK bonds

Jaiswar is confident that the UK-India bond in international education is likely to remain strong, despite some recent wobbles with the review of the graduate route being announced – NISAU has launched a campaign to help defend the visa.

“Regardless of the election outcome, the UK is already a popular destination for Indian students, and there is potential for further collaboration between British and Indian universities,” he noted – a large UK delegation visited in India in late 2023.

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