International students made up a tiny fraction of the overall higher education enrolments, which amounted to 37.4 million students.
Based on data uploaded by Higher Education Institutions (with responses from 962 universities, 38,179 colleges and 9,190 standalone institutions), the All India Survey of Higher Education was recently released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
“India has always recognised the importance of education as a soft diplomacy tool”
About 64% of all international enrolments came from 10 countries, and the highest senders were India’s regional neighbours.
Nepal sent 27% of all international students, Afghanistan 10% and Bangladesh 4%. The other countries in the top 10 were Sudan, Bhutan, Nigeria, US, Yemen, Sri Lanka and Iran.
Almost two thirds of the international student cohort were enrolled at undergraduate level, while 16% were pursuing postgraduate qualifications
Last year, the Study in India initiative made headlines as the country announced plans to rebrand as a major study destination and host 1 million international students.
Fee waivers have been offered as part of the program, and recently Universities UK International and the British Council have announced a bilateral pilot program to increase outward UK student mobility towards India.
But according to Sannam S4 executive director & head of education Lakshmi Iyer, the country is “a long way” from achieving its goal.
“[International students are] merely 0.13% of the total enrolments in higher education in the year 2018-19,” she explained.
“The number of foreign students enrolled in India has increased by 3% year-on-year. So, a long way to go especially considering that foreign students come from 164 different countries across the globe.”
“India has always recognised the importance of education as a soft diplomacy tool, however it is for the first time we have stitched together a credible initiative to really push this agenda forward in the face of China’s well-funded Belt and Road Initiative which is pushing into regions which India considers as her natural allies,” she added.
Under the Study in India program, 15,000 seats were offered by 160 HEIs in India, Iyer explained, and more than 70,000 students from 190 countries have applied for admissions in the 100 shortlisted institutions.
“The SIP provides meritorious foreign students fee waiver, scholarship and priority visa up to five years. These include scholarships to 1,000 meritorious students from Syria; funding 1,000 scholars from SE Asian countries to pursue PhD at 23 IITs; and 15,000 scholarships to students from Africa over the next five years,” she said
“The scholarship schemes could draw students from ASEAN countries”
Iyer added that the SIP targets 30 countries across South Asia, Africa, CIS and Middle East – but admissions from India’s neighbours dominate, despite strong demand from Africa.
Over the next five years, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka are likely to remain in the top 10–15, Iyer explained.
“The scholarship schemes could draw students from the ASEAN countries of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. However, they wouldn’t disrupt the existing mix of sending countries,” she said.
A more detailed analysis of the AISHE figures will be available on The PIE Insider soon.