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Indian international student body shrinking – AIU report

India has the second largest higher education system in the world, with only China eclipsing its 33 million students. But despite liberalisation of rules allowing universities and colleges to recruit as many as 15% of their students from overseas, only 30,423 international students enrolled in Indian institutions in 2016, a drop of nearly a thousand on 2015 (31,126).

International student numbers in India keep droppingLimited numbers of international students heading to India is a concern, say AIU. Symbiosis International University, Pune, India Photo: Flickr/ Álvaro Verdoy

If institutions were to fill their 15% international intake quota the number would be closer to five million

In its annual report on the internationalisation of Indian education, the Association of Indian Universities note that if Indian institutions were to fill their quota of 15% international intake the number would be closer to five million.

The report admits that the data may be incomplete, as only 208 of 593 institutions responded to the questions AIU sent out. However, it is not believed that the low rate of response harms the validity of the report.

Only 26% employ professional consultants who recruit students, and market the institution around the world

“It is assumed that all those universities that had international students reported the data and thus those not reporting the data do not have international students on their campuses,” the report reads.

The lack of applications from international students was the biggest barrier to reaching higher numbers of international students according to the survey. More than 58% of respondents reported that not enough “quality applications from international students” were received.

However, the survey also revealed that a number of Indian universities do not recruit or target international students in the same way institutions in rival nations do.

Only 75% of respondents reported providing an office for an international student advisor. While just 62% of universities reported targeting international students in their marketing or publicity, and 26% employ professional consultants who recruit students, and market the institution around the world.

Rahul Choudaha, executive vice president of global engagement and research at StudyPortals, told The PIE News that the country has ground to gain in order to be a competitive study destination.

“India faces stiff competition with neighbouring destinations like Malaysia and China, which have already been active in creating government policies and institutional capacities for attracting global talent,” he said.

“Realising the goals will not only require consistent efforts to inform and engage prospective students but also build capacities of Indian institutions to support students once they are on the campus.”

Despite the low numbers, there are positives for Indian international student growth. The report notes that the breadth of nations sending students to India has consistently increased. From just 60 nations in 1984, students from 208 countries studied in India in the 2014/15 academic year.

It should be noted, though, that the majority of international students in India come from other Asian nations. Sixty percent (18,325 students) arrived from another Asian nation, and the second largest group were African students at 20% (5,880). European students made up only 1.6% (149) of inbound international students.

“India faces stiff competition with neighbouring destinations like Malaysia and China”

The majority of the Asian international students come from one of India’s several land neighbours. However, not all of the nations India shares cultural or historical ties with are well represented. Only six students from Pakistan enrolled in Indian universities in 2014/15, for example.

The single biggest group of students based on nation of origin is Nepal, with almost 5,500 students. India is also markedly popular with Afghan students, over 2,500 of whom studied at Indian institutions in the same period.

Crucially though, the second largest single group of international students is not registered via their country of origin. Instead, 4,557 international students are seen as belonging to the Indian diaspora.

Non-resident Indians and Persons of Indian origin are often treated differently by Indian institutions, and even given “preferential treatment”, according to the AIU. At 47%, students of the diaspora are also the most female of the groups studying in India.

PIO are defined as people who may not have ever lived in India themselves, but whose parents, grandparents or great grandparents lived in and were permanent residents of India but have never been nationals of Pakistan or Bangladesh (due to the politics of India’s partition).

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